When it comes to bees, the Environmental Protection Agency doesn't have the best track record. Their reaction when handed scientific evidence linking certain pesticides to bee deaths has generally been to just look the other way. And when a corporation scoffs at the laws by using illegal pesticides to kill millions of bees, the EPA stands aside and watches as laughably small fines are doled out -- nearly as big a deterrent as a volleyball net is to a tank. Frankly, protecting the pollinators is not on the top of their list, despite the fact that without them we'd lose most of the foods that make life worth living.
So, the news that the EPA is awarding "almost half a million" dollars to fund a trio of university projects to "reduce pesticide risk" to bees should be seen as glorious news. The Feds have finally wised up! Here they come to save the bees! But, really, it's news that should be met with a healthy dose of pessimism.
First, a quick rundown of the three projects the EPA is funding:
1. Louisiana State University is focusing on pesticides used to control mosquito infestation, trying to find methods that will eradicate that pest without also killing bees.
2. The University of Vermont will be using a 75-acre hops farm as a testing ground for a variety of methods to "reduce pesticide use and improve pest control." Essentially, this is a project focusing on possible alternatives in an effort to lessen our over-reliance on the chemicals.
3. And finally, Penn State is trying to find substitutes for the neonicotinoid variety of pesticides, the specific type that wreak the most havoc on the bee population. If they can figure out a way to remove them from the process, it would certainly go a long way towards saving the pollinators.
As you can see, they are all fine programs, and diverse enough to attack this problem from a few different angles. And the EPA should get credit for taking their money (i.e., our tax dollars) and using it in proper ways. But the feeling one gets from reading the press release is that of being left wanting.
A skeptical person can spend far too much time picking nits on the EPA's press release. The whole thing's written with an aura of "See how much we're doing for the bees here!" braggadocio, not surprising as this is standard operating procedure for a press release. (For starters, the "almost half a million" dollars is really $460,000; a substantial sum, sure, but stretching the "almost" label to its breaking point.) But the main thing that's still missing from the EPA is an explicit announcement that pesticides are contributing to the massive bee die-offs.
Without that announcement -- rather than simply a passing mention of pesticides being one possible factor contributing to the die-offs -- the entire effort comes off with a lack of trust that they take this issue all that seriously. It would be like the American Cancer Society refusing to admit that smoking causes cancer, but also funding research into smoking alternatives for the "general health" of the country. If the research shows that smoking's bad -- enough, at least, to drop half a million on research -- then take an actual legitimate step to spread public awareness. The knowledge would then move up the chain to elected officials, proposed bills, and eventually laws, which would have an actual lasting effect.
Don't get me wrong: Urging university programs to come up with alternatives is great and all. But until they find one, bees will continue to die in massive numbers. And even if they do find a solution, unless it's financially viable for farming conglomerates to utilize, it will be ignored without actual laws and substantial fines in place.
Until a more explicit announcement takes place connecting pesticide use to bee deaths, it's too little to give the EPA a standing ovation. Let's just hope, it's not too late as well.
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