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2014 Farm Bill Update
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Bees Get Short Shrift in Farm Bill

Amanda Peterka, E&E Reporter
Published: Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Count bees among the losers in the long farm bill debate.

A short provision that would have compelled the government to address declining pollinator populations is not in the final bill that President Obama is expected to sign into law Friday.

The proposal from Democratic Reps. Alcee Hastings of Florida and Marcy Kaptur of Ohio would have improved coordination among federal agencies in addressing the decline of both managed and wild pollinator populations. It also would have required the government to regularly report on the health of bees, birds, bats and other insects.

Over the last few months, bee advocates had urged Congress to include the provision. Pollinators contribute between $20 billion and $30 billion a year to the nation's agricultural production by pollinating fruits and specialty crops like almonds, according to the advocates.

But in recent years, pollinator populations have fallen dramatically. According to the U.S. Agriculture Department, more than 30 percent of managed honeybee colonies, for example, were lost in the United States during the winter of 2012-13.

"I'm terribly disappointed that the limited language that I requested was stripped from the bill. And I don't like that," Hastings said. "I don't think I was asking for anything of major consequence, and I was trying to dramatize, and will continue to do so, that this nation -- indeed, this world -- has a pollinator problem."

The Hastings-Kaptur proposal easily passed the House in a 273-149 vote last summer. Nearly 60 organizations, including the Center for Food Safety, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Pesticide Action Network North America and the Xerces Society had supported its inclusion in the final farm bill (E&ENews PM, Oct. 23, 2013).

During the Senate floor debate, Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) offered an amendment nearly identical to the measure, but it was not brought up for a vote.

Advocates blasted its exclusion from the final bill.

"Directing our government to thoroughly assess and monitor pollinator declines should have been an easy decision," the Center for Food Safety said in a statement.

House and Senate agriculture leaders have touted the farm bill as a compromise but have acknowledged that not everybody is happy with the final product.

"I think that's an issue that is a legitimate concern. I think that's an issue that has to be addressed," House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) said of the pollinator measure's exclusion. "I believe, with all fairness, that it has not received quite as much attention in some quadrants as perhaps the citrus issues that we do take care of in the bill."

The final farm bill does direct USDA to encourage farmers to protect pollinator habitat as part of voluntary conservation plans.

Hastings, who hails from farm territory in Florida, said he would continue to push for congressional action to address declining pollinator populations and hoped to have an "ample discussion" with House Agriculture Committee leaders. 

"How I'm fond of putting it is: If you don't have no bees, we ain't going to have no food," he said.

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