Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 8, 2016

Obamas Try to Save the Bees and Butterflies

The White House has taken an interest in saving honey bees, monarch butterflies and other pollinators. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The White House has taken an interest in saving honeybees, monarch butterflies and other pollinators. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Will President Barack Obama save the honeybees and monarch butterflies? He — and First Lady Michelle Obama — apparently want to try.

The White House convened a group of bee and butterfly experts in April for thoughts on saving the creatures critical to the environment — and advocates expect the Obama administration to announce an action plan for pollinators this month, timed to coincide with National Pollinator Week, which begins next Monday.

Michelle Obama has also warned about the impact of shrinking bee and butterfly populations as she planted the first-ever Pollinator Garden this year at the White House.

Marla Spivak of the University of Minnesota, a leading bee researchers who attended the White House summit, told CQ Roll Call she wants more funding for bee research, labeling requirements for urban pesticides and funding for bee corridors along roads and utility lines, among other items.

Another attendee quoted the president’s chief science adviser, John P. Holdren, at the event:

“This is an issue that President Obama personally cares about: ways of protecting and nourishing natural capital, including ecosystem services,” Holdren said. “We are happy to see this intersection between people inside government and outside government trying to figure out how we can meet the challenges we face. Bees and butterflies have become like the canaries in the coal mine and that should be a wake up call for all of us.”

There’s also a controversy over whether Obama should ban pesticides known as neonicotinoids to try and protect bees.

Some lawmakers have pushed for a legislative ban on neonicotinoids. And some groups, like the Center for Food Safety, want the president — via the EPA — to ban the use of neonicotinoids on plants pollinators like to eat on his own rather than waiting for Congress to act.

Neonicotinoids are a multibillion-dollar industry worldwide, and Europe has already taken action to temporarily ban their use.

A Harvard study released last month linked neonicotinoid pesticides to Colony Collapse Disorder.

(Others have been skeptical of the impact of those pesticides, as noted in this column in Forbes.)

An industry group reported that corporations including Bayer CropScience, MGK, Monsanto, Syngenta and Valent also met with White House staff in April on the bee issue.

Bees are a key to tens of billions of dollars of food production — and various causes of mass bee deaths have been investigated, including mites and viruses as well as pesticides.

(The National Cotton Council of America argued pesticides have been unfairly targeted in a Roll Call letter to the editor.)

Monsanto has also been working on a new pesticide aimed at targeting mite-carried viruses.

Earlier this year, the first lady spearheaded the creation of the Pollinator Garden next to the Kitchen Garden. A few years back she oversaw the addition of what is believed to be the first White House beehive.

She talked about the need for bees on April 2, as Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times reported in this video:

“They pollinate the plants, they help the plants grow. But why do we need to help bees and butterflies — what’s happening to them?  Yell it out. They’re dying because of disease — we don’t even know why some beehives are just totally disappearing.

“But that could be a problem for the planet because if you don’t have insects and great pollinators to pollinate the plants, it could affect our food source, it could affect our ability to continue to grow things. And that would be a problem.”

The Pollinator Garden “is going to help to contribute to improving that problem,” she said. “So we’re going to plant all kinds of flowers that attract bees and butterflies, which is not going to make the Obama girls happy because they don’t really like bees. But bees are good. Bees are a good thing. So you guys are going to help do that, and that’s the first time we’ve done a pollinator garden. Pretty cool, huh?”

A petition urging the first lady to ban pesticides from the White House and urge a ban on neonicotinoids has more than 133,000 signatures at last check.

The White House did not respond to requests for comment Monday.

  • Cassandra Bellantoni

    Albert Einstein stated the human race would not last 4 years without honey bees. It’s about time the White House showed the pollinators in jeopardy some attention. Thank you Michelle Obama because I know it’s you that hears their call

  • left wing

    more lies from the wh

  • left wing

    and you worship the god and goddess obama

  • Vasillios

    I can almost guarantee it that whatever Obama says the words
    bees and Neonicotinoids will not be used in the same sentence.

  • John Kenner

    While democratic processes attach value to each individual, collectivism reduces each of us to a vessel for the will of pernicious quacks and their utopian delusions.

  • Elle’s Island

    Those who preach from collectivism’s altar try to justify centralized control with vague words, such as “fair”, “equal”, and “society”, that sound appealing while remaining open to subjective interpretation.

  • bluescat1

    Or as Joni Mitchell said in a song, ” You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”

  • Olivia Marina

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  • yesIDeeClaire

    Those of the liberty school understand that voluntary associations of free men are capable of far more than detached central planners operating with inferior information and selfish political motives.

  • Kim Kaplan

    Actually Einstein never said anything like that. And it is a dumb comment on its surface. None of the grain crops–corn, rice, wheat, oats, etc. are honey bee pollinated. And honey bees are not native to the New World. So no crop native to the New World depends on honey bees–potatoes, blueberries etc..

  • Cassandra Bellantoni

    That’s completely ridiculous on every level. Humans are not native to the “New World” either. You clearly could use some education about the origin of food & pollinators (70% of food on Earth btw). Processed foods like “corn, rice, wheat, oats” make people fat and unhealthy especially now that they are genetically modified to be living herbicides. If bees don’t matter, I wonder why the commercial beekeepers in the US are so upset about CCD?? Those of us that eat fruits, vegetables and nuts would like honey bees to flourish.

  • Kim Kaplan

    So you are saying that some how that makes your statement about an Einstein quote fact? Guess what, Einstein still didn’t say what you said he said and no matter what you believe we will not go extinct in four years if all the honey bees in the world went away tomorrow. Would it be a good idea, no. Do I want it to happen, no. But try framing your argument with facts, not bull is all I’m saying.

  • Cassandra Bellantoni

    You’re so right Kim. I did make the mistake of repeating what I’ve heard about the Einstein quote for many, many years in my study of this issue. I didn’t know Einstein and I’m guessing you didn’t either. Since I’ve learned the quote can not be proved or disproved and the origins are unclear, I will not use it again. thanks to you and your vast understanding of what’s important. I hope you feel really good about yourself and enjoy consuming your delicious meals today. Peace… out.

  • Kim Kaplan

    Come on, you never even noticed that you went from claiming that we would starve to death without honey bees to the foods that will be left make people fat. Which time did you have it right? My whole point is that people need to be careful and factual when they decide on a position that will ask politicians to make changes in laws and regulations that will require big changes in the way farmers raise many crops; changes in the way a number of rich companies conduct business. Be sure you have your facts right when you chose your position and then don’t leave holes in your argument. I guarantee the other side will exploit them to give politicians reasons not to believe anything you say.


  • Cassandra Bellantoni

    Oh dear, darling Kim. It’s clear you have a lot of time on your hands and must have the last word, so go for it. But, this will be my final comment, because time is something I don’t have a lot of. The only reason I posted a brief comment about my pleasure the White House has givin this issue a little attention, is because my daughter, Editor-In-Chief of Roll Call forwarded me the story, knowing I would be pleased. My daughter knows teaching people about the virtue of whole, organic food, how to lose weight and my experience of surviving cancer through diet changes, has been my life’s work. For you to propose my brief comment is somehow an “argument” for a “position” designed to make politicians change laws AND has holes in it, is again RIDICULOUS. It was just comment. I certainly didn’t expect my brief comment to stand as an all-encompassing representation of my knowledge of what will actually happen to our planet if honey bees die off this year OR my feelings about what you call the “foods” that will remain. That would obviously be a really LONG COMMENT!! I truly hope you find better things to do with your time then trying to school me by picking apart my brief statement and throwing shade on the apparently very common, yet unproven honey bee Einstein quote I used in it. If you simply don’t get my point, no problem, move on. Spread your keen insights elsewhere.

  • Kim Kaplan

    Hey don’t ever let facts get in the way of making your point; go for it.

  • Kim Kaplan

    By the way maybe for the rest of the world that is not your daughter Editor-In-Chief of Roll Call you should put a warning or a disclaimer in front of those comments which are your brief pleasure comments in which you are not worried about how factual you are going to be rather than when you are posting a serious factual comments.

  • hannahlucy07

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