The Department of Agriculture today released an action plan for dealing with Colony Collapse Disorder, the mysterious affliction that has killed off many of the nation's honey bees in as many as 22 states. Some beekeepers watched as 90% of their bees left the hive and simply did not return.
While neither the full extent of the crisis -- nor its cause -- is known, and there were enough bees available to pollinate the nation's food crops, the crisis has many concerned about the future of the bee population, which is responsible for pollinating 130 crops, worth $15 billion.
"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," USDA Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics Gale Buchanan said. "This action plan provides a coordinated framework to ensure that all of the research that needs to be done is covered in order to get to the bottom of the (Colony Collapse Disorder) problem."
The USDA identified four potential causes, or some combination of causes that may be behind the disorder and warrant further study:
"Perhaps the most highly-suspected cause of CCD is a potential immune-suppressing stress on bees, caused by one or a combination of several factors," the USDA action plan reads.
The federal strategy aims to identify which of these, or which combination of these, factors is responsible for Colony Collapse Disorder. The coordinated study, which won't begin until next year, includes four basic components:
Even without Colony Collapse Disorder, some had already identified the state of pollinators as a "crisis." Native pollinating species -- such as many birds, bats, solitary bees and other insects -- have been in an unquantified but potentially steep decline, according to a 2006 National Academy of Science report. And the nation's 2.4 million honeybees -- a European import carried from farm to farm to pollinate the nation's crops efficiently -- were facing a variety of ongoing threats, and potential shortages.
Of the 2.4 million colonies of bees in the United States, the almond crop in California alone requires 1.3 million colonies, and this need is projected to increase significantly over the next few years.
"If researchers cannot find a solution to CCD," the USDA action plan reads, "beekeepers will be unable to meet demand for this and other crops."
The federal government has already boosted funding for bee research by diverting money from other projects -- upping bee research from $1.7 million annually to $7.4 million in this fiscal year.
Congress will also considering additional federal money for research and bee-related action. Sen. Barbara Boxer has proposed an $89 million Pollinator Protection Act that would dole out money for projects related to honey bee and native pollinator research and protection over five years.
I am pleased that USDA has recognized the need for immediate action to address the unexplained decline in our honeybee population," she said. "The USDA has taken a significant first step by coming forward with a plan to research Colony Collapse Disorder and mitigate its impact before our crops are at greater risk. The reports findings reinforce the need for significant research into CCD, which is why I will be working to include my legislation in the 2007 Farm Bill."
To read the USDA action plan, click here.
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