Government needs to better protect pollinators

Agriculture is a major component of the U.S. economy, contributing $789 billion to the economy in 2013, according to Department of Agriculture. And pollinators, like honeybees, beetles and birds, are crucial in the success or failure of harvests. By carrying pollen between plants,  pollinators directly influence the reproduction of crops. The White House reported that honeybee pollinating alone accounts for $15 billion in yearly crop yield. This makes the current pollinator population decline a major concern both for the federal government and farmers, and the government must act more definitively to protect those populations.
On April 2, the Environmental Protection Agency announced a moratorium on a class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids as part of its program to protect pollinating organisms, particularly bees such as the honeybee. The agency will not approve any new applications for the use of these pesticides until more data can be collected from studies known as “pollinator risk assessments,” but will not revoke existing approvals. While this action is commendable, the EPA needs to take a firmer stand to protect bees and other pollinating organisms in the United States.
In June 2013, President Barack Obama mandated the formation of the Pollinator Health Task Force, led by the EPA and the USDA, to create strategies to combat pollinator loss. The Task Force includes representatives from seven major government departments, but thus far little has been done beyond the neonicotinoid moratorium. In that respect, the United States is lagging behind other members of the international community — three of the pesticides that the moratorium covers have been completely banned for both use and sale in the European Union since 2013. Meanwhile, the only thing the EPA’s action does is prevent new applications for neonicotinoid use. It does not prevent the sale of the chemicals to groups or individuals who are already registered to use such agents and does not remove any of them from the market. Meanwhile, The New York Times reported that neonicotinoids continue to be used on an “industrial scale” in the U.S. Furthermore, similar chemicals that are harmful to pollinator populations are not restricted because they are “classified differently for regulatory purposes.” 
While agencies of the federal government scramble to produce a comprehensive plan, bees, butterflies, birds and bats continue to suffer. Populations of Monarch butterflies spending the winter in Mexico’s forests have dropped by 90 percent, partially due to the loss of milkweed, a key food source for Monarch caterpillars and the only plant the butterflies lay their eggs on, from  the increased use of herbicides, according to National Geographic. Such a dramatic decrease in the population of Monarch butterflies shows  that the yearly North American migration of the insects is at risk. In 2013, U.S. beekeepers tallied a 40 percent loss in overall colony  size. Such losses continue to compound while relatively little action is taken.
The efforts the EPA is currently making to assess the situation and conduct risk analysis are justified. However, the EPA could still place stronger regulations on pesticides that are harmful to pollinators, and expand programs dealing with other contributors to pollinator loss. The problem has reached a stage at which following the traditional model of “diagnostics first, solution second” may be too slow to deal with the magnitude of losses, and as such, the federal government, through the Task Force and the EPA, must consider pursuing additional solutions. Every delay in the enactment of protective policy only results in smaller and smaller populations, and now is a critical time when legislators and regulators must act swiftly and definitively. To fail to do so may well jeopardize the lives of pollinators — as well as all who depend on U.S. agriculture.