The report says that a complex combination of causes is behind colony collapse disorder, or CCD, a term that applies to the difficult-to-explain losses that have hit U.S. honeybee colonies since 2006. In the worst cases, entire colonies have disappeared within a few weeks. That's a big problem, because the government says an estimated one-third of all food and beverages are made possible by pollination, mainly by honeybees. Pollination is said to be worth more than $20 billion in agricultural production annually. The relatively light bee colony losses during the winter of 2011-2012 gave some experts reason to hope that the CCD situation was getting better, but experts say that last winter's losses look as if they were worse than ever.
“The decline in honeybee health is a complex problem caused by a combination of stressors, and at EPA we are committed to continuing our work with USDA, researchers, beekeepers, growers and the public to address this challenge,” acting EPA Administrator Bob Perciasepe said in a statement. Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan promised that “key stakeholders will be engaged in addressing this challenge.” The report draws upon a gathering of officials and stakeholders that took place in Alexandria, Va., last October. It says that the parasitic Varroa mite is the “major factor” behind CCD in the United States and other countries. Varroa mites latch onto the bees and feed on their fluids, weakening the insects. The mites have developed widespread resistance to the chemicals that have been used to control them. The report says more attention should be given to breeding bees that can weather the mites, and notes that gene-sequencing projects focusing on honeybees as well as Varroa mites may provide fresh insights. Beekeepers have long known about the mite problem, as well as the other causes listed in the EPA-USDA report: poor nutrition, reduced genetic diversity, the Nosema gut parasite, emerging viruses and a bacterial disease called European foulbrood. But figuring out the role played by pesticides has posed the biggest challenge for researchers as well as policymakers.
Picture: A worker bee carries a Varroa mite, visible in this close-up view