[View Point] Pollinator Health: The Latest

Columns - View Point

July 30, 2014

If you think the pollinator health issue is going away any time soon, think again. The latest chapter in this ongoing story, with significant potential implications for the pest management industry, was the recent announcement by the Obama Administration to expand federal efforts to reverse pollinator losses and help restore populations to healthy levels by establishing a Pollinator Health Task Force to be co-chaired by the Secretary of Agriculture and the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Within 180 days, the Task Force will develop a National Pollinator Health Strategy, “which shall include explicit goals, milestones and metrics to measure progress,” according to a Presidential Memorandum distributed by the White House press office in June.

Industry trade groups and other interested parties applauded the Obama Administration’s measured approach to this complex issue. “The President’s memorandum presents a comprehensive strategy and calls for broad participation from a number of federal agencies,” observed Jay Vroom, president and CEO, CropLife America (CLA). “CLA is hopeful that this level of federal cooperation will help generate practical, science-based solutions for improving pollinator health.” The Entomological Society of America (ESA) also welcomed the announcement. “We applaud the President’s strategy to promote pollinator health through collaborative efforts of federal agencies,” said Dr. Frank Zalom, president, ESA. “Increased support for entomological research on a number of topics relevant to pollinator biology is crucial to developing solutions that will address the threats to pollinator health and prevent further decline of pollinator populations.”

The response, not surprisingly, was more muted from the environmental community, including the group Beyond Pesticides, which responded: “Federal agencies like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and USDA have been slow to respond to pollinator losses and must take immediate action, especially on pesticides known to be toxic to bees and other pollinators ... With one in three bites of food reliant on pollinators, it is imperative that solutions be found quickly to protect bees and other pollinators.”

When it comes to protecting our nation’s food supply, however, Beyond Pesticides is preaching to the choir. Fact is, the scientists employed by global brands like Bayer, Syngenta, BASF and others spend a signifcant portion of their work life developing science-based solutions designed to increase crop yields, limit post-harvest losses, reduce water usage and ensure a sustainable food supply for a hungry world. And they’ve done a commendable job of doing just that over the years, although with the United Nations General Assembly reporting that “food production must double by 2050 to meet the demand of the world’s growing population,” they won’t be able to rest on their laurels any time soon.

Despite what the public may believe, scientists working diligently behind the scenes at these firms are as committed to protecting pollinator health as many of their most outspoken opponents. Joe Hope, senior principal scientist, Bayer CropScience, is typical. While attending the opening of Bayer’s new Bee Care Center earlier this year, I learned Hope had volunteered to serve as a tour guide during the event because he’s a beekeeper himself, housing several colonies on his family farm in Mebane, N.C. Hope is all for protecting pollinators, but he also understands that sound science takes time. While the media, public, environmental activists and political pundits may want immediate answers to these complex questions, scientists understand that it’s not quite so easy to determine the precise cause — or more likely causes — for the decline in pollinator populations.

That’s the bad news. The good news is I’m confident the scientific community eventually will come up with the answer(s). That’s why the Obama Administration’s balanced approach to this issue — along with industry’s ongoing investment in programs like the Bayer Bee Care Center — are steps in the right direction. The sooner we can secure the answers to these multi-faceted questions, the better equipped we’ll be to protect not only pollinators, but the pesticide tools PMPs and farmers use every day to safeguard the public’s health and property, while ensuring a sustainable food supply for a rapidly growing world.


The author is publisher of PCT magazine.