In-Depth: Sponsoring Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) reintroduced this bill from the 115th Congress (and the 113th and 114th Congresses before that) to protect critical pollinators, such as honeybees, from insecticides that are toxic to bees and other insects by suspending the use of neonicotinoids, which have been linked to declining pollinator populations, until a panel of experts has thoroughly assessed them:
“Pollinators are critically important to our ecosystem. The food we eat depends on their health. If they are in danger, we are in danger. The EPA has a responsibility to get to the bottom of this issue and they must be held accountable. We must do more to protect pollinators to ensure our food system is healthy and the agricultural economy remains strong.”
Last year, Rep. Blumenauer argued that the status quo is like "flying blind":
“The health of our food system depends on the health of our pollinators. The status quo is like flying blind — we shouldn’t be using these pesticides when we don’t know their full impact. The EPA has a responsibility to get to the bottom of the issue and protect pollinators.”
Tara Cornelisse, Senior Scientist for the Center of Biological Diversity, says:
"We are experiencing a biodiversity crisis and losing insects faster than any other group of animals due to our chemical-intensive agriculture. By suspending use of the most pollinator-toxic pesticides, the Saving America’s Pollinators Act is a huge and important step towards saving the insects that we depend on so much to grow our food.”
Sussex University's Dr. David Goulson warns, "If we lose the insects then everything is going to collapse." Were insect populations to collapse, Goulson warns that the plant would face “ecological Armageddon.”
Tim Hiatt, co-owner of Hiatt Honey Co. which is one of the largest beekeepers in Washington state, said that this bill goes too far relative to honeybees, but acknowledged a ban could help native pollinators:
“Neonics are insecticides, and bees are insects, so sloppy or careless application kills bees. But the majority of applicators use caution and don’t cause major acute kills. More judicious use of neonics would help beekeepers combat sub-lethal effects, which shorten the life of bees and colonies. But an outright federal ban is an overreaction as it relates to honeybees. States should assess the impacts to honeybees in their states and take appropriate action.”
This bill has the support of 33 Democratic cosponsors in the 116th Congress. Last Congress, it had the support of 44 Democratic House cosponsors and didn't receive a committee vote.
This bill was first introduced by then-Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) in 2013. Since then, it's been introduced in July 2013, March 2015 and June 2017. Each time, it's been referred to the House Committee on Agriculture, then the Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture and Research, without receiving a committee vote. This year's iteration differs from previous bills in its bold definition of who should have responsibility for assessing harm to pollinators.
This year, Rep. Blumenauer believes this bill's odds of passage are better than in past Congresses because House Rules Committee Chair Rep. James McGovern (D-MA) has signed on as a cosponsor.
Of Note: High rates of bee mortality have created a worrying trend within the U.S. economy. Honey bees help pollinate nearly $15 billion worth of agricultural crops, and pollinators in general pollinate over $24 billion. One out of every three bites of food Americans eat is pollinated by bees. The loss of bees has forced farmers to turn to pollination services — basically rental bees — which can raise costs by as much as 20%.
The causes of bee deaths have been attributed to several factors, including diseases and viruses. However, thousands of scientific studies have implicated neonicotinoids — a class of nictone-based insecticides — as key contributors to declining pollinator populations. Beyond Pesticides says:
"Numerous scientific studies implicate systemic insecticides as key contributors to the global decline of pollinator populations. Systemic insecticides have been found to weaken both behavioral and immune resistance to parasites, pathogens, and temperature stress in honey bees and native pollinators. Several independent studies of managed and wild bees in the field have shown significant colony and population declines as a direct result of neonicotinoid crop treatment. There is widespread consensus in the scientific community that systemic insecticides are responsible for pollinator declines and need to be restricted, as evidenced by a 2018 'Call to restrict neonicotinoids' published in Science and signed by 233 scientists."
Additionally, the mysterious colony collapse disorder has befuddled researchers as to its cause. Colony collapse symptoms involve bees abandoning their hive and not warding off pests that invade the hive. This leads to the death of the next generation of the hive’s bees, exacerbating the problem.
Bees aren't the only endangered pollinators. Currently, over 40 series of palliators are federally listed as threatened or endangered. Most recently, monarch butterfly populations have declined by 90 percent.
Researchers have indicated that it will be very difficult to identify if insecticides are negatively impacting bees, as there are other chemicals found in beehives unrelated to insecticides that could also be damaging to their health. Fewer bees died in the winter of 2013 than in the prior year, with only 23.2 percent of honey bee colonies dying off compared to 30.5 percent. This could indicate that the problem could be too complex for us to solve.
The European Union has already banned the outdoor use of neonicotinoids. In the U.S., the Oregon cities of Portland and Eugene have restricted their use.
Summary by Eric Revell
(Photo Credit: a8096b40_190 / iStock)