Saving the Bees

The case of the disappearing bees (i.e. the "colony collapse disorder") has become one of this year's most buzzed about science stories. We've already covered it several times in the past few months, and though we were happy to recently report that organic bees are apparently thriving, little else in terms of progress has been made in isolating the underlying cause(s) of these massive losses. Under pressure from both farmers and the Congress, the Agriculture Department has finally decided to get in on the act and is mobilizing to devote a slew of new resources to protect the remaining honey bees and study CCD.

Citing the obvious, Agriculture Undersecretary Gale Buchanan warned that: "There were enough honey bees to provide pollination for U.S. agriculture this year, but beekeepers could face a serious problem next year and beyond." Representative Dennis Cardoza (D-Calif.), who, as chair of the House Horticulture and Organic Agriculture Subcommittee, organized the first congressional hearing earlier this year to discuss this phenomenon, said: "Colony collapse disorder is a looming disaster on the horizon. We must continue to devote significant resources to understanding and treating the disorder."Though beekeepers nationwide have felt the hurt from these mysterious disappearances, California's beekeepers, who rely on bees to pollinate their almond orchards (a nearly $3 billion-a-year industry), have been particularly hard-hit in recent months. Out of the 2.4 million commercial bee colonies in the country, 1.3 million only pollinate almond orchards.

The Agriculture Research Service, working primarily with scientists from North Carolina State University and Pennsylvania State University, released a 28-page action plan yesterday that proposes to:

• Spend more money: the bee researchers' current annual $7.4 million budget will be upped by $1 million for work on honey bee health.

• Conduct new surveys: Agriculture Department agencies will work with university researchers to make their surveys more comprehensive by including information about pesticides, pests and environmental stresses.

• Find fixes: officials will place a greater onus on "developing general best management practices" and spreading information through the internet.

Separate from these proposals, Alcee Hastings, a Democratic representative from Florida, has just introduced legislation to allow an additional $7.25 million annually to conduct more research on the so-called "colony collapse disorder."

Via ::McClatchy: USDA buzzing with new plan to fight collapse of bee colonies (news website)

Tags: California