Our modern food supply relies on things millions of years old and the latest technology. Sometimes the two clash and bad things happen. Lawyers, and their expert witnesses, may be called in to clean up the mess.
Fruit, vegetable and nut crops rely on pollination from honey bees. At the same time, farmers rely upon insecticides to limit damage by insects to their crops. One type of insecticide may be killing bees and putting farmers in a bind. Chemistry expert witnesses, environment exposure experts and entomologists have been looking at the problem, with no clear cause or resolution in sight.
One mouthful of food, out of three, is directly or indirectly benefits from honey bee pollination, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The disappearance of many healthy hives has concerned farmers across the country and should concern all of mankind. Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is the label given to the problem, in which hives are found with a healthy queen, no or few adult bees while often there is still honey in the nest. USDA estimates that from 2006 to 2011 there was an annual 33% decline in the honey bee population. About a third of those losses have been attributed to CCD. USDA estimates that bee pollination is responsible for $15 billion in increased crop value each year, so this is not a nickel and dime issue.
There are many suspected causes of CCD, including virus carrying parasites, weather conditions, poor nutrition and insecticides with a type of chemical called neonicotinoids. A recent federal government report played down the role of the pesticides, but earlier this month the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also issued warning labels for some of these pesticides, stating they shouldn’t be used if bees are present. A federal lawsuit filed by beekeepers, environmental and consumer groups seeks to have the court order the EPA to suspend the use of pesticides containing two types of neonicotinoids.
If the situation continues to worsen, parties may resort to litigation and hire bee expert witnesses to recoup their losses. Though a party may have a hard time suing bee parasites, chemical companies producing these insecticides would be much easier to find.
Those who own farms and orchards are paying higher prices to have bees come to their property as the supply of bees decreases. If the situation is severe enough, businesses may close. In these days of creative class action cases, there may even be class action cases by famers damaged by higher prices, due to fewer bees on the job, allegedly killed as a result of insecticides. Insecticide and chemical expert witnesses and entomology expert witnesses would do battle over causes. On the other hand, agricultural expert witnesses and economists would sift through the damages data.
Hopefully the situation will improve before honey bees are the subject of further litigation. Next time you see one flying around or pollinating a plant, do your best to help it on its way.
By: Rodney Warner, J.D.