Opening Statements

Opening Statement: Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research Subcommittee Chairman Rodney Davis: To Review the Federal Coordination and Response Regarding Pollinator Health

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Washington, DC, May 13, 2015 | comments

Remarks as prepared:

Good afternoon. I would like to welcome everyone to this hearing in which we will continue to examine aspects of pollinator health.

As many of you are aware, the Agriculture Committee has had a long interest in examining and promoting pollinator health.  In both the 2008 and 2014 farm bills, provisions were included to authorize pollinator research and extension programs, improve capacity and infrastructure within USDA to promote long-term pollinator health, and to authorize expanded surveillance of pests and diseases affecting pollinators.

Following passage of the 2014 farm bill, this subcommittee commenced an oversight process focusing on specific threats to pollinator health.  In a hearing held just over a year ago, we heard from public and private sector scientists.  While there were many factors discussed contributing to pollinator health, one factor leading most lists was the threat associated with a parasitic mite known as Varroa destructor.

The lead bee researcher at USDA, Dr. Jeff Pettis referred to this mite as a “modern honey bee plague” and suggested that it has been responsible for the deaths of massive numbers of colonies both within the United States and worldwide.

Nevertheless, despite the overwhelming consensus within the scientific community regarding the relative importance of the various factors contributing to overall pollinator health, the factor near the bottom of the scientific community’s list seems to be the factor highest on the list of activist groups. 

Pesticides, and in particular a new family of pesticides known as Neo-nics seem to be attracting the lion share of media and public interest attention.

Neonics can be applied to the plant or used as a seed treatment.  They are highly effective and have seen a very rapid adoption rate among producers because of the significant benefits they offer.  It is frustrating that efforts to innovate and employ new, proven technologies to enhance our ability to produce food, feed and fiber are constantly under attack.

Shortly after our hearing last year, the President issued an Executive Memorandum establishing a White House Task force to review pollinator health.  The main focus of the work was to be on expanding habitat for pollinators. I should note that the Task Force findings were supposed to be released at the end of 2014, but unfortunately, 5 months later we are still waiting for this report.

The order also directed the various Departments and agencies assigned to the task force to work together to develop a National Pollinator Health Strategy.  While coordination and communication were understood to be a central tenant of this executive order, only days after receiving the order, the National Wildlife Refuge System announced a ban on neonics and biotech plants without a single effort to communicate with either USDA or EPA their intentions or justification.  I would note that the Secretary of Agriculture and Administrator of the EPA were appointed to co-chair the President’s task force.  As both agencies were completely caught off guard by this announcement, each expressed frustration with the lack of communication.

We would reasonably expect that in light of this surprise announcement by an agency within the Department of Interior, the USDA and EPA would double down on their efforts to enhance Federal coordination and communication.  Unfortunately, just two months later, EPA released a study on the benefits of neonic seed treatment on soybeans with little to no input from USDA.  USDA’s Chief Economist sent a letter to EPA disagreeing with the assessment referring to it as incomplete, premature, and unnecessarily burdensome to the task before farmers and ranchers to produce food, feed and fiber for a strong and healthy America. That letter is in Members’ folders and will be made part of today’s hearing record

Examples like this are why we fought so hard in the Farm Bill to give agriculture a seat at the table when EPA is considering rules and regulations that would impact farmers. I expect EPA’s Science Advisory Board to follow Congressional Intent and give farmers that voice so better policy can be made.

Today, USDA and EPA both have a seat at the table.

I look forward to your testimony.


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