We may have run for the hills as kids if we saw a few bees buzzing nearby, but without them, we wouldn’t have been able to enjoy some important staple foods growing up: Apples, avocados, almonds, blueberries, cherries, and pumpkins—these are just a sampling of the many crops that rely on the pollination power of bees.
Bees pollinate more than $15 billion worth of U.S. crops each year, and yet massive bee die-offs in recent years are costing the economy an estimated $5.7 billion annually, not to mention the possible loss of our favorite foods; think Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie, chocolate without almonds, and chips without guacamole.
Forty-two percent of America’s bee colonies have vanished this year for a variety of reasons, including pesticide poisoning, habitat loss, and climate change. But thanks to recent bee-conscious policy changes and pesticide bans, the spotlight has been turned onto this crucial time to protect the bee population from further decline. Below, we break down seven ways this year was the sweetest one yet for saving bees.
1. Millions Take the Petition to Ban Neonicotinoid Pesticides to the White House
In March, more than 4 million people signed a petition calling for President Obama to ban neonicotinoid pesticides in light of billions of bee die-offs in recent years. The petition was presented to the White House ahead of revisions to the Saving America’s Pollinators Act, a bill that required the Environmental Protection Agency to suspend the use of four of the most toxic neonicotinoids until further safety review. Most neonicotinoids will undergo review in 2018.
2. Lowe's Home Improvement Announces Plan to Stop Selling Bee-Killing Pesticides
In April, Lowe's announced that all products containing neonicotinoid pesticides would be phased out of store shelves over the next four years. The news came a week after the EPA decided to suspend the issuing of new permits to use the harmful pesticides. Environmental activists had been targeting both Lowe’s and Home Depot over selling the pesticide-laden products, but in response to Lowe’s announcement, environmental group Friends of the Earth commended the home improvement store for taking into consideration consumer concerns and scientific studies on bee-killing pesticides.
3. White House Introduces Plans to Improve Bee Health
In late May, the Presidential Task Force released its strategy on reducing honey bee population declines and how to improve their health and habitats. The United States Department of Agriculture and Department of Interior also introduced a set of guidelines for land planners and overseers outlining how to maintain pollinator-friendly properties.
(Photo: Jason Reed/Reuters)
4. Federal Court Rules in Favor of Bees
In September, a federal appeals court overturned the EPA’s approval of Sulfoxaflor, a pesticide known to be highly toxic to bees. Judge Mary M. Schroeder wrote that the EPA “unconditionally registered” Sulfoxaflor without sufficient research into the toxicity of the chemical compound and ordered that it be pulled from stores by Oct. 18. When sprayed on crops, the pesticide kills insects instantaneously and absorbs into the plant itself; bugs that eat the plant die as well. In response, the EPA issued a cancellation order on Sulfoxaflor products in early November, prohibiting the distribution and sale of the pesticide-laden items.
5. U.S. Considers Listing the Rusty Patched Bumblebee as Endangered
In the weeks following the September Sulfoxaflor court case, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it would consider listing the rusty patched bumblebee as an endangered species, which would make it the first bee species protected under the United States Endangered Species Act. The FSW will determine if the label is warranted over a 12-month review period.
6. Second-Largest Popcorn Supplier Commits to Pesticides Phaseout
In October, Pop Weaver became the first U.S. food company to announce it would phase out the use of neonicotinoid seed coatings. The country’s second-largest popcorn producer committed to removing 50 percent by 2016 and 75 percent by 2017, with further details to be announced. Forty insecticides are registered for use on popcorn; most corn seeds in the U.S., if not all, are coated with neonicotinoids.
7. Home Depot Phases Out Bee-Killing Pesticides
In December, the world’s largest garden supply chain announced that it would stop pretreating plants with neonicotinoid pesticides by 2018 (it had already stopped treating 80 percent of plants with the harmful chemical). The company announced last summer that it would start labeling neonicotinoid-treated plants after a Friends of the Earth study found that more than 50 percent of plants sold in Home Depot supply stores—as well as Lowe’s and Walmart—in 18 locations were treated with bee-killing pesticides.