WASHINGTON — The United States is launching an effort to save some of its busiest workers: honey bees.
President Barack Obama created a task force comprising various agencies to address the issue of rapidly diminishing honey bees and other pollinators.
Honey bees pollinate fruit, nuts and vegetables, and are crucial for the nation’s food industry.
They have declined sharply in recent years due to various factors, including pesticides, mite infestations and loss of genetic diversity, the White House said Friday.
“Pollination is integral to food security in the United States,” it said. “Honey bees enable the production of at least 90 commercially grown crops in North America. Globally, 87 of the leading 115 food crops evaluated are dependent on animal pollinators.”
During pollination, insects, birds, butterflies and bats transfer pollen between plants, which allows them to make seeds and reproduce.
In addition to food sustainability, honey bees boost the economy.
“Pollinators contribute more than $24 billion to the United States economy, of which honey bees account for more than $15 billion through their vital role in keeping fruits, nuts, and vegetables in our diets,” the White House said.
In California, the almond industry is at risk because it depends on 1.4 million beehives annually for pollination. Almonds rely exclusively on bees for pollination.
The number of managed honey bee colonies in the United States fell sharply from 6 million beehives in 1947 to 2.5 million today, according to the White House.
Obama said the Environmental Protection Agency and United States Department of Agriculture will spearhead an effort to determine why honey bees, monarch butterflies and other pollinators are dwindling and find ways to boost their conservation.
In addition, Obama’s budget for next year recommends about $50 million for multiple agencies to help boost research, increase the number of acres dedicated to pollinators’ conservation programs and boost funding for research on pollinator losses.