The following editorial appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
More than 40 percent of honeybees in managed colonies died during the past year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said last week. Sharply different responses to the numbers indicate how politically charged the subject has become, with environmentalists calling the report catastrophic and one company heralding it as good news.
In the 12 months beginning in April 2014, beekeepers reported that 42.1 percent of their honeybees died, up from 34.2 percent the previous year, the USDA said.
But because bees died at a slightly lower rate this past winter, Bayer CropScience issued a statement trumpeting “good news on overwinter bee health trends.” As a manufacturer of a type of insecticide that some scientists blame for honeybee loss, Bayer CropScience looks hard for the silver lining in what many believe is a global catastrophe.
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Honeybees are important to the food supply because they pollinate 130 types of fruits, nuts and vegetables. Their numbers have been declining since 2006, causing the government to form a task force and dispatch $3 million so farmers in five states could re-seed pastures with the clover and alfalfa that bees find tasty.
Scientists remain divided on the cause of the decadelong die-off. Culprits include pesticides, mites, harsh winters and cell phone towers, as well as keepers who feed bees high fructose corn syrup instead of honey.
The USDA called the losses “very troubling.” In the meantime, there’s something everyone can do: plant flowers. And for the love of groceries, if honeybees show up in your yard this spring, treat them as honored guests.
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