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17 billion honey bees injured, killed, threatening apple, berry, veggie crops

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Food and Drink,Paul Bedard,Washington Secrets,Agriculture,California,EPA,Bees,Insects

Commercial beekeepers who flood California's almond orchards with nearly 2 million hives every March have lost 25 percent of their colonies to chemical sprays and they are blaming loose regulations for the injury and deaths of an estimated 17 billion bees.

The crisis, which robbed the beekeepers of at least $106 million, is expected to slam subsequent crops that need honeybee pollination from the commercial beekeepers including much of the nation’s fruits and vegetables such as apples, blueberries and squash.

“The enormity of this massacre is mind-numbing, and it will be felt all season long all across the U.S.,” said Kim Flottum, editor of Bee Culture magazine, the industry journal.

He told Secrets that the beekeepers are threatening to stop trucking their bees to orchards and vegetable fields, or charge a big “pesticide surcharge” to cover losses. He revealed the kill-off in his "Catch the Buzz" column.

“That beekeepers are no longer willing to make these sacrifices – no matter the fees charged or prices paid – is not only not a surprise, but should be reason enough for EPA and almond growers to pay attention to not what the chemical labels say, but what common sense dictates. DON’T SPRAY BEES WITH ANYTHING, EVER!” Flottum emailed Secrets.

Beekeepers have been urging the EPA to tighten restrictions on pesticides. They prefer spraying at night when bees are back in the hives, or no spraying at all.

The EPA has focused on the issue and believes the labels on approved chemicals are adequate. It has also moved to improve labels on pesticides to save bees and encouraged farmers to limit sprays so they don't spread in the wind. What's more, they can't police how farmers handle pesticides.

The Department of Agriculture is also spending $3 million to improve pastures in the midwest used by bees. Overall, bees are responsible for pollinating $15 billion worth of produce each year.

In the California case, the farmers claim they followed the approved chemical labeling and still the bees were hurt or killed.

According to the Pollinator Stewardship Council, a bee advocate group, the spray used in the almond fields resulted in "dead adult bees, and dead, dying, and deformed brood." A poll of 75 beekeepers found that 80,000 of their colonies were damaged, 75 percent of them severely.

Overall, said the council, about 1.7 million hives supplied by 1,300 commercial beekeepers were used to pollinate the almonds. Some 25 percent or up to 425,000 colonies, were severely damaged or killed. Each hive has some 40,000 or more bees.

The colony deaths were so large for some beekeepers that they don’t plan to return to the almond fields next year.

“What happens in almonds doesn’t stay in almonds,” said Flottum.

He added that the loss of bees involved in pollinating also hurt the practice of using hives expanded during their stay in almond orchards to make new hives and sell to big and hobby beekeepers, likely resulting in a bee shortage this summer.

Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at pbedard@washingtonexaminer.com.