The bee and honey industry and agriculture interests are caught in a dilemma: how to protect bees and other pollinators while maintaining the crop protection products farmers need to manage pests.

Protecting bees without sacrificing farm efficiency is a serious concern for the National Cotton Council, says Don Parker, Council IPM manager.

Parker addressed the Cotton consultants’ conference Monday at the Beltwide Cotton Conferences in New Orleans. “We’re trying to educate consultants (and others) about recent events and the amount of activity surrounding honey bees. These issues will affect the farm,” he said.

It’s an issue that has been building for several years, initially called colony collapse disorder. “Bee keepers have lost a significant number of bees to overwinter mortality,” Parker said. “They think they are fighting for survival. But we have to find a way to assure our survival as well.”

The term colony collapse disorder has been changed to bee health and suspected causes include multiple factors, including pesticide use. Parasites, pathogens, pests, loss of habitat, genetics and bee management stress are also cited as potential contributors to bee health.

“Researchers have no answers and have found no smoking gun, no number one factor,” Parker said.

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Varroa mite infestation “is a significant factor. Some say pesticides are as well. A number of interactive research efforts can’t separate factors out. But we do see a focus on pesticides and recommendations to change use.”

Bee keepers and other groups are putting a lot of pressure on the EPA regarding pollinator protection.  Those changes would alter the way EPA evaluates products for bee safety. “EPA announced its intention to change the pollinator risk management process to a more robust tiered assessment requiring multiple studies for evaluating product impacts on adult and immature honey bees and the resulting effect on colony survival,” Parker said. “Changes would require more tests and more cost to get a product to market.”

A lawsuit has been filed against EPA by the Pollinator Stewardship Council, American Honey Producers Association, National Honey Bee Advisory Board, American Beekeeping Federation and several individuals, challenging registration of Dow’s new insecticide, sulfoxalor—a product effective in controlling plant bugs and similar pests.”

Fungicide and insecticide seed treatments have also been targeted.

Studies in Europe have found no evidence that neonicotinoids were a significant contributor but there is significant pressure to restrict use.