Washington Secrets

Food scare: Not enough bees to pollinate crops

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Politics,Paul Bedard,Washington Secrets,Environment,Agriculture

The honey bee disaster just got worse.

In a new Agriculture Department report about the declining health and numbers of beehives, one of the nation's leading bee experts said that the federal government doesn't think there are enough of the buzzing bugs to pollinate America's crops.

"Healthy honey bee colonies are critical for meeting the demands of food production in the United States," said USDA scientist Jeff Pettis. But, he cautioned, "Currently, the survivorship of honey bee colonies is too low for us to be confident in our ability to meet the pollination demands of U.S. agricultural crops."

About one-third of all food and beverages are made possible by pollination, mainly by honey bees trucked into orchards and fields.

The report revealed that the nation's beekeepers have 2.5 million hives. In 1947, when American population was half the size of today's 314 million, beekeepers had 6 million hives.

The "Report on the National Stakeholders Conference on Honey Bee Health" said that the mysterious Colony Collapse Disorder and other hive-killing symptoms have cost beekeepers $2 billion and there is no indication that the crisis is easing.

But the federal government didn't place the blame on the bee die-off on pesticides, despite a near universal belief among the honey bee industry that new high-tech insecticides are largely to blame. In fact, the report called for more study of pesticides while blaming traditional enemies of bees like mites.

That enraged the industry. Kim Flottum, editor of the authoritative Bee Culture magazine, told Secrets, "Same 'ole, same 'ole. Nothing new."

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