The evidence is “pretty damning” that dicamba affects both pollinator forage and the bees themselves
EXCERPT: Nine years ago, agricultural ecologist David Mortensen had told EPA officials that allowing dicamba use on genetically modified crops would pose serious risks to wild plants and the pollinators they sustain. In 2011, the EPA’s own scientists cited Mortensen’s work to conclude that increased use of dicamba could affect pollinators. But the agency registered dicamba in 2016 despite the warnings...
Bees face yet another lethal threat in dicamba, a drift-prone pesticide
By Liza Gross
Reveal, January 23, 2019
This article was produced in collaboration with the Food & Environment Reporting Network, an independent nonprofit news organization.
While soybean farmers watched the drift-prone weed killer dicamba ravage millions of acres of crops over the last two years, Arkansas beekeeper Richard Coy noticed a parallel disaster unfolding among the weeds near those fields.
When Coy spotted the withering weeds, he realized why hives that produced 100 pounds of honey three summers ago now were managing barely half that: Dicamba probably had destroyed his bees’ food.
In October, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency extended its approval of the weed killer for use on genetically modified soybeans and cotton, mostly in the South and Midwest, for two more years. At the time, the EPA said, “We expect there will be no adverse impacts to bees or other pollinators.”
But scientists warned the EPA years ago that dicamba would drift off fields and kill weeds that are vital to honeybees. The consequences of the EPA’s decisions now are rippling through the food system.
Dicamba already has destroyed millions of dollars’ worth of non-genetically modified soybeans and specialty crops, such as tomatoes and wine grapes. And now it appears to be a major factor in large financial losses for beekeepers. Hive losses don’t affect just the nation’s honey supply: Honeybees pollinate more than $15 billion worth of fruits, nuts and vegetables a year, largely in California, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“It seems like everybody’s been affected,” said Bret Adee, whose family runs the nation’s largest beekeeping outfit, in South Dakota. He thinks 2018 might be “the smallest crop in the history of the United States for honey production”.
From 2016 to 2017, U.S. honey production dropped 9 percent. Official statistics for 2018 have not been released.
Beekeepers long have struggled to protect their hives from parasites, viruses, insecticides and other colony-destroying threats. All these factors, as well as climate change, have been linked to colony collapse disorder, which emerged more than a decade ago and destroyed 30 to 90 percent of some beekeepers’ hives. Now with dicamba, beekeepers must contend with a scourge that can wipe out the food and habitat bees need to thrive.
Nine years ago, agricultural ecologist David Mortensen had told EPA officials that allowing dicamba use on genetically modified crops would pose serious risks to wild plants and the pollinators they sustain. In 2011, the EPA’s own scientists cited Mortensen’s work to conclude that increased use of dicamba could affect pollinators.
But the agency registered dicamba in 2016 despite the warnings, Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting and the Food & Environment Reporting Network reported in November. Last fall, the agency extended approval through 2020.