Casey Urges USDA to Suspend Importation of Australian Honeybees

New discovery finds possible link between Australian bees and colony collapse disorder

WASHINGTON, DC - U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) today sent a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns urging him to temporarily suspend the importation of Australian honeybees into the United States.  Recently, a team of scientists led by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Pennsylvania State University and Columbia University uncovered a possible link between colony collapse disorder (CCD), Israeli acute paralysis virus (IAPV) and the importation of honeybees from Australia.  

“This discovery is an important first step towards finding the cause of CCD and solutions to mitigate its effect.  I am extremely concerned, however, to hear that this team also uncovered a possible link between CCD, IAPV and the importation of honeybees from Australia,” Casey wrote.

In recent months, there has been an estimated loss of over 25 percent of the nation’s honeybee population—a decrease the USDA has termed ‘colony collapse disorder.’ In Pennsylvania alone, over $50 million worth of fruit and vegetable production can be directly attributed to honeybees.  

In the letter Casey asked Secretary Johanns to “temporarily suspend the importation of Australian honeybees until it can be definitively determined that these bees are not linked to CCD.” 

In addition, Senator Casey also urged Secretary Johanns to “consider measures such as quarantines and increased testing that can be taken to mitigate the effects of the Australian honeybee colonies already present in the United States.” 

In June, Senator Casey introduced the Pollinator Protection Act which would authorize $89 million in federal funding for research and grant programs at the USDA over five years for work related to maintaining and protecting our bee and native pollinator populations.  Experts estimate crops nationwide that depend on a healthy honey and native bee population to be valued near $15 billion.

In May, Senator Casey joined 39 of his Senate colleagues and wrote to the USDA encouraging the agency to take steps to increase colony collapse disorder research.  This legislation would provide USDA with the support and resources to do so on a sustained basis.

Full text of the letter is included:Dear Secretary Johanns: 
I was pleased to learn of the recent news that a team of scientists led by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Pennsylvania State University, and Columbia University found an association between colony collapse disorder (CCD) in honeybees and the Israeli acute paralysis virus (IAPV). This discovery is an important first step towards finding the cause of CCD and solutions to mitigate its effect. I am extremely concerned, however, to hear that this team also uncovered a possible link between CCD, IAPV, and the importation of honeybees from Australia.

As you know, CCD has dramatically affected the number of commercial honeybee colonies in the United States. Commercial beekeepers in more than 22 states, including Pennsylvania, have reported accelerated losses of up to 50 to 90 percent of their honeybee colonies due to CCD. If the current decline continues, American food security, particularly for fruits and vegetables, could be compromised by increased prices and decreased production. As a result, the United States could be forced to rely more heavily on imported foods.

The research team study, published online by the journal Science, indicates that CCD may have started in this country as early as 2004. This time period coincides with USDA’s decision to lift a decades-old ban on honeybee imports from Australia – a ban originally established to prevent imports of pests that could threaten domestic bees. CCD researchers have indicated plans to review historical samples looking for a definitive link to Australian bees. However, with approximately 130 crops and $15 billion in annual U.S. farm crop value relying on pollination, and the potential for CCD to cause $75 billion in economic damage if left unchecked, we cannot afford to take the continued risk of importing honeybees from Australia.

The management and protection of pollinators is an issue of paramount importance to the security of the United States food supply system. I therefore urge you to temporarily suspend the importation of Australian honeybees until it can be definitively determined that these bees are not linked to CCD. In addition, I urge you to consider measures such as quarantines and increased testing that can be taken to mitigate the effects of the Australian honeybee colonies already present in the United States.

Thank you for making CCD research a continued priority. I remain confident that with your assistance, and continued Federal, State, and academic collaboration, we can find a solution to CCD. I look forward to your response and our continued work together. 

Sincerely,

Robert P. Casey, Jr.

United States Senator

 

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