Subcommittee Examines Research Efforts to Combat Pests and Diseases of Pollinators

Apr 29, 2014

Tamara Hinton, 202.225.0184

WASHINGTON – Rep. Austin Scott, Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee's Subcommittee on Horticulture, Research, Biotechnology and Foreign Agriculture, today held a public hearing to review current research and application of management strategies to control pests and diseases of pollinators.

Approximately a third of global food production is dependent on animal pollination for reproduction, and managed honey bees are the most important pollinators of those crops. Some regions of the world have increasingly lost their managed honey bee colonies in recent years. Reports of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) surfaced in the United States in 2006. Colony losses are not unusual, but the increase in losses reported in the U.S., some European countries, the Middle East, and Japan are particularly alarming because of the honey bees' role in pollination and the absence of an easily identifiable cause.

"Over the past several years, beekeepers have experienced significant losses due to colony collapse.  The precise reason for this Colony Collapse Disorder is not yet known. However, a leading cause appears to be the Varroa Mite pest.  Today’s hearing took an important look at the current state of research on pollinator health in an attempt to gain a better understanding of the causes of and possible solutions to Colony Collapse Disorder," said Chairman Austin Scott (R-GA-8).

"Speaking from my own experiences as a farmer, I am fully aware of the importance honey bees play in agriculture. Without them, we would be unable to grow many of the foods that we know and love. I have heard from farmers in Oregon and around the country who are very concerned by the reported 30 percent decline in honey bee populations over the past 20 years. Colony Collapse Disorder has been a longstanding area of research here in the United States, and we know it is a multi-faceted problem. This morning's hearing provided some thoughtful and balanced testimony, which will be very useful as we look to identify potential remedies to this growing problem," said Ranking Member Kurt Schrader (D-OR-5).

To gain a better view of what is causing the current increase in Western honey bee colony losses across the Northern hemisphere, it is important to understand the key pests and diseases affecting bee health. Honey bees are affected by a number of pests and diseases including mites, various viruses, bacterial infections and fungal diseases.

The global picture identifies the honey bee parasitic mite, Varroa destructor, as the major factor in colony loss. Regions that have established mite populations have suffered consistently higher colony losses than those without. The role of the Varroa mite in colony losses is supported by a wealth of data. The mite itself contributes to weakening colony health and modifying bee behavior, but it also spreads secondary infections within and between colonies. A general consensus is emerging that this mite, in association with a range of honey bee viruses, is a significant factor in the losses of managed honey bee colonies seen globally.

The Agricultural Research Service (ARS), the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) internal research agency, is leading several efforts into possible CCD causes and striving to enhance overall health of pollinators by improving bee management practices and studying how best to control diseases and pests. Additionally, a number of other federal agencies, state departments of agriculture, universities, and private companies are conducting research studies to understand the causes of CCD. Members of the Subcommittee examined these research efforts to identify ways to remedy the problem of CCD.  The recently passed farm bill, the Agricultural Act of 2014, included numerous provisions to address the decline in pollinator health.

Written testimony provided by the witnesses is linked below.

Witness List:

Panel I

Dr. Jeff Pettis, Research Leader, U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service, Beltsville, Maryland

Mr. Dan Cummings, CEO, Capay Farms, Chico, California; and CFO Olivarez Honey Bees

Mr. Jeff Stone, Executive Director and CEO, Oregon Association of Nurseries, Wilsonville, Oregon

Dr. David L. Fischer, Director, Pollinator Safety & Manager, Bayer North American Bee Care Center, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina