There are some things you just don’t screw with.
And my food is one of them.
The Trump administration is screwing with my food. And…
And you should be, too – because he’s screwing with your food, as well.
How is Trump screwing with our food?
He’s screwing with our bees.
So he’s screwing with our food.
What’s the connection?
Bees aren’t something we think about all that much. When they’re around we hope they don’t sting us, and otherwise, they’re just doing their bee thing.
For some bees, that “bee thing” is pollinating agricultural crops – about 90 of them.
But – a bee doesn’t get up in the morning and think, “I wonder how many crops I can pollinate today?”
Pollination is the wonderful side effect of a bee’s quest for food.
There are about 20,000 species of bees, but the hardworking honeybee is our big-time pollinator, and that’s the one I’m focusing on.
A few honeybee facts:
- Honeybees also don’t get up in the morning and think, “I wonder who I can sting today?” They really don’t want anything to do with us, especially since the bee dies after it stings you. Only the females – the worker bees – sting, and mainly when the hive is threatened, or when you act aggressively toward it. Best to give all bees a wide berth.
- A healthy honeybee hive consists of one queen, and her job is to lay the eggs that will spawn the hive’s next generation of bees. Drones are males, and their purpose is to mate with the new queen. The honeybees we see are outside the hive are females, and their roles are to forage for food (pollen and nectar from flowers), build and protect the hive, and clean and circulate air by beating their wings.
- The females – “worker bees” – visit 50 to 100 flowers during a collection trip, hence the phrase, “Busy as a bee.”
During that collection trip, a honeybee lands on an agricultural plant or tree’s flower, and collects nectar and pollen to bring back as food for the colony. Some pollen gets stuck on the bee’s body, and as it travels from plant to plant, pollen rubs off onto the female reproductive organs of new plants. This transfer of pollen allows for fertilization.
It’s a beautiful thing, and it’s been going on for millions of years.
And it’s a sweet thing, because the bees go back to the hive and make the honey we love to spread on toast, mix into cookies and cakes, and drizzle into our hot toddies.
And it’s a critical thing, because the pollinating process provides – according to the sources I’m reading – one of every three bites of our food.
Stop and think about that.
One-third of our food is pollinated by bees.
Imagine one-third of your food going away.
No more onions, celery, cucumber, broccoli, chili peppers, bell peppers, green beans, carrots, avocados…
Or watermelon, cantaloupe, oranges, lemons, limes, strawberries, apples, apricots, cherries, peaches, pears, blueberries, cranberries…
Or cashews, almonds, macadamia nuts…
And grapes? As in – wine? Grapes don’t need bees for pollination, but you’ll often see beehives in vineyards because the bees pollinate other plants that help keep grapevines healthy.
And alfalfa and clover. We don’t eat them, but beef and dairy cattle do – and that means burgers, steaks, milk, cheese and butter.
See how we rely on honeybees?
Many of these crops are pollinated by commercial beekeepers, who travel from state to state serving the many fruit, vegetable, and nut farms in need of honeybee pollination. Depending on the crop, a farmer will order a certain number of hives for each acre.
Honeybees have natural enemies, both small and large – parasites, mites, spiders, birds. Honeybees – like us – are also susceptible to viruses.
Honeybees – again, like us – can also suffer from stress, sometimes due to transportation to multiple locations across the country for providing pollination services.
Add in loss of habitat and the possible effects of climate change, and honeybees, to say the least, are vulnerable.
And that means – so is our food.
The alarms really started going off in 2006 when something that came to be known as Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD, was first reported.
CCD occurs when the majority of worker bees in a colony disappear – hives can’t sustain themselves without worker bees.
Commercial beekeepers were seeing a dramatic drop in their honeybee colonies:
And much of that loss was attributed to CCD.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cited a number of factors as causes for CCD, and one of those was…
A response came during the Bush administration 2007, with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) leading the federal government response to CCD.
USDA established a CCD Steering Committee with representatives from other government agencies and academia. The Steering Committee developed a Colony Collapse Disorder Action Plan which acknowledged,
“Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), a significant disappearance of honeybee colonies that may be affecting bees in more than 22 states, threatens the production of crops dependent on bees for pollination as well as honey production.”
In 2015 during the Obama administration, the EPA issued a moratorium on approving any new use permits for neonicotinoid pesticides, a class of insecticides tied by research to declining populations of bees and other pollinating insects around the world.
The EPA also imposed new restrictions on what pesticides farmers can use when commercial honeybees are pollinating their crops.
In 2015, the Obama administration also rolled out the first “National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honeybees and Other Pollinators,” a plan to save the bee, other small winged animals and their breeding grounds.
Again, in 2015, the USDA began collecting data tracking bees and their rapid decline, in a process called the Honey Bee Colonies report.
And in 2016, Congress passed the Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act. “For the first time in a generation, we are able to restrict chemicals already in commerce that pose risks to public health and the environment,” said Jim Jones, then the assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention.
If it was good for our environment, it was good for our bees.
In June 2019, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue proclaimed June 17-23 “National Pollinator Week:”
Perdue’s proclamation said, in part,
“Pollinator species such as birds and insects are essential partners of farmers and ranchers in producing much of our food supply, and healthy pollinator populations are critical to the continued economic well-being of agricultural producers.”
Pollinators had friends in high places.
The operative word being “had.”
Because Trump is screwing with all of this.
Which means he’s screwing with bees and hence – our food.
And he couldn’t have picked a worse time.
Last year beekeepers lost over 40% of their colonies, the worst winter losses on record:
But now – when the honeybee population is threatened more than ever – the Trump administration has been cutting back on critical research about honeybee populations and production, and stepping the use of pesticides that are known to kill honeybees:
August 2018: The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service announced the reversal of the Obama-era rule that banned the use of neonicotinoid pesticides in national wildlife refuges:
Fish and Wildlife Service deputy director Greg Sheehan said the move was needed to ensure adequate forage for migratory birds, including ducks and geese favored and hunted by sportsmen on many of the nation’s wildlife refuges.
December 2018: The USDA’s “Newsroom” website page announced that NASS – their National Agricultural Statistics Service – was suspending the “Cost of Pollination” report which was slated for release on December 21:
The stated goal of the USDA is “to build an even more robust scientific body of knowledge on honey bees at USDA,” so how does not providing this report do that?
Make a note of the underlined “was not made lightly” – you’ll be seeing that USDA language again.
May 2019: On the USDA’s “Surveys” website page for “Honey Bee Surveys and Reports,” last updated July 8, 2019, it states “in the past we only surveyed honey bee operations with five colonies or more. Now we collect the following data from operations fewer than five colonies”:
However, on May 16, 2019 the USDA website also stated, “Data for Operations with Less than Five Colonies” had been suspended:
Again, the stated goal of the USDA is “to build an even more robust scientific body of knowledge on honey bees at USDA,” so how does suspending data collection do that?
June 2019: The Environmental Protection Agency announced so-called “emergency” approvals to spray sulfoxaflor – an insecticide it considers “very highly toxic” to bees – on nearly 14 million acres of crops known to attract bees:
The approval includes 2019-grown crops in 11 states, 10 of which have been granted the approvals for at least four consecutive years for the same “emergency.” Five have been given approvals for at least six consecutive years.
Sulfoxaflor was banned in 2015 after a lawsuit by beekeepers and farmers, but the administration used a loophole in the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act to grant the exemptions.
July 2019: The USDA – which is headed by that same Sonny Perdue who had just proclaimed “National Pollinator Week” in June – said that it would indefinitely suspend data collection for its “Honey Bee Colonies” survey, which has been compiled every year since 2015:
I repeat – the stated goal of the USDA is “to build an even more robust scientific body of knowledge on honey bees at USDA,” so how does suspending data collection do that?
Note the red underline – another “was not taken lightly.”
This is the same USDA that, just two years ago, touted its work on honeybees, pointing out that managed colonies were responsible for increasing crop yield and quality by $15 billion:
The USDA said in a statement back then:
“Honey bees may be some of the hardest workers you’ll ever see, but they need our help. At USDA, we are making sure that they get it.”
Well, they might have been then, but they sure as hell aren’t now.
And I mean right now – apparently the EPA’s permitting the “emergency” use of sulfoxaflor in June 2019 wasn’t enough for the Trump administration:
Friday, July 12, 2019: The EPA has approved broad new applications of sulfoxaflor for use on some crops for the first time including “alfalfa, cacao, citrus, corn, cotton, cucurbits [such as squash and cucumbers], grains, pineapple, sorghum, soybeans and strawberries.
And this time around, the EPA isn’t even pretending that this is an “emergency”:
Let’s do a recap:
- June 2018: The Department of the Interior reversed the ban on the use of neonicotinoids in wildlife refuges.
- December 2018: The USDA suspended the “Cost of Pollination” report.
- May 2019: The USDA suspended collecting data for operations with less than five colonies.
- June 2019: The EPA announced “emergency” approvals to spray sulfoxaflor on nearly 14 million acres of crops known to attract bees.
- July 2019: The USDA suspended data collection for its Honey Bee Colonies survey.
- July 2019: The EPA approved broad new applications of sulfoxaflor.
Why did the government approve the use of neonicotinoids in our wildlife refuges in August 2018?
One article suggested:
“US interior secretary Ryan Zinke, whose department oversees the Fish and Wildlife Service, has made expansion of hunting on public lands a priority for his agency.”
Why did the EPA approve the “emergency” use of sulfoxaflor in June 2019?
Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said:
“The only emergency here is the Trump EPA’s reckless approval of this dangerous bee-killing pesticide. It’s sickening that even amid the current insect apocalypse, the EPA’s priority is protecting pesticide industry profits.”
Why did the EPA expand the use of sulfoxaflor in July 2019?
Again, from Lori Ann Burd:
“The Trump EPA’s reckless approval of this bee-killing pesticide across 200 million U.S. acres of crops like strawberries and watermelon without any public process is a terrible blow to imperiled pollinators. With no opportunity for independent oversight or review, this autocratic administration’s appalling decision to bow to industry and grant broad approval for this highly toxic insecticide leaves us with no choice but to take legal action.”
And these rollbacks are only part of the Trump administration’s big picture:
Now, back to the USDA.
Why did the USDA suspend honeybee data collecting?
A budget shortfall, they said.
A budget shortfall?
A shortfall in the same government that just spent as-yet unknown millions on Trump’s July 4 salute to himself?
The same government that, after spending $745 million on upgrading the Air Force’s Air Operations Center, canceled the uncompleted project?
The same government whose Drug Enforcement Agency and Department of Defense spent $64 million on an ATR-42-500 counter-narcotics aircraft that never flew?
This same government is claiming a budget shortfall?
We’re talking about our food supply.
And here’s an irony.
This is the same USDA that’s talked about its “food pyramid” for years, recommending 3-5 servings of vegetables and 2-4 servings of fruit per day:
Where are all those fruits and vegetables going to come from, if the government doesn’t do better by our bees?
Well, at least we know that these government decisions were “not taken lightly.”
Which is of no comfort to you – or me –
Or our dead honeybees.
Update: August 20, 2019
The Center for Food Safety and the Center for Biological Diversity filed suit in the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals against the Trump administration over the Environmental Protection Agency’s recent approval of expanded use of the bee-killing pesticide sulfoxaflor across 200 million acres in 12 states.
Lori Ann Burd, director of the environmental health program at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement that the approval of the pesticide was a terrible mistake, “even for Trump’s EPA.
“While leading scientists and countries across the globe are calling for eliminating harmful neonicotinoid pesticides like sulfoxaflor, Team Trump is cheerfully promoting its use like a corporate PR firm,” said Burd. “It’s nauseating.”