Honey bees, crucial in the pollination of many U.S. crops, are still dying off at an worrisome rate, even though fewer were lost over the past winter.
Total losses of managed honey bee colonies was 23.2 percent nationwide for the 2013-2014 winter, according to the annual report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the “Bee Informed Partnership,” a group of honeybee industry participants.
The death rate for the most recent winter, October 2013 through April 2014, was better than the 30.5 percent loss reported for the winter of 2012-2013, but worse than the 21.9 percent in 2011-2012, the report said.
Over the past few years, bee populations have been dying at a rate the U.S. government says is economically unsustainable. Honey bees pollinate plants that produce about a quarter of the food consumed by Americans, including apples, almonds, watermelons and beans, according to government reports.
Scientists, consumer groups and bee keepers say the devastating rate of bee deaths is due at least in part to the growing use of pesticides sold by agrichemical companies to boost yields of staple crops such as corn.
They pointed to a study issued on May 9 by the Harvard School of Public Health that found two widely used neonicotinoids — a class of insecticide — appear to significantly harm honey bee colonies over the winter, particularly during colder winters.
Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta AG, Bayer AG and other agrichemical companies say the bees are being killed by other factors, such as mites.
Monsanto-owned BeeLogics, a bee health company, is one of the collaborators in the partnership with USDA that issued the report on Thursday, which appeared to lay much of the blame for die-offs on the “varroa mite,” an Asian bee parasite first found in the United States in 1987.