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Honeybees, Butterflies, and Pesticides

June 4, 2015
Honeybees and butterflies occupy a sensitive space in many peoples’ hearts, and it is no question that there is a call to action to help restore populations. Lawmakers and scientists are working on ways to restore the natural habitats of these pollinators; however, decisions should be dictated by scientific facts and not emotions.

Sue McCrum, the President of American Agri-Women (AAW), recently released an opinion piece in response to President Obama’s National Pollinator Health Strategy outlining ambitious federal goals for reducing honeybee colony overwintering losses, increasing the Eastern population of the monarch butterfly, and restoring or enhancing habitat.  Published in AgriPulse, McCrum’s piece works to educate the public and lawmakers on what factors to take into consideration when looking at policies that tackle this issue.
(We) need to “balance the unintended consequences of chemical exposure with the need for pest control.”

On behalf of the AAW, McCrum recognizes that the role of pollinators is invaluable to the ecosystem and agriculture, and that management practices within the industry are vital for the protection of such species. However:
We ask that the science not be swayed by emotions, especially when it comes to the use of approved pesticides on our farms, including neonicotinoids which have recently come under fire. Neonicotinoids  commonly referred to as neonics  play an important role in many farmers' pest control management plans.

Neonics are currently on hold by the EPA and no new or modified versions can be used until a review process is completed, even though many organizations have pointed out that neonics are not the cause of honeybee decline because the population has been stable since the 1990’s when neonics were first introduced.
“Last fall, the EPA surprised farmers with a seemingly rushed report claiming that neonics did not provide economic benefits to soybeans, an assertion that has been completely rejected by many national farm organizations, who point out that soybean farmers have no other defense against below ground pests. Meanwhile, econometric studies demonstrate neonics improve soybean yields by 3 percent, which any farmer knows is a very real benefit. Even the USDA weighed in, calling the report ‘premature’ and incomplete.’”

What people don’t know is that the sharpest decline for the honeybee population was actually after World War II, when small farms became scarcer. However, as the White House Strategy points out, the number one cause for honeybee population decline is due to parasites, especially the varroa mite. McCrum says that many bee owners have insecticides that aim to kill these parasites without hurting the bees, a place where innovation could really help improve honeybee health.
As the regulatory process goes forward, we need to be sure that these decisions  which can dramatically impact our ability to grow food and fiber  are made on the basis of sound science – and only sound science.

In 1974, American Agri-Women (AAW) was founded, and now celebrating their 40th anniversary, it has evolved to be the largest coalition of farm, ranch and agribusiness women. AAW provides a unique female insight when it comes to all things involving agriculture. Before the coalition was founded, there were many small organizations within each state, but the women bound together to create a national organization to unite the fragmented industry. They even have their own foundation to promote the development of educational materials and programs involving agriculture, and support leadership for women in the agriculture industry by giving scholarships and training opportunities.