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Obama’s Task Force Misses Deadline: Is it Too Late to Save the Bees?

In a recent letter to the White House, CEOs of leading environmental groups urged President Obama to take strong and swift action against insecticides that are devastating honey bee and wild bee populations, threatening the nation’s food supplies.

These insecticides, called “neonics” or “neonicotinoids” are particularly lethal to bees, because “they poison the whole treated plant including the nectar and pollen that bees eat, and they are persistent, lasting months or even years in the plant, soil, and waterways.” What happens next to the bee is devastating, as illustrated by beekeeper James Doan. “The pesticide blocks the nerve endings of the bee, and so the bee is paralyzed and then what happens is they starve to death, so you see the bee shaking, and it’s a very horrific way of dying for a bee.”

The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), one of the agencies responsible for the letter, warns that “the crisis in bee deaths represents a potential crisis of food security – our ability to grow our own food will be threatened if bee declines continue at the current rate. Out of some 100 crop species responsible for providing 90% of the world’s food supply, 71 are dependent on bee pollination. The estimated annual value of crops dependent on honey bee pollination is $15 billion in the United States alone, with another $9 billion from pollination by other species. In addition to fruit, vegetable, and seed crops that are pollinated by bees, bee-pollinated forage and hay crops, such as alfalfa and clover, also are used to feed the animals that supply meat and dairy products.”

Bee on Basil Mel Peffers
Bee on Basil Flower (Mel Peffers)

According to the White House, “The number of managed U.S. honey bee colonies dropped from 6 million colonies in 1947, to 4 million in 1970, 3 million in 1990, and just 2.5 million today” (June 2014).  At their current annual disappearing rate of 30 percent, bees could be completely wiped out in a few years.

A good start, but no finish line in sight

In June of last year, President Obama issued a memorandum directing the EPA and the USDA to co-chair a new Pollinator Health Task Force (PHTF) to develop a strategy to save the bees. In addition to the EPA and the USDA, the PHTF included representatives from a broad array of federal agencies from the U.S. Departments of State, Defense, Transportation and Energy, to the National Science Foundation to the National Security Counsel, as well as the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

The PHTF doesn’t seem capable of taking swift action. It missed a December 2014 deadline to come up with a plan, and it has now indicated its report may not arrive

To read more, continue to the next page. 

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  • Kinnari Shah is an editor, writer, poet, lawyer and mother of two, whose (second) greatest joy in life is unearthing typos on restaurant menus. She received her English and French degrees from the University of California, Berkeley, and her law degree from the University of Michigan. In her spare time, she sings with the Oregon Repertory Singers and dreams of the lavender fields of Provence.

  • Show Comments

  • Brian Heckaman

    Some say the world is on a path to unsustainable population growth citing time frames in 30 or more years. But-But-But… at our current population, we, in order to boost food production to meet current demands, require the use of agri chemicals destructive to the very ability to continue production of the crops we need now. Unstainable human population isn’t something of the future: it is NOW. Global famine, food shortages, deep economic and government instability may not be something to worry about for our grandchildren: we may be living through it ourselves in a few short years.

    • Dafuuuuq

      We don’t need to boost food production if you look at the mass of food we throw away on a daily basis. Either because it is left over or just deemed to ugly for consumption.

      • Amy Payne

        You are thinking too short term, do you not see the rapidly escalating population, not to mention the rising food count, just because the rich can afford to throw away food, some of us can’t.

        • Dafuuuuq

          Population only rapidly expands in poor areas, where there is little wealth. In wealthy societies we don’t see that problem. It’s up to the west to share with – or at least stop exploiting – “third world” countries. The average couple produces on average less than 2 kids in the west. If every country had that kind of security the population wouldn’t grow at that rate.

    • Steve Goryan

      Actually, we already are. The various governments are long practiced at wagging the dog and covering up what they don’t want their people to know. Go anywhere, anywhere in the world and you will find people hungry and starving, homeless, governments unable to care for their own, and others that are, but ignore the issues at hand. Yes, we are already seeing this and it really is probably too late.

      The irony is that we are all so worried about a meteor causing an extinction level event, nuclear war, plagues (think small pox. HIV, swine and bird flu, etc.), hostile aliens, sun spots… people are so worried about all the “big” stuff, we’ve missed the little things that don’t destroy us, but keep us alive. Sad.

      • Stephanie-may The-Viking

        I am of the opinion that a decent-sized asteroid collision is the best thing that could happen to this planet. We are too many, we breed like rabbits, multiplying exponentially like a disease, and STILL people keep having dozens of children. That has to stop before we can stop anything else.

        • ThatGuyJohn

          Agreed. I have no children or family, since I see the writing on the wall and don’t want anything I’d have made suffer from the inevitable approaching. Humanity is a virus, and needs to be culled by a good 80-90%.

          • Ash Gabbidon

            No politicians and big business are viruses and need to be culled. People are fine. I think if these systems broke down and ordinary people took control of the situation it could be turned around. We could wrest control from big business and make sensible decisions about food. The U.S could stand to make more sensible decisions about food, the West in general really, but the US is the trailblazer in unhealthily large consumption of meats and food waste. There is enough food in the world to feed everyone right now. Especially if we ate much less meat and grew and consumed much more vegetables. We need to accept that food won’t be as varied anymore as well. It’s interesting though. Most major countries are eventually brought down by their hubris over something, history shows us this. Perhaps food shortages and the inevitable break down of law and order is what will cause the US’s downfall. Who knows?

          • Amy Payne

            I’m not sure “the people” could form a working “government entity”, don’t get me wrong it’s a good idea, but the person is charge will be the one with a gun, and his voice will most likely be worse.

    • Nick Becker

      Food shortage, or food waste? I work in a grocery store and am appalled at how much food gets thrown away on a daily basis. All those bananas with a couple brown spots go in the trash compactor. The US throws away billions of dollars worth of food every year and most of that is due to corporate policies that aim to prevent employee theft. Rather than pay employees a living wage where they would be able to go out and buy that food the corporations are trying to prevent them from stealing, they put it in the trash where NO ONE can make use of it. Greed is starving our population.

      • Jimbo23

        Thank you! I knew a kid that got literally fired for taking home a perfectly good steak his boss told him to throw away. They were willing to fire somebody for NOT wasting food. The kicker is they said he “stole” it for not just throwing it in the fucking trash!

        • Chris Lachapelle

          When I worked at Loeb IGA as a teen, they had similar policies. How many of the workers got around it was to place all savable foods in one garbage bag, and all other trash in another.
          The half way point to garbage bins was on a public shopping mall road. They would drop the bag of food on the ground there and a prearranged friend/family member would pick it up and leave.
          They only tried calling the cops once and it didn’t fly. In Canada, once a bag of garbage hits any public area it is considered public and no longer private and can be rummaged through or removed by anyone.

          The people doing this also had worked there longer than 4 months and by our laws they could not fire them for a non-legal reason.
          By days end each day we had at least 6 bags full of good, eatable food. The waste was disgusting. I am glad the workers found a legal way to circumvent their policies.

    • Sick and tired

      We’re there already. Many of us think we reached the tipping point back in the 1960’s. Many parts of the world have been living with famine and instability for many years already.

    • Chelsea Plummer

      It doesn’t help either that we spend so much energy, time, and land, water, and food(!) into animal based food products. If people changed their diets to even cut back and eat meat 2 or 3 meals a week (instead of for every meal), this could make a huge difference. So many industries hold control over the market and what types of food get subsidized and that’s what gets produced. We need the bees—we need to grow more plant food. Eating plant based food is the only way we will not have famine, food shortages, to the extent that exists. We grow so much food to give to pigs and cows…it’s crazy to think about the people that could go to. It is greed.

    • Grendel Pease

      A paradigm shift is eminent. It will be opposed by the corporatism, globalism, capital, oligarchical leadership. It will not make enough money to keep the investors from going somewhere else. It will only realize the Quote ” There is plenty for all, except greed”.

    • Edeiwmurk Nivek

      “in order to boost food production to meet current demands, require the use of agri chemicals” – That is simply not true. Biointensive organic farming actually produces MORE food per acre than industrial methods, and could sustain a population many times larger than we have now. The catch is, meeting demand that way would require a lot more people to become farmers. It would radically reshape our economy.

      • John Chase

        The food that is being altered is for mostly corn which is mostly used for animal feed. Grass and grain fed livestock can not meet the demand that is there for meat. Yes, grass and grain fed meat is better in every way but it takes twice as long to mature and 4-10 times the pasture area.

        • Edeiwmurk Nivek

          So twenty billion people may have to eat less meat… but they wouldn’t starve. And beef is by far the least efficient meat. Poultry is many times more efficient, and farmed fish even more so thanks to buoyancy reducing their need to grow bones.

          • John Chase

            I agree but I think the fast food chains like McD’s and such have too much control in DC to let any beef restrictions ever take place. The only way is to change the consumer and most consumers only know what the commercials tell them.

  • Idraote Monteverdi

    Monsanto will only be too happy to provide new seeds…

    • USCanuck

      Bet Monsanto can’t wait for Hilary to get in, she’ll open the doors wide open.

      • Gilly

        And I wouldn’t be surprised if Monsanto will come up -oh miracle!- with a new bee race that is resistant to the insecticides and for which -no surprise 😛 – Monsanto will have the patent!

  • Lee Grandmaison

    Ah, gotta love when people don’t understand science, yet comment on science.

    It’s not the insecticides, you twit.

    • brentwalker

      Your evidence please.

    • Zumba900

      Well then…Enlighten me….I live in a place backing on to a farm. We have flowers all around our place.
      Last year, the place was just a buzzing with bee’s attending to the flowers. Hundreds of them.
      Then the farmer sprayed his soybean crop in the field behind us.
      And the bee’s, and many other insects began to disappear.
      This summer, I can count on my fingers the number of bees that I have seen here.
      A few bumble bees and, not one honey bee….period.
      Other insects are almost non-existent as well.
      Used to have lots of bug-eater birds and bats around as well…used to…not this year.
      I’ve not seen one bat so far this year.
      Used to buy honey from a farmers road side stand a few miles from here.
      Doesn’t have any this year.
      An entire food chain is being destroyed by one factory styled farm.
      Insanity !

    • Jeremy Anderson

      I will grant you that insecticides are not the ONLY cause here, but they are still a major cause in many areas. Some GMO food plants have the same effect on the local bee populations as these insecticides. One or the other, and in some case the combination of the two, are cause in the majority of cases of mass bee death. Nearly everyone keeps touting the benefits of GMO foods and them being the answer to feeding the masses of starving peoples around the world, but they are missing the real issues here. The reasons we have so many starving people around the world are food waste, greed, and there just being far to many of us. Our own biological “need” to propagate our species is leading factor in what will inevitably lead to an extinction level event. The same issues with GMO apply to the insecticides as well. People use the most lethal things they can get their hands on to kill all of the bugs that threaten their crops not understanding that not only are they killing off the very creatures that pollinate those crops, but they are also taking into their own bodies those same chemicals. Granted they may only be taking them in in small or trace amounts, but even trace amounts can be a contributing factor in developing cancer.

      • thestocks©

        In 2008 a meta-analysis of 25 independent studies assessing effects of Bt Cry proteins on honeybee survival (mortality) showed that Bt proteins used in commercialized GE crops to control lepidopteran and coleopteran pests do not negatively impact the survival of honeybee larvae or adults. Additionally, larvae consume only a small percent of their protein from pollen, and there is also a lack of geographic correlation between GM crop locations and regions where CCD occurs.

      • David Gray

        Jeremy Anderson, Please provide clear and concise data to support your assertions, because I don’t believe you can substantiate anything you said with legitimate, credible data, particularly regarding your comments on GMO. Thank you.

  • Demnyx Marluxia Zexion

    Greed, pollutants, world issues, and all other forms of politics aside; this all boils down to one single point:

    If bees die, WE die.

    • thestocks©

      Thank goodness it appears the bees are doing well, contrary to this article.

      • Sherrie Smith

        Is it nice and warm down there, with your head in the sand?

        • thestocks©

          Just looking at the data provided by the USDA.

  • papragu

    There is no food shortage, the US alone produces enough crops to feed two other countries but it is used to feed all the cows that are going into meat production. Fact is, if people would balance their diet, then part of that crops could be used to help out other countries.
    As others already said, alot of western countries waste millions of tons of food every year. In other countries, usually 3rd world, people dont have enough food because of the lack of rain caused by the climate change. It is not the overpopulation that is causing issues. It is us humans destroying the nature, which in return makes it harder to grow food in the already warm regions of the world.

    • It Works Tampa

      The reason the US has so much left over food is because no other country wants our food because it has POISON on it…seriously people, this is not a hard concept…If mankind really thinks putting poison on our food, in our food and in our ground isn’t going to cause problems, then mankind if dumb and deserves to die off.

      • 86778677

        I’m all for healthy eating. I don’t eat meat and try to eat local as much as possible, but needy nations and populations facing famine are not turning our food away because it has poison in it.

      • Serious Starsider

        How come you are not dead yet?

    • Sherrie Smith

      They have to make this about food because people are too stupid and selfish to look beyond their own noses and mouths.
      The die-off of all of our bees (and other pollinators) is about a lot more than just growing crops. They pollinate everything, don’t you see? Of all the plants out there that are creating oxygen and habitat for every living thing on earth, how many of them rely on pollination? Take a moment to consider the ramifications, here.

  • David Gray

    I have yet to hear a credible story regarding crops that ‘failed’ due to the absence of bees. I believe there are issues with bees, particularly ‘commercialized’ bees, though I think there is a dearth of information regarding the practice of bee commercialization which conveniently covers some of the ugly truths of that business.

    I’m not here to antagonize the point, but I’d be interested in hearing about the crops that didn’t come home because the bees never showed up. Again, credible evidence only. Thanks

  • thestocks©

    The year 1869 brought the first recorded case of what we now call “colony collapse disorder,” in which hives full of honey are suddenly abandoned by their bees. More cases of CCD or “disappearing disease” have been reported in recent decades, and a study by bee researchers Robyn Underwood and Dennis vanEngelsdorp chronicles more than 25 significant bee die-offs between 1868 and 2003. However, contrary to activist campaigns and various news stories, both wild and managed bee populations are stable or growing worldwide.

    • Sherrie Smith

      Gosh! I guess since it happened once in a while 100 years ago nobody should be alarmed at a 40% decrease in the populations in a single winter!

      Just stahp.

      • thestocks©

        News flash – bees die in winter. Happens every year – particularly when there’s a harsh winter.

        • Richard

          I am a bee keeper, please do some research before placing a newsflash you moron!

          • thestocks©

            You don’t lose bees in winter? Wow, you’re amazing. You should pass on your expertise to the rest of the beekeeping world that do lose bees in the winter.

          • Richard

            yeah bee population shrinks in the winter, but no more die off than usual, they are not replaced. With less nectar coming in the queen lays fewer eggs and the bees go through the seasonal cycle. When all your bees suddenly die off , or just disappear, that is not normal and relatively a new phenomenon. If the bees die off about a third of the food will go with it. I have been lucky I have not had a colony collapse disorder issue yet, But I am vigilant.
            BTW the numbers of bee are slowly increasing so hopefully the bees number is not up yet.

          • Richard

            I do not know, nor anyone else really knows what is causing CCD, I sure do not mind scientist checking into it.
            With my opinion and $3.00 you can buy a cup of coffee I think it is a “perfect storm” of pesticides, pollution, malnourishment , and GMO’s
            is causing CCD.

          • thestocks©

            I can get the same cup of coffee with my opinion at Starbucks for about $1.95. Or, $2.95 for a venti.

          • Richard

            Lol I usually leave the rest as a tip.

          • thestocks©

            CCD is not the main culprit anymore, according to researchers. “we have not seen much sign of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) for several years” according to Jeff Pettis, a co-author of the survey who heads the federal government’s bee research laboratory in Beltsville, Md.

            CCD was more specific than how the numbers are being affected as of late. However, the number of bees and managed bee hives are on the rise – as opposed to the alarmist article above.

  • thestocks©

    Source: USDA

  • thestocks©

    Isn’t it ironic that neonicotinoids were developed to be a target pesticide due to the environmentalists rightfully protesting broad-spectrum pesticides. Neonicotinoids were specifically developed to avoid affecting bee and other pollinator populations – but now is the wrongful target of environmentalist activism.

    Stop the witch hunt of neonicotinoids – evidence is pointing elsewhere.

  • Onie Kimble

    I have squash and pickle plants, they have grown like crazy but not one squash or cuke has developed all summer here in NC. Have a ton of blossums,not one fruit!!

  • Sherrie Smith

    This is the DDT of our time. A lot of this crap needs to be banned.
    ALSO everybody here with any little piece of land should be stepping up and helping do their part. STOP using chemicals in your yard. Plant natives that flower. Create some biodiversity and get rid of your lawn (or at least swaths of it).
    Do it yesterday.

    This isn’t just a honeybee issue. There are hundreds of species of native bees feeling the pressure of destroyed habitat, a changing climate, and the fact that the second we see something with 6 legs on a plant we blast it with chemicals. Bees are a keystone species – critical to a functioning biosphere from which we pull ALL OF THE RESOURCES WE NEED TO SURVIVE.
    Where do you think the water from your tap comes from? Magic?

    • thestocks©

      The water from my tap comes from the beehive and the cow’s udder, for I live in the land of milk and honey.

      • Sherrie Smith

        Ohhh, you’re a troll. Didn’t mean to feed you, oops.

        • thestocks©

          Thanks for coming here three days later to tell me that. LOL

          • Sherrie Smith

            What can I say – some of us have lives. 😛

  • Caleb Kuester

    There’s a Chinese honey bee that has evolved to kill scout wasps that are 10x their size and prevent wasp invasions. I’m sure they’ll manage. Either that, or we’ll design mechano bees to replace them. Their choice.

  • thestocks©

    The available results from numerous studies carried out by various scientists from different institutions strongly support the conclusion that crops grown from seeds dressed with imidacloprid do not pose any significant risks to honeybees under field conditions. Nectar and pollen residue levels from different locations and crops were all below the field-relevant NOAEC of 20 ppb as determined in various laboratory, tunnel and field studies. There is also no evidence of an adverse effect of imidacloprid seed-dressings from the numerous semi-field and field studies conducted in Argentinia, Canada, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Sweden, UK, and the USA (figures 2 and 3). Additionally, although Gaucho® has now been suspended for almost five years, bee incidents in sunflower crops are still going on in France, which shows that the presumed link between the French bee damages and a imidacloprid seed treatment in sunflower is not existing.


  • xhippie

    I leave a patch of my lawn un mowed it has a bunch of wildflowers and clover (with the purple flowers) and we have had a bunch of bees there for a couple of months .

  • ThatGuyJohn

    We need to look into the genocide thing again, as humanity is a virus and needs to be seriously culled if anything is to be sustainable on this planet for more than a couple hundred very hard years the way I see it. Greatly reduce the parasites/consumers and the ecosystem can flourish once again.

    • thestocks©

      UN estimates of global population trends show that families are getting smaller. “Empirical data from 230 countries since 1950 shows that the great majority have fertility declines,” said Gerhard Heilig, chief of population estimates and projections section at the UN.

      Globally, the fertility rate is falling to the “replacement level” — 2.1 children per woman, the rate at which children replace their parents (and make up for those who die young). If the global fertility rate does indeed reach replacement level by the end of the century, then the human population will stabilize between 9 billion and 10 billion. As far as Earth’s capacity is concerned, we’ll have gone about as far as we can go, but no farther.

    • Glenn Webb

      Hurry up and kill yourself then.

      • ThatGuyJohn

        I’ll start with you and then get to work on myself, dick. Your attitude puts you on the culling list.

  • Joe Sikes

    As a hobby beekeeper, I have observed an increase in Varoa, Hive Beetles, and Wax Moths at a much higher level than 10 years ago when I started. I’ve had healthy hives abscond for no reason with suitable space for growth. It used to be easier, but now every year it’s a struggle. Something’s keeping our bees weak allowing these pests to take hold. I’m not 100% sold that it is the pesticides, but probably a combination of things and that may be a part.

    • ThatGuyJohn

      I remember wax moths ruining several hives my father and I had some 25 years ago I figure. Never could win the battle and our hives swarmed up in a crabapple tree for a few days then just left. I still feel guilty that I couldn’t figure out how to help them when I was a youth. Today I’m still puzzled as to what brought it about. Funny, it all started from an interest in a merit badge back in my Scout days lol.

      • Joe Sikes

        I’ve finally tried painting one of my hives a different color because I’ve been told the moths are attracted to white. We’ll see.

  • RiverOfLife

    If you remember the concept of “the balance of nature” from high school biology, the way it works is that if any population starts getting too big, nature has a way of re-balancing things to bring that population back down. The human race has gotten way too populated already, and is still growing exponentially. A sustainable population on this planet is a few billion, but if we wanted to have good quality of life for everybody, that number is around one billion. We are currently at seven billion and growing. It is inevitable that we are in for a major correction, and probably within the next 20 years or so. Killing off the bee population is just going to speed that correction up. Are we really so stupid, collectively, that we are going to put corporate profit ahead of survival of our species? Apparently we are.

  • SwimmingWithTheFlow

    It is deeper than this. It is agrochemicals used everywhere that gets into the food chain, and the bees are on the front lines with their nectar and pollen collection. The very thing that boosts yields and kills weeds is decimating the bees.

  • alwedworth

    Europe does not have this problem. This is what Corporate controlled food looks like.

  • Big longlasting studies (already 3 took place) find out that NN isn’t responsable for CCD. That’s Varroa Destructor mutated out of Varroa Jacobsonii, in combination with Deformed Wing Virus an Nosema. Professional beekeepers keep bees just for pollinating. After the job has been done they kill there own bees because it’s much more conveniant and less expensive to buy just before springtime new Asian queens with a little state. These bees aren’t so a aggressiv. Unfortunately also for the milbs.