Obama launches plan to save hardworking honey bees

President Barack Obama has launched a determined effort to save some of America`s busiest workers, the honey bees, crucial for the food industry and contributes a whopping USD 15 billion in value to agricultural crops.

PTI| Last Updated: Jun 22, 2014, 15:05 PM IST

Washington: President Barack Obama has launched a determined effort to save some of America`s busiest workers, the honey bees, crucial for the food industry and contributes a whopping USD 15 billion in value to agricultural crops.

Obama has created a task force comprising various agencies to address the issue of rapidly diminishing honey bees and other pollinators, who play an integral to food security in the United States.

Honey bees pollinate fruit, nuts and vegetables, and are crucial for the nation`s food industry.

They have declined sharply in recent years due to various factors, including pesticides, mite infestations and loss of genetic diversity, the White House said on Friday.

"Pollination is integral to food security in the United States," it said. "Honey bees enable the production of at least 90 commercially grown crops in North America. Globally, 87 of the leading 115 food crops evaluated are dependent on animal pollinators."

During pollination, insects, birds, butterflies and bats transfer pollen between plants, which allows them to make seeds and reproduce.

In addition to food sustainability, honey bees boost the American economy.

"Pollinators contribute more than USD 24 billion to the United States economy, of which honey bees account for more than USD 15 billion through their vital role in keeping fruits, nuts, and vegetables in our diets," the White House said in a statement.

In California, the almond industry is at risk because it depends on 1.4 million beehives annually for pollination. Almonds rely exclusively on bees for pollination.

The number of managed honey bee colonies in the United States fell sharply from 6 million beehives in 1947 to 2.5 million today, according to the White House.

Beekeepers in the United States have collectively lost an estimated 10 million beehives at an approximate current value of USD 200 each. These high colony loss rates require beekeepers to rapidly, and at substantial expense, rebuild their colonies, placing commercial beekeeping in jeopardy as a viable industry and threatening the crops dependent on honey bee pollination.

The loss rates have driven up the cost of commercial pollination: for instance, the cost of renting honey bee hives for almond pollination rose from about USD 50 in 2003 to USD 150-USD 175 per hive in 2009.

Obama said the Environmental Protection Agency and US Department of Agriculture will spearhead an effort to determine why honey bees, monarch butterflies and other pollinators are dwindling and find ways to boost their conservation.

In addition, Obama`s budget for next year recommends about USD 50 million for multiple agencies to help boost research, increase the number of acres dedicated to pollinators` conservation programs and boost funding for research on pollinator losses.