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Can A Change In EPA Labeling Help Honey Bee Populations Recover?

Flickr user TexasEagle

The Environmental Protection Agency is requiring new labels on certain pesticides that may harm bees and other pollinators, just one effort in an ongoing multi-layered campaign to strengthen the bee population.

In May the U.S. Department of Agriculture released a report  showing scientific consensus that there are a complex set of stressors associated with the decline in honey bee populations, including loss of habitat, parasites and disease, genetics, poor nutrition and pesticide exposure.

"It has to do with viruses, it has do to with stress, it has to do with a number of different things," said Molly Keck, a beekeeper and entomologist with the Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Service.

Keck said the new EPA rule will prohibit the use of certain pesticides where bees are present. The new labeling requirement addresses a classification called neonicotinoids.

"It affects them (the bees) in the same way nicotine would -- an overdose of nicotine," Keck said. "It’s kind of like synthetic nicotine almost."

The new EPA regulations will require new labels to specify that pesticides can be used only when bees are not present. For home gardeners, Keck recommends following similar guidelines, even when using organic treatments.

"If you go out into your garden and you want to treat for something on your squash but you see there’s a lot of bees all over the flowers, now is not a good time to treat. You want to treat when there’s not insects, especially bees, flying around all over your plants," she said.

Keck stressed that any pesticide that kills insects will kill bees, and that one bee infected can kill off an entire colony when it takes the poison back to the hive.