WASHINGTON, Sept. 15, 2014 - As concerns continue about the U.S. bee population, lawmakers are looking at new legislation that would expedite the registration of products intended to improve pollinator health by controlling the Varroa mite, a detrimental pest to the honey bee.
Congressman Austin Scott, R-Ga., introduced H.R. 5447 last week, which would amend the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), the federal legislation regulating the crop protection industry.
Scott, the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee's Subcommittee on Horticulture, Research, Biotechnology, and Foreign Agriculture, said in an op-ed that beekeepers have had an increasingly difficult time managing varroa mites.
“These difficulties have been directly tied to higher over-wintering losses and poor colony health,” Scott said. “It is for these reasons that new products, more effective at protecting the bee from pests, must be developed.”
In June of this year, a Presidential Memorandum issued by President Barack Obama called for immediate action against the threats affecting honey bees and other pollinators. The President's Pollinator Health Task Force is expected to publish an action plan at the end of the year in response.
According to the Memorandum, the honey bee population alone adds more than $15 billion in value to agricultural crops each year. Annual overwintering losses of honey bee colonies in the U.S. have been recorded at 23.2 percent in 2014, down from 30.5 percent in 2013, but they remain above “acceptable” losses in the 12 to 15 percent range.
Beau Greenwood, the executive vice president of government relations and public affairs at CropLife America (CLA), said Scott's bill, H.R. 5447, would allow the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to grant an expedited review for products intended to improve pollinator health. Products categorized as “reduced risk pesticide” get a time advantage of 21 months versus the typical 24 months for review.
H.R. 5447 also mandates reports from the USDA and EPA on the impacts of varroa mites and agency actions to address them.
The Center for Food Safety said the bill would only benefit agricultural chemical companies instead of bee keepers.
“Fast-tracking pesticide approvals is what got us into this mess in the first place and focusing strictly on varroa mites will not get us out,” said Larissa Walker, pollinator campaign director for Center for Food Safety, in a press release.
The group supports a bill introduced in July 2013 by Reps. John Conyers and Earl Blumenauer (HR 2692), which would ban the use of most neonicotinoid chemicals until more intensive review from the EPA.
Although this bill has not advanced, The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently announced that it would ban on the use of neonicotinoids in their National Wildlife Refuge System by 2016.
However, Greenwood said HR 5447 is just one step in an overall solution to improve honey bealth.
“Activists would prefer to use pollinator health issues as a vehicle to drive an anti-technology agenda,” he said. “That's not to say there isn't some role for chemical stressors around pollinator health. That's why we're working toward a comprehensive solution.”
Greenwood expects bipartisan support for HR 5447, which is meant to “get a running start” on an anticipated White House report on pollinator health and to be ready for immediate action from Congress at the beginning of next year.
In 2013, the “Report on the National Stakeholders Conference on Honey Bee Health,” issued by USDA and EPA recognized a “complex set of stressors and pathogens” associated with bee health and bee losses.
Stakeholders focused on four main issues affecting bee health: nutrition, pesticides, parasites/pathogens and genetics/ biology/ breeding. However, the report identified the Varroa mite as the “single most detrimental pest of honey bees” in the United States.
At the request of stakeholders, USDA scheduled a Bee Nutrition and Forage Summit in conjunction with the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign (NAPPC) in October.
Greenwood noted that there have been multiple studies on active stressors for bee populations, “but little tangible action has been taken.”
He said HR 5447 is one step in a comprehensive plan to address honey bee health. “There is certainly more work to be done beyond the varroa mite,” he noted.
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