Many may be aware of the release of two studies discussing honey bees and Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) receiving coverage in the news this week. The USDA released its annual survey that found honey bee deaths in the U.S. fell from last year with beekeepers reporting a loss of 23.2 percent of their managed colonies during the October to April winter season, down from 30.5 percent from the same period a year earlier. However, the USDA declined to comment on what contributed to the decrease in honey bee deaths this past season. In a second study, led by a researcher at the Harvard School of Public Health, honey bee colonies were exposed to extreme levels of a neonicotinoid insecticide.  The authors drew the misleading conclusion that the results implicate the insecticide as the leading cause of CCD.


These reports come approximately one month before the observance of Pollinator Week, during which they are expected to resurface and be highly cited by the media and activist groups. 


Industry Talking Points

  • Industry leaders, entomologists and scientists have reviewed the Harvard study authored by Dr. Lu and conclusively agree that the conclusions are misleading based on faulty science and experimental design.
    • The concentration of neonicotinoids used in the study was more than 10 times the highest level of what would normally be encountered; it is misleading and deceptive to disseminate these findings to the public as fact or provide a realistic view of what is occurring outside a controlled laboratory study.
    • In addition to the high cumulative doses of insecticides, it's important to remember that the bees were foraging freely, and can travel great distances. The bees could have been exposed to any number of things while outside the hives. The study failed to provide screens of the bees to determine what was in their systems. 
    • The study also reported 16.67% of control colonies were killed by Nosema-like infection, but reason and type of infection were not confirmed.  This is a major red flag because one of the six control hives was lost to an unknown cause.  A more robust study would have evaluated the reason for the control loss. 
    • The study repeated flawed findings of Dr. Lu's previous work and failed to thoroughly evaluate other commonly accepted stressors in Colony Collapse Disorder, such as the Varroa destructor, a parasitic mite closely connected to overwintering colony losses, or other factors, like arthropod pests/parasitic mites, nutrition and beekeeping practices, etc. - all factors cited by USDA and EPA experts in their reports on CCD.
      • In fact, in a 2012 study by the same author, "In situ replication of honey bee colony collapse disorder," mentions the possibility of other stressors being the driving force behind CCD but dismisses the theory devoid of any solid scientific research, simply stating, "Although a recent report concludes that biotic factors (e.g., pests and pathogens) are most likely responsible for the extensive loss of honey bee colonies, such a conclusion remains debatable considering these stressors have been associated with beekeeping for decades and are as common among sedentary as migratory colonies (Neumann and Carreck, 2010)."
  • According to public testimony given to the House Committee on Agriculture Subcommittee on Horticulture, Research, Biotechnology and Foreign Agriculture by the USDA Agricultural Research Service, the varroa mite "is a modern honey bee plague," and "is responsible for the deaths of massive numbers of colonies both within the United States and worldwide."
  • According to the USDA, in the last 20 years, a whole host of new honey bee pathogens including viruses, bacteria, fungi, mites, etc., have entered the United States. We know that the effects of viruses in particular are significantly exacerbated when coupled with the presence of varroa mites.
  • Neonicotinoids are a critical tool used by professional pest management applicators and an effective class of pesticides in controlling a host of pests including termites, ants, and bed bugs. 
  • Most scientists from the USDA and EPA agree that declining bee health is an extremely complex problem, resulting from multiple factors and that more research is needed to help assess stressors and build better tools, particularly those that will address and reduce the growing varroa mite problem. The bottom line is that we need good, sound science to better understand how to best support pollinators.
  • The professional pest management industry is committed to being a good steward of the environment in general and pollinator health specifically. Industry members have launched multi-million dollar research projects to better understand pollinator health and companies are choosing to host hives to ensure local pollinator presence in their communities, etc.
  • The National Pest Management Association is working with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), state regulators, and other stakeholders equally committed to ensuring an appropriate balance exists between the safety of the American public and the essential role bees, and other pollinators, play in our environment. 

NPMA's Action Plan/Response

The National Pest Management Association and the Professional Pest Management Alliance have been closely monitoring the research completed on pollinator health issues, as well as the recent onslaught of media attention regarding CCD and honey bee decline. As such, we've formulated an aggressive, yet appropriate, action plan to ensure all member companies are able to address this important issue with their clients, and that our industry is well poised to combat uncalled for criticism based on flawed science of its products.


Within the next several weeks, we will unveil a multi-tiered initiative designed to support your needs in customer communication, provide a comprehensive information center for consumers seeking information and firmly establish our position as an industry committed to the protection of human and pollinator health.  The campaign will include a toolkit of materials designed for member company use, a web presence to help educate consumers with accurate, factual information, and much more. 


We will also provide members with additional and on-going stewardship training.  Additionally, NPMA will remain active in discussions with federal and state regulatory officials and other stakeholders to ensure the industry's voice is well represented in discussions about pollinators and to ensure good and accurate science is utilized in managing this issue by decision makers.


Statement on Pollinator Health

Pollinators play an essential role in the nation's food supply chain. We are dependent on bees, flies, moths and other insects to help pollinate crops and other plants.  However, some of these insects - bees in particular - are also known to pose health and safety risks to the public. In fact, stinging insects send an estimated 500,000 people to the hospital every year.  They are a leading cause of anaphylaxis-related deaths in the United States. In light of this, bees are - as some government entities have deemed them - a public safety hazard. 


So how do we, the American public, protect our families and our children, from these insects that are both vital and potentially harmful?  The answer is carefully.  The federal government, farmers, the professional pest management industry, and home and business owners must cooperate together to ensure effective tools are available to keep the public safe from stinging insects, yet do so in a manner that will enable pollinators to thrive in appropriate settings.


The National Pest Management Association is working with the Environment Protection Agency (EPA), state regulators, and other stakeholders equally committed to ensuring an appropriate relationship exists between the safety of the American public and the essential role bees play in our environment. 


Additional Resources:  

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Pollinator Protection  

NPMA: What's the Buzz About?  

USDA News Release: USDA Announces Fall Summit on Bee Nutrition and Forage

AgWeb: Bee Deaths Fell in U.S. Survey as Woes Persist for Pollinators


The National Pest Management Association and the Professional Pest Management Alliance will continue to monitor issues surrounding pollinator health and share relevant information as it becomes available.