There is an increasing buzz around honey bees and other pollinators. Honey bees are important to agriculture and our food supply and in honor of National Pollinator Week we’d like to take this opportunity to address some questions related to honey bees.
Question 1: Why are honey bees important to agriculture?
Think of your breakfast, lunch or dinner today. Did you know approximately 30 percent of all of the wonderful foods we have at our finger tips are brought to us by the relationship among beekeepers, honey bees and farmers? USDA estimates the value of honey bees on our food supply is $19 billion. But, the real value is the priceless taste, feel and smell of that juicy berry in your hand. You can’t put a price on the nutrition delivered to us by honey bees in the variety of fruits, berries, vegetables, nuts and seeds that fill our grocery stores and our lives. Without honey bees and their relationship with flowering plants built over the millennia we lose a tremendous resource helps us, our children, our families, our neighbors and our communities. Addressing the important issue of honey bee health will require a lot of diverse experts to work together and we are proud to be part of that effort. Remember, your next meal begins with a farmer and a honey bee. (Jerry Hayes, Honey Bee Health Lead, Monsanto)
Question 2: Besides honey bees, what other pollinators contribute to agriculture and the environment?
In the environment, around 80 percent of all flowering plants depend upon pollinators to produce seeds, nuts and fruits. Most of these pollinators are not honey bees but other species of bees, butterflies and moths, bats, birds, beetles, wasps and flies. For agriculture in the United States it is estimated that more than $9 billion dollars of our economy is due to bees other than honey bees. Also, some species of bees are better pollinators for some crops than honey bees, for example Squash Bees for squash and melons, Blueberry Bees for blueberries and Blue Orchard Mason Bees for apples. Some crops like tomatoes cannot be pollinated by honey bees. For tomatoes Bumble Bees are the pollinators. We need to conserve all pollinators for agriculture and the environment. (Ed Spevak, Director Center for Native Pollinator Conservation, Saint Louis Zoo)
Question 3: Collaboration is key in solving complex problems. What is the new Honey Bee Health Coalition convened by The Keystone Center?
Recognizing that declines in honey bee and pollinator health have put agriculture, healthy ecosystems, and worldwide food security at risk, the Honey Bee Health Coalition was formed to promote collaborative solutions.
This diverse Coalition brings together beekeepers, growers, researchers, government agencies, agribusinesses, conservation groups, manufacturers and consumer brands, and other key partners to improve the health of honey bees and other pollinators and the security of our food supply. The Coalition’s mission is to collaboratively implement solutions that will help achieve a healthy population of honey bees while supporting healthy populations of native and managed pollinators in the context of productive agricultural systems and thriving ecosystems. Initial efforts focus on building solutions in key areas including forage and nutrition, crop pest management, hive management, and communications, outreach and education.
Through its unique network of private and public sector members, the Coalition will foster new partnerships, incubate and implement new solutions, and provide a funding mechanism to leverage existing efforts and expertise in addressing honey bee health issues. The Coalition will bring these diverse resources to bear in promoting communication, coordination, collaboration, and investment to strategically and substantively improve honey bee health in North America.
The Coalition is facilitated by The Keystone Center, an independent, non-profit organization specializing in collaborative decision-making processes for agriculture, environment, education, energy, and health policy issues. The Keystone Center is excited and honored to work with the diverse membership of the Coalition as it works to achieve significant and lasting collective impact to improve honey bee health. To learn more about the Coalition and see its membership list, please visit The Keystone Center. (Julie Shapiro, Senior Associate, The Keystone Center)
Question 4: How important is pollinator health to canola and other crops in Canada?
The estimated annual contribution of bee pollination to the Canadian agriculture industry is more than $2.1 billion. In Canada, honey bees and wild pollinators pollinate fruit trees, field crops and pedigreed hybrid seed canola, which is the main source of seed for the hybrid canola grown for oil production across the Canadian prairies. We need to protect and manage our pollinators through best management practices to restore honey bee health and protect alternative native pollinators. Interdisciplinary research to date in Canada has focused on pollinators’ health with emphasis on the Western honey bee to ensure a healthy supply of pollinators for our crops, to safeguard human food security and to preserve the ecosystem. This video, “Canola and Bees: A Sweet relationship” also provides additional information. (Dr. Medhat Nasr, Alberta Provincial Apiculturist)
Question 5: Is Monsanto working to develop any products to improve honey bee health?
Honey bee health is influenced by multiple factors such as nutrition, weather, pesticides, beekeeping practices, the Varroa mite and multiple viruses. Scientists today indicate that Varroa mite, along with bee viruses are the key contributors to colony losses. In 2011, Monsanto acquired Beeologics as a major investment in honey bee health. At Beeologics, we are working to develop two agricultural biological solutions within our BioDirect platform. The first is aimed to control Varroa mite population and the second to reduce viral load in the hive and control their replication (Merav Gleit, Bee Health Platform Lead, Beeologics, Israel)
Question 6: What role can and should Monsanto play in enhancing honey bee health?
Honeybees and beekeepers are in trouble and need help. Sometimes that help comes from unusual sources. Monsanto has taken more than a passing interest in honey bee health and is now putting significant resources into the search for solutions. With the acquisition of Beeologics they are seriously searching for creative ways to control Varroa. They have supplied the seed money to create a coalition of beekeepers, farm groups, researchers, non-governmental organizations, and government folks to sit down together and work on positive efforts to address honey bee health cooperatively. It is too early to say what may come of these efforts but certainly this is a good start. (Dave Mendes, Commercial Beekeeper, Florida)
Question 7: Why does Monsanto care about honey bees?
We depend on honey bees and other pollinators for approximately one third of our diet. As a company 100 percent focused on agriculture, it just makes sense that honey bees are important to us. Our business relies on healthy agricultural ecosystems and honey bees are an important part of many ecosystems. These beneficial insects are some of the hardest workers in agriculture, they pollinate many crops and can increase yield. (Maureen Mazurek, Sustainability, Monsanto)
Question 8: What is the Varroa destructor mite and how does it impact honey bees?
Varroa mites are parasitic mites that feed on the blood of honey bee immature (brood) and adult honey bees. In the process of feeding Varroa mites can transmit honey bee viruses to their host. This can cause individual bees to die prematurely. Varroa mites naturally occur on the Asian honey bee, where they don’t cause harm. Unfortunately it jumped hosts and now infects European honey bees, and causes sever damage to colonies. Unless beekeepers have a control plan in place they should expect to lose untreated colonies once every two years. There is little doubt that Varroa mites are the biggest contributor to increased losses reported around the world. (Dennis VanEnglesdorp, PhD, Department of Entomology, University of Maryland)
Question 9: How does Monsanto evaluate if their products have an adverse impact on honey bees or other pollinators? Can neonicotinoid insecticides be used safely as seed treatments and not impact honey bees?
We are committed to helping farmers produce food in a sustainable way. That’s why we rigorously evaluate the ecological safety of our chemical pesticides and plant incorporated protectants. This evaluation meets established regulatory testing and environmental risk assessment guidleines and includes an assessment of the potential for our products to adversely affect honey bees and other pollinators. Presently, honey bees are used as surrogates for all bee pollinators but in the near future validated regulatory guidelines will be developed to test other species of bees. We are actively partnering with a diverse group of experts in the field to facilitate the development and validation of these new testing and assessment procedures.
Neonicotinoid seed treatments can be a valuable tool to control pests that damage key crops. A concern with the use of neonicotinoid seed treatment is exposure to dust during planting and residues in nectar and pollen from treated crops. Exposure to dust can be effectively managed and minimized by optimization of seed treatment quality and following best management practices that minimize exposure to pollinators. The safety of neonicotinoid seed treatments to honey bees from exposure to pollen and nectar from treated crops has been thoroughly investigated in a number of higher Tier field studies under realistic conditions. These higher tier field studies have shown no indication that bee colonies could be damaged by sublethal effects of neonicotinoids under realistic exposure conditions. The basis for this finding is that traces of systemic residues in nectar and pollen of treated crops are below concentrations that could damage honey bee colonies. Monitoring data show no correlation between honey bee colony losses and the use of neonicotinoids as seed treatments. (Steve Levine, – Ecotoxicology and Environmental Risk Assessment Regulatory Sciences, Monsanto)
Question 10: According to a 2013 joint United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) report one of the contributing factors to honey bee decline is poor nutrition. What is being done to address honey bee nutrition?
Researchers are investigating ways to enhance bee nutrition by developing diets that are applied directly to hives and by providing quality forage for bees. Regarding the former, beekeepers routinely feed colonies pollen “substitutes” or “supplements” to make up for the lack of diet diversity bees encounter when foraging on monocultures. Investigators are working on understanding the nutritional needs of bees so that they can develop better diets that meet those needs more appropriately. Finally, and most importantly, researchers are exploring the use of cover crops, roadside plantings, field crop margin enhancements, etc. to increase the floral diversity, and therefore diet quality, available to bees. (Jamie Ellis, PhD, Department of Entomology and Nematology, University of Florida)