The White House has announced an ambitious plan to “promote the health of honeybees and other pollinators” in the United States in a bid to help reverse a worrying trend that has seen the honeybee population fall by half over the last seven decades.
It includes making millions of acres of federal land more bee-friendly, an explicit ambition to increase the population of the monarch butterfly, and the provision of millions of dollars to be spent on research.
"The decline of these species is a serious problem and is a threat to the health of our country's agricultural system," said Congresswoman Chellie Pingree. "Bees and monarchs add $15 billion in value every year to the crops they help pollinate, and if these species disappear there are a lot of farms that could disappear with them."
The plan announced by the Obama Administration today sets a goal of dramatically reducing honey bee die-offs from the current 40 pecent a year to 15 percent and increasing the population of migrating monarch butterflies from the current 33 million to 220 million by 2020. In 1994, an estimated 1 billion butterflies migrated to a mountain forest in Mexico.
A third of what we eat on our plate would disappear without bees according to the federal government.
Two of the most commonly used reasons for the mass decline of honey bees are loss of habitat, which today’s plan expressly addresses, and widespread use of toxic pesticides, which it does to a far lesser degree.
"One missing link in this strategy is the effect of pesticides and herbicides on pollinators," Pingree said. "Increasingly, pesticides are being linked to death of honey bees and the wide-spread use of Roundup on GMO crops has wiped out milkweed and monarch butterflies are disappearing as a result."
Pingree has been a vocal critic of the use of genetically modified crops that are designed to resist herbicides like glyphosate (the main ingredient in Roundup).
Last year, research emerged from Harvard University showing that when colonies of honeybees were exposed insecticide around the world, half of them died. More needs to be done to protect honeybees.
Honeybees, both domestic and wild, are responsible for 80 percent of the world’s pollination according to a report by Greenpeace.