A House Agriculture Committee subcommittee on Tuesday welcomed a series of panelists to Capitol Hill to participate in a public hearing to review current research and application of management strategies to control pests and diseases currently affecting pollinators, like honeybees.
Increasing losses of pollinators as a result of Colony Collapse Disorder and other issues jeopardizes the approximately third of global food production that is dependent on animal pollination for reproduction.
The losses are particularly concerning because an easily identifiable cause for pollinator losses has not been determined, according to the Subcommittee on Horticulture, Research, Biotechnology and Foreign Agriculture Chairman Austin Scott, R-Ga. A leading cause, however, appears to be the Varroa Mite pest.
"I have heard from farmers in Oregon and around the country who are very concerned by the reported 30% decline in honey bee populations over the past 20 years," commented subcommittee Ranking Member Kurt Schrader, D-Ore. "Colony Collapse Disorder has been a longstanding area of research here in the United States, and we know it is a multi-faceted problem."
Looking to both review research and consider remedies to the ongoing problem of lost honeybee and pollinator populations, the panel first addressed the key pests and diseases – including bacterial infections and fungal diseases – that affect bee health.
According to the review, regions that have established Varroa mite populations have suffered consistently higher colony losses than those without.
The mite itself contributes to weakening colony health and modifying bee behavior, but it also spreads secondary infections within and between colonies. A general consensus is emerging that this mite, in association with a range of honey bee viruses, is a significant factor in the losses of managed honey bee colonies seen globally, a statement from the subcommittee indicated.
According to panelist Dr. Jeff Pettis, research leader with the Agricultural Research Service, several ongoing research efforts are looking into possible CCD causes and striving to enhance overall health of pollinators by improving bee management practices and studying how best to control diseases and pests.
Additionally, a number of other federal agencies, state departments of agriculture, universities, and private companies are conducting research studies to understand the causes of CCD.
Another panelist, Dr. David Fischer, manager of the Bayer North America Bee Care Center, explained that the company has invested $2.4 million in a state-of-the-art facility to study bee health, which opened earlier this month.
According to Fischer, Bayer has developed new seed application technology that reduces dust and insecticide exposure to honey bees in addition to the research center, and has invested in tools for beekeepers to limit Varroa infestations.
The recently passed farm bill also included numerous provisions to address the decline in pollinator health.
Testimony from Pettis, Fischer and two other producer-panelists can be accessed via the House Agriculture Committee website.