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Beekeepers worry about effect of pesticides

Posted: August 25, 2013 - 12:04am
Deborah Sasser, a beekeeper and owner of Sasserfrass Hill Bee Farm, checks the hives in her backyard.  Photo by Jim Blaylock
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Deborah Sasser, a beekeeper and owner of Sasserfrass Hill Bee Farm, checks the hives in her backyard.

Despite newer, more stringent labels on pesticides aimed at protecting the bee population, Deborah Sasser is skeptical that the move will do anything to protect the declining number of bee colonies in the United States.

Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that new pesticide labels were being developed that would prohibit the use of some neonicotinoid pesticide products where bees are present.

“Multiple factors play a role in bee-colony declines, including pesticides,” said Jim Jones, assistant administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. “The Environmental Protection Agency is taking action to protect bees from pesticide exposure and these label changes will further our efforts.”

But Sasser, owner of Sasserfrass Hill Bee Farms in Augusta, said the move will likely have little to no impact.

“There is a rapid and alarming decline of honeybees all around the world,” said Sasser. “Just in the past two years honeybees have declined 31 percent. Scientists fear in 2014 there will not be enough bees to meet the pollination demands of crops in the United States.

Sasser explained that scientists say the “new generation of pesticides, neurotoxin neonicotinoids, a family of chemicals based on nicotine, are definitely killing honeybees and other pollinators. The neonicotinoids are applied to the seed and flow through the plant’s vascular system. The chemicals end up in the pollen and the nectar, as well as the fruit of the plants.”

Bees pollinate on those plants and ingest the fatal pesticide. As Sasser notes, insects are key to human survival.

“Our food supply is in jeopardy because one of the smallest but most important part of the growing process is in danger,” she said. “Honeybee decline is very real and complex. Pesticides, parasites, pests, genetically modified crops and destruction of flower-rich habitats are all contributing to the problem.”

The environmental impact, explains Sasser, will have severe repercussions for the long-term food security. The negative impact on the loss of pollinators, she said, has yet to be fully grasped or understood.

While the EPA continues with efforts to label pesticides with new warnings and advisories, Sasser said the best way to avoid the continued decline of the bee population is to avoid the use of pesticides all together.

“Please don’t use them,” she advises. “Natural pest control is less expensive than pesticides and safer for your garden, your family, natural wildlife and the environment. In fact, homeowners use about three times the amount of pesticides as farmers. Pick a pest and you can usually find a natural control for it.”

Individuals can help increase the bee population by planting wildflowers, gardening organically or creating a natural habitat where bees can thrive.

“Our pollinators are in trouble and we can all help save them and ultimately save ourselves,” said Sasser. “Otherwise, our diet will be altered forever. Everything from fruits, nuts, berries and seed are pollinated by bees. Without bees you will have a very bland diet of corn and wheat and pay a lot more for the crops that fill your plate.”

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