A coalition of 58 environmental organizations, grower groups and businesses sent a letter to members of the farm bill conference committee urging the House and Senate conferees to include House-passed pollinator protection language in any compromise version of the farm bill reached by the committee.
The letter, sent Oct. 23 by the Center for Food Safety, Greenpeace, the National Farmers Union and other groups, urges support for the pollinator protection language, which the groups say would greatly improve federal coordination in addressing widespread honey bee and other pollinator population declines.
The House and Senate Agriculture committees announced Oct. 23 that the farm bill conferees will hold their first public meeting Oct. 30. The meeting will include opening statements and discussion of the two chambers' differing versions of the farm bill.
The pollinator protection language, found in the House-passed Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013 (H.R. 2642), would establish an Agriculture Department task force on bee health and commercial beekeeping and would require federal agencies to provide formal guidance on various issues related to pollinator protection, including permitting managed honey bees to forage on National Forest Service land and using the best available science to study environmental and chemical stressors on pollinator health.
The pollinator language would require a pollinator task force to submit a report to Congress summarizing federal and international activities to address pollinator population declines and providing recommendations on how to better coordinate federal agency efforts to address the decline of managed honey bees and native bees.
The Environmental Protection Agency and Agriculture Department released a report in May concluding that additional research and improved data collection are needed to determine whether pesticide exposure is contributing to pollinator population declines. The report identified several factors that are believed to play a role in the population declines, including the varroa mite, viruses, poor nutrition and a lack of genetic diversity within honey bee colonies .
Food Group Expects Senate Support
The House included the pollinator language, which was offered as an amendment to the farm bill by Reps. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) and Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), on a vote of 273-149.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, offered similar language as an amendment to the Senate bill, but that amendment did not receive a vote.
The Center for Food Safety said in an Oct. 23 statement that it is optimistic that the Senate conferees will support the House pollinator language in conference.
'Deliberate Action' Needed
The letter states that extreme declines during the winter of 2012-13 indicated that “deliberate action” is needed to protect honey bees and beekeeping operations in the United States.
Many beekeepers have documented bee kills of between 50 percent and 70 percent of their hives this year, according to the letter.
“Maintaining healthy populations of honey bees and other pollinators is essential for the long-term success of American agriculture,” the groups said.
Managed pollinators contribute between $20 billion and $30 billion in agricultural production annually in the U.S., according to the letter.
The groups said inclusion of the pollinator protection language would be a “significant step” in ensuring the long-term viability of managed honey bees and native pollinators.
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