Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–September 5, 2013. One of Florida’s largest citrus growers, Ben Hill Griffin, Inc., has been fined a mere $1,500 after a state investigation found that the farm illegally sprayed pesticides, resulting in the death of millions of managed honey bees. Beekeeper Randall Foti, a Crystal River-based beekeeper of 42 years, reported the bee kill to the state back in March. According to Mr. Roti, millions of his bees, as well as those owned by beekeeper Barry Hart of Fargo, GA, were dead as a result of over a dozen aerial pesticide sprayings in the orange groves. He estimates that due to the bee kills, his colonies were only able to produce half the amount of honey, resulting in a loss of $240,000 from honey alone.
”Every four days, they were spraying seven or eight different types of chemicals,” Mr. Foti told the Palm Beach Post. “A $1,500 fine is not much of a deterrent.”
Though this is the first time the state of Florida has taken action against a citrus grower for a reported bee kill in relation to a pesticide violation, the Palm Beach Post reports that beekeepers have been arguing for this type of action since at least 2006. Mr. Foti alleges that he saw empty containers of Montana 2F in a burn pile in the grove. According to the report, Montana 2F was applied to the roots of a total of 50 acres of young citrus trees. The active ingredient of Montana 2F is imidacloprid, which is one of the most widely used chemicals in the neonicotinoid class of insecticides, which have been identified as a leading factor in bee decline. Beekeepers across the country reported losses of 40-90 percent of their bees last winter. The European Union (EU) is set to suspend the use of three neonicotinoid pesticides later this year, after a scientific review by European Food Safety Authority found that neonicotinoids pose an unacceptably high risk to bees.
According to the Palm Beach Post, in a complaint letter sent August 21 to Steve Farr, vice president of Ben Hill Griffin’s Grove division, the state said that pesticide laws were violated on February 21-22 and March 8 and 19. Samples of dead bees, honey and honeycomb taken from one of the hives tested positive for imidacloprid, the complaint says.
The maximum fine for applying a pesticide in violation of the label in the state of Florida is $10,000 per occurrence. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently acknowledged that current pesticide labels do not adequately protect honey bees and announced new label language to prohibit the use of neonicotinoid pesticides when bees are present. The new labels will also include a “bee advisory box” and icon with information on routes of exposure and spray drift precautions. However, beekeepers and environmental groups question the efficacy and enforceability of the new label changes in curtailing systemic pesticides that result in long-term residues in the environment, contaminating nectar and pollen, and poison wild bees that EPA seems to ignore in its decision-making process. To date, EPA has ignored calls for a ban on these chemicals and continues to try to mitigate their impacts on bees and other pollinators.
The pesticides involved in the Florida incident were purportedly used to control Asian citrus psyllid, which can spread a disease, Huanglongbing (HLB), or citrus greening, to trees. A pysllid that is infected with HLB can transfer the bacterium every time it feeds on the tree, and once a tree is infected with the disease there is no known cure. The disease can lie dormant for several years before tests are able to detect it. Though the disease does not harm humans, infected fruit is not suitable for consumer markets because of its green color, misshapen appearance, and distinctly bitter taste. The psyllids were first discovered in Florida in 1998 and has since spread to all of its 32 citrus growing counties. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has quarantined nine states, including California and Florida.
In California, efforts are currently underway to introduce parasitic wasps from the Asian citrus psyllid’s native range into California. Teams of invasive species experts have recently released tamarixia wasps to try to combat the pysllids in urban areas across southern California. The wasps curb pysllid populations by wasps laying eggs inside the psyllid nymph’s stomach. As the eggs hatch, larvae slowly eat away at the nymph. The teams hope that after the wasps hatch they will fly to neighboring trees and lay eggs in new nymphs and establish a growing population. Even though the team is only about a year and a half into this effort, at some release sites the population of psyllids has dramatically declined.
According to the University of Florida, there are approximately 6,000 acres of certified organic citrus in Florida. Farm operations that are USDA certified organic avoid the use of toxic chemicals by implementing holistic management systems plans. To learn more about why food labeled organic is the right choice, see Beyond Pesticides’ Eating With A Conscience webpage, which has recently been updated to include information on how the food we eat impacts pollinators.
Given that one in every three bites of food is dependent on pollination, and that commercial beekeeping adds between $20 to $30 billion dollars in economic value to agriculture each year, it is imperative that action is taken to protect bees and other pollinators. Beyond Pesticides’ BEE Protective supports nationwide local action to protect honey bees and other pollinators from pesticides.
Image Courtesy: University of Florida Magazine
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.