Florida officials have fined a citrus grower for spraying pesticides illegally on their trees, killing millions of bees. (Image Source: Penn State)
For the first time, action has been taken against agriculture in their likely role in the killing of millions of bees in the past eight years. In Florida, state officials fined one of the state's largest citrus growers for illegally spraying pesticides, leading to the deaths of bees that have resulted in widespread economic and environmental destruction. The catastrophic loss of bees in recent years, defined by many as part of the phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder, has been suspected to be caused by the excess use of pesticides, including a new class developed in recent years.
Beekeepers have argued that Ben Hill Griffin, Inc., along with other citrus growers, illegally spray pesticides on their citrus trees during growing season. The intent of these sprayings is to combat an insect, the Asian citrus psyllid, known for poisoning citrus fruits while feeding. Ben Hill Griffin performed pesticide sprayings via airplane over their citrus groves in the early morning hours.
Key to Ben Hill Griffin's actions is the pesticides used. The majority of pesticides used in Ben Hill Griffin's sprayings come from a new class of chemical called neonicotinoids. Neonicotinoids target the insect's central nervous system, shutting them down and killing the insect. While successful in killing pests, these neonicotinoids are what many suspect is the primary culprit of colony collapse disorder and the deaths of millions of bees. Recent studies confirm this finding. When Florida state officials investigated the bee killings, they discovered one of these pesticides in the dead bees and destroyed hives. Along with discoveries of cans of that particular pesticide in farm burn piles, officials concluded that Ben Hill Griffin was acting illegally.
Sadly, though, the punishment meted to Ben Hill Griffin is weak: The company received a total fine of $1,500, which is pennies compared to the millions it earns from its citrus business. Considering the citrus growers' outsized influence in Florida, demonstrated by the fact that Ben Hill Griffin's name graces the football stadium for the University of Florida, it seems likely that the punishment was intentionally made weak so as to not offend certain important people, and it is unlikely that it will deter the industry from continuing its illegal sprayings. Still, that Florida state officials did something to stop the killing of the bees is not insignificant, and a step in the right direction.