USDA Suspends Honeybee Research Despite Rapid Decline of Bee Populations

By Elias Marat

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has suspended its annual surveys of the honeybee population as the federal agency increasingly turns toward representing big agricultural interests rather than regulating them.

Citing the need for budget cuts, the Trump administration’s suspension of the Honey Bee Colonies report will mean that researchers and the honey bee industry will lose a crucial tool to understanding the precipitous decline of honeybee populations since 2006.

Conservationist groups have denounced the move to curtail the program, accusing the Trump administration of waging a concerted effort to undermine federal research.

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Rebecca Boehm, an economist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told CNN:

This is yet another example of the Trump administration systematically undermining federal research on food safety, farm productivity, and the public interest writ large.

A notice posted over the weekend by the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Survey said:

The decision to suspend data collection was not made lightly, but was necessary given available fiscal and program resources.

While the suspension is ostensibly “temporary,” according to a USDA spokesperson, the agency has been noncommittal about if and when the agency would restart the survey. It also has not provided a figure in terms of fiscal savings resulting from the suspension.

The move to curtail the Honey Bee Colonies report is at least the third bee-related research project to be halted or reduced by the Trump administration, which has moved toward reversing the Obama administration’s efforts to protect pollinators such as bees.

The USDA began the survey in 2015 to keep track of the quarterly population of honeybees in each state. The most recent report is scheduled to be released in August, but will only include data taken from last January to April of this year.

Since 2017, however, the USDA has been headed by Secretary of Agriculture George “Sonny” Perdue III, a former Georgia governor with a stake in the beef industry who has been dogged by corruption allegations throughout his political career and whom critics see as “more interested in rewarding industry and agriculture than in protecting the public health.”

The USDA has since been transformed into an industry vessel that rubber stamps Big Food and Big Agriculture demands, enshrining them into law. Karen Perry Stillerman, senior analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Food and Environment Program, told the Project On Government Oversight:

Secretary Perdue seems to have installed an extra-large revolving door to usher in lobbyists and executives from giant corporations.

Bees pollinate a third of edible crops in the U.S., including apples, almonds, grapes and avocados. The pollinators’ numbers have plunged due to widespread pesticide use, habitat loss, parasites like varroa mites and the climate crisis, alarming authorities over the effect that collapsing bee populations will have on wild vegetation and agricultural crops worldwide.

A study led by the University of Maryland released in June found that beekeepers in the U.S. lost a staggering 38 percent of their colonies last winter, the greatest winter loss since the university’s research began in 2006, according to The Washington Post.

Geoffrey Williams, survey co-author and assistant professor of entomology at Auburn University, told The Post:

We don’t seem to be making particularly great progress to reduce overall losses.

Just three weeks ago, Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency opened the floodgates on the use of bee-killing neonicotinoids by big agriculture on 13.9 million acres of crops like cotton and sorghum that attract bees.

The EPA’s move clears sulfoxaflor – an insecticide considered “very highly toxic” to bees by the agency – for use on over 16 million acres of crops that attract bees. In combination with the proliferation of insect resistant genetically modified crops, bee populations have continued to plummet worldwide.

study last year by researchers at Royal Holloway, University of London found that exposure to sulfoxaflor could reduce the size of bumblebee colonies and their offspring by 54 percent.

Mace Vaughan, co-director of the Pollinator Conservation Program at Xerces Society, commented:

We need some sort of thermometer to be able to determine, at a big scale, are we actually helping to turn around hive loses, to turn around pollinator declines.

Understanding what’s going on with honeybees is incredibly important to having a sense of what’s impacting pollinators in general.

By Elias Marat | Creative Commons |

Image credit: Pixabay

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