The Organic Trade Association has called on the White House to officially recognize organic farming practices as beneficial to the health of honey bees and other pollinators, and to emphasize agricultural production methods as a key solution to stopping disproportionate bee deaths.
In a unanimous decision on Tuesday, OTA's Board of Directors adopted a strong set of policy positions on pollinator health that promote organic farming as part of the national solution to conserve and protect pollinator populations.
"It's time our policymakers recognize organic's contribution to our pollinator population, and officially make organic a part of the solution," said Melissa Hughes of Organic Valley and president of OTA's Board. "Organic farming alleviates many threats to bees and other pollinators by not using synthetic pesticides and supporting biodiversity and the habitat of pollinators."
OTA also urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture to move forward in investigating the most successful models—including organic systems and organic agricultural practices—to protect the habitat of pollinators. It called on USDA and the Environmental Protection Agency to recommit to identifying alternatives to neonicotinoid pesticides, which have been found to be especially harmful to bees.
The action by OTA follows the release earlier this week of a report from The Organic Center showing the effectiveness of organic farming practices in maintaining the health and populations of important crop pollinators, predominantly bees. Download the full report.
"The good work of our sister organization was the foundation of our policy position. The Center's report takes an in-depth look at the science behind the critical role of organic in protecting pollinator health," said Hughes.
Seventy-five percent of all crops grown for human consumption rely on pollinators, mostly honey bees, for a successful harvest. Every year more than $16 billion worth of crops in the United States alone benefit from pollination. But over the past decade, the bee population has plummeted. Since 2006, beekeepers have lost over a third of their bee hives.
"If we are serious about stopping this dangerous decline in our bee population, then we have to put organic in the center of the discussion," said Laura Batcha, Executive Director and CEO of OTA. "We need a comprehensive approach to reducing the sources of stress for the pollinator population. That means affirming how agricultural practices can either contribute to, or take away from, our bee population and, in particular, how organic farming practices can benefit and protect pollinators."
The White House recently released its official strategy to protect pollinators. While the Administration's strategy provides funding to protect bee habitat, increase research, and directs the EPA to re-evaluate neonicotinoids, OTA said the plan "only minimally addresses the impact of agricultural production methods on pollinators."
"This is like ignoring the elephant in the room," said Batcha. "As The Center's report shows, a number of factors have been clearly identified to have lethal consequences for bees—exposure to toxic pesticides, poor nutrition, loss of habitat—and a major source of these threats is chemically intensive agricultural production. We call on the Administration to devote serious resources to this critical problem and study how organic farming practices support pollinator health before it's too late."
OTA called on USDA to expand the programs—conservation or otherwise—through which producers can get assistance in establishing appropriate pollinator habitat, and to prioritize organically managed habitat in these programs. It urged USDA to move forward in developing an organic beekeeping standard. Assistance from USDA to farmers to convert to organic in order to benefit pollinators, through existing and new research, was also advocated by OTA.
"Organic farmers have perfected tried and true methods that benefit the environment and support the bee population," said OTA Board President Hughes. "These methods can be adopted by other producers, and need to be a keystone of any strategy to protect our pollinators."