Monsanto on Friday announced that it has joined a multi-stakeholder coalition aimed at improving health in honey bee populations, which includes agriculture commodity groups, industry groups, government agencies, environmental NGOs and agriculture companies.
The coalition will have four priority areas of focus:
- Improving honey bee nutrition
- Providing research investment in novel technology for varroa and virus control
- Understanding science-based approaches to studying pesticide impacts on honey bees and increasing awareness of pesticide best management practices among growers and beekeepers
- Enabling economic empowerment of beekeepers
A significant decline in the honey bee population is posing a threat to agricultural sustainability and food security, as well as to ecosystem health and biodiversity. In the United States, beekeepers have seen an average winter loss of more than 30 percent of honey bee colonies every year since 2006 as a result of CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder), a phenomenon in which bees disappear abruptly from an otherwise healthy colony.
The low survival rate of honey bee colonies is leading to a major decline in the overall honey bee population. While historically around six million colonies existed in the United States; today only 2.5 million remain.
“One-third of our diet is made up of vegetables, fruits and nuts that depend on pollinators like honey bees,” said Jerry Hayes, Monsanto’s Commercial Bee Health Lead. “Honey bees play an essential role in ensuring crop yields — a critical need for global food security. The coalition will take an action-oriented approach to improve and sustain honey bee health.”
Some of the other coalition members include the Keystone Center, American Honey Producers Association, American Beekeeping Federation, World Wildlife Fund, honey bee research organization Project Apis m. (PAm) and commodity groups. The announcement was made at the 2013 Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting.
The controversial agribusiness giant says it has been involved with bee research since 2011 when it acquired Beeologics, which researches and tests biological products to provide targeted control of pests and diseases to provide safe, effective ways to protect the honey bee. The company also has collaborated with PAm to help advance projects aimed at providing more nutritious food for bees, and is doing extensive research on the varroa mite, which may be one factor in the decline of honey bee health.
A class of pesticides called neonicotinoid pesticides, produced by Bayer and used by Monsanto to treat some of its seeds, has long been considered a culprit in the widespread decline of bee populations. In June, Monsanto held a Honey Bee Health Summit in partnership with PAm and the Honey Bee Advisory Council, an organization made up of honey bee researchers and beekeepers. While the event was attended by researchers and commercial and amateur beekeepers, it garnered cynicism from environmental organizations, activists and other groups.
At the Summit, Hayes told Fast Co.Exist that with its resources, Monsanto is in a unique position to help tackle the CCD problem. "I’m optimistic that we need to give Monsanto a shot at this," he said. "There are so many smart people here, they have so much expensive equipment and they have the knowledge, skills, and ability for testing and trials. It’s something that’s never been available to the beekeeping industry in one location."
In a separate effort to protect honey bee populations, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in August released new pesticide labels that forbid the use of some neonicotinoid pesticide products where bees are present.