2017-04-25 |

Short food chains and local markets benefit both farmers and consumers

Vgtbls Vegetables at a market (Photo: CC0)

Short food chains and local markets, where farmers and producers sell directly to the consumer, can improve farmers’ income and product quality, according to an article published by Euractiv. The article, which is part of a special report dedicated to the topic of “Farmers under pressure”, draws on a recently released study of the European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS). The study found that short food supply chains and local markets have flourished recently in all EU countries, both in rural and urban areas. On average, 15% of EU farms sell more than half of their production directly to consumers, the researchers said. “Organic producers have been the pioneers of the short supply chain from the development of producers markets and shops to community supported agriculture,” Eric Gall, IFOAM EU Deputy Director and Policy Manager, told Euroactiv. “Short supply chains help in reconnecting producers and consumers and therefore achieving a fair price for those employed in the agricultural sector.” This has been confirmed by the EPRS study: “On the producers’ side, selling agricultural products directly to consumers enables them to retain a greater share of the products’ market value, through the elimination of intermediaries, which can potentially increase their income,” writes author Marie-Laure Augère-Granier.

Across the EU, a growing number of consumers buy food products on local farmers’ markets, directly at the farm, through basket/box delivery systems or other community-supported agriculture schemes. The EPRS study points out that European customers tend to associate local products with higher quality standards (freshness, nutritional value), healthy eating, more environment-friendly production methods and a lower carbon footprint. It quotes from a 2011 Eurobarometer survey which shows that nine out of ten citizens agree that there are benefits to buying products from a local farm. According to another Eurobarometer survey from 2016, four out of five European citizens think that “strengthening the farmer’s role in the food chain” is either fairly or very important. “The mutual benefits brought about by local food systems and short food supply chains explain why the latter have been gaining ground in recent times in all EU Member States,” the study reads. “They constitute an alternative to conventional longer food supply chains, with large retailers such as supermarkets, where consumers purchase anonymous food products without any indication of the price actually paid to the producer. They are a way to reconnect producers and consumers and to re-localise agricultural production.”

Geneviève Savigny, policy advisor at the European coordination committee of Via Campesina, told Euroactiv that short food chains are nothing new, although they are now quite fashionable. The French farmer considers them a win-win game “as consumers find good and fresh products with good value for money, and producers get a much better price than in wholesale.” However, she also adds that, in the light of the growing concentration of the agri-food industry, farmers who are producing for the local market need support. She argues that a fair EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is required to ensure decent prices and income to farmers. “For producers in direct sales, CAP is needed to enable investments in equipment for processing on the farm or collectively. Direct payment geared towards ‘active persons’ and not only hectare would be a legitimate support,” she told Euroactiv. (ab)

2017-04-21 |

People4Soil calls on Juncker to put soil protection back on EU agenda

Soil Soils need better protection (Photo: CC0)

More than 500 organisations have called on the President of the European Commission to develop a legally binding framework for the protection of soils. Ahead of Earth Day on April 22, People4Soil, a coalition of European NGOs, research institutes, environmental groups and farmers associations, sent an open letter to Jean-Claude Juncker, asking him to put EU legislation for soil preservation back on the agenda. The organisations are worried about the increasing degradation of soils both in the EU and at global level and warn that erosion, sealing, loss of organic matter, compaction, salinisation, landslides and contamination have negative impacts on human health, food security, natural ecosystems, biodiversity and the climate, not to mention the economy. In their letter, they quote scientific research and reports which document the poor state of European soils. According to a UN report released in 2015, the major threats to soils in Europe are soil contamination, soil organic matter decline, soil sealing and land take due to urbanisation processes. The number of sites where potentially polluting activities have taken place in Europe now stands at approximately three million, the report warns, and only around 17,000 sites have already been treated. If current trends continue and no changes in legislation are made, the numbers reported above are expected to increase by 50% by 2025. According to People4Soil, every year 1000 square kilometers of land are sealed by concrete and asphalt surfaces in Europe, the equivalent of approximately 500 football pitches every day. “In this definitely worrying picture, the lack of a dedicated legally binding framework, fixing principles and rules to be complied with by the Member States is unacceptable,” the open letter reads.

In May 2014, the European Commission withdrew proposals for a Soil Framework Directive after an eight-year-long opposition of several EU member states, despite the evident lack of EU policies and national regulations to guarantee an adequate protection for soils. People4Soils says that even where the Member States have their own legislation, as in the case of soil contamination, there is a spread between standards, procedures, reference values used for the assessment of the contamination status, and the remediation obligations. They point to a recent assessment conducted on behalf of the European Commission which criticised the lack of a coherent, strategic policy framework across all EU policy clusters as well as missing common definitions on soil status, resulting in the impossibility of establishing targets and priorities for the conservation of soil and its functions. At international level, the importance of soil protection has been reflected in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted by the 193 UN Member States in 2015. SDG 15 has the target of combatting desertification, restoring degraded land and soil, including land affected by desertification, drought and floods, and striving to achieve a land degradation-neutral world. People4Soils now calls on Juncker to fill the gap at EU level and to locate the road map for a Soil Framework Directive within the priorities of the European Commission. The initiative has also launched a petition via the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) that can be signed online. (ab)

2017-04-18 |

Small farms are essential to the provision of food and nutrients, study

Farmer Small farms feed the world (Photo: CC0)

Small and medium farms are essential to sustain the quality of global food supply, according to a new study published in the journal “The Lancet Planetary Health” that maps global nutrient production from farms across the world. The researchers found that farms smaller than 50 hectares produced more than half of the food globally and that small farms with less than 20 hectares provided more than 80% of essential nutrients in Sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, South Asia, China, and the rest of East Asia Pacific. “Small and medium farms (...) are particularly important in low income countries, where they produce the vast majority of food and nutrients,” said lead author Mario Herrero of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Australia. The scientists analysed global datasets to estimate the production of 41 major crops, seven livestock products and 14 fish groups. They estimated how much calcium, folate, iron, protein, vitamin A, vitamin B12 and zinc is produced in farms of different sizes and how much each farm type contributed to the production of different agricultural commodities and associated nutrients.

The researchers say that globally, an estimated 51-77% of major food groups, including cereals, livestock, fruits, pulses, roots and tubers and vegetable, comes from farms smaller than 50 hectares. Exceptions are sugar and oil crops, which tend to be produced mostly on large farms. The share of food produced on small farms can vary remarkably depending on the world region. Small farms with less than 20 hectares produce more than 75% of most food commodities in sub-Saharan Africa, southeast Asia, south Asia, and China, the study found. Very small farms with less than two hectares are especially important in Sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, and South Asia, where they contribute around 30% of most food commodities and where they are managed by millions of smallholder farmers. In China, such farms produce more than 50% of all food commodities (except for fibre crops), in particular fruits (64%), vegetables (60%), sugar crops (59%), roots and tubers (72%), and livestock (63%). In Europe, west Asia and north Africa, and central America, medium-size farms sized between 20 and 50 hectares also contribute substantially to the production of most food commodities. By contrast, large farms over 50 hectares dominate food production in North and South America, Australia and New Zealand, producing 75-100% of all cereal, livestock and fruit in those regions.

The study found that areas with small and medium farms had greater agricultural diversity than areas with large farms. According to the scientists, the majority of global micronutrients (53–81 percent) and protein (57 percent) are produced in more diverse agricultural landscapes. Small farms with less than 20 hectares provide 71% of global vitamin A production, which is essential for the immune system and vision. “The historical intensification of agriculture has yielded more but less diverse food and a reduction in the sources of key essential nutrients,” the authors write. “Our data suggest that although most commodity groups are present across all farm sizes, there is a risk that numbers of species cultivated, particularly highly nutritious food groups, will decrease as farm sizes increase.” The authors say that reversing this trend is essential to safeguard the adaptive capacity of agriculture to maintain the supply of essential nutrients for human health. “A sustainable food system that meets the needs of a growing population means we must focus on quality as well as quantity, and it is vital that we protect and support small and medium farms and more diverse agriculture so as to ensure sustainable and nutritional food production,” said Mario Herrero. (ab)

2017-04-07 |

European Patent Office continues to grant patents on plants

Ptnts No patents on conventionally bred plants (Photo: Andreas Hermsdorf/

The European Patent Office (EPO) continues to grant patents on conventionally bred plants despite strong opposition from the EU and civil society organisations. According to new research by No Patents on Seeds!, an initiative supported by over 300 NGOs and farmers’ organisations worldwide, the EPO green-lighted 40 patents on plants derived from conventional breeding in 2016. This brings the total number of such patents granted by the EPO to 200. Last year, another 60 patents were granted on processes for the genetic engineering of plants. Most patent holders are big players such as Bayer and Monsanto. Taking into account some of their affiliates, BASF and Monsanto top the list with 30 new patents granted by the EPO in 2016, followed by Bayer with 20 patents. DuPont and Dow AgroSciences received a total of 14 patents and Syngenta got eight. According to the initiative, the overall number of European patents on plants now stands at about 3000. The organisations criticize that the EPO does not care about increased pressure from the EU and civil society but is “working behind the scenes” instead “to create new loopholes to allow the continued patenting of conventionally bred plants and animals”.

According to European patent law, unlike genetically engineered crops, plants and animals “obtained from essentially biological processes” are not patentable. However, EPO has a different stance. Its Enlarged Board of Appeal ruled in March 2015 on the precedent cases of broccoli and tomato, that even though essentially biological processes for the production of plants are not patentable, the resulting plant or fruit can be patented. In December 2015, the EU Parliament rejected this in a resolution approved with a huge majority. A notice adopted by the European Commission in November 2016 confirmed that plants and animals derived from conventional breeding are not patentable. In February, also the EU Competitiveness Council backed these positions and reiterates that EU legislator’s intention when adopting the relevant directive on the legal protection of biotech inventions was to exclude from patentability products derived from conventional breeding. The Council called on Member States to ensure that the EPO respects these conclusions. The EPO, did indeed stop granting several patents in conventional breeding. However, it seems to keep open loopholes for companies and patent lawyers who adapt their patent applications accordingly. “It is shocking to see just how easy it is for companies and patent lobbyists to escape political decision-making. All they need to do is to slightly change the focus of their patent claims in order to continue claiming seeds, plants and harvest as their invention,” said Christoph Then for No Patents on Seeds!. “This allows companies, such as Bayer and Monsanto, to take increasing control of agriculture and food production.”

According to the initiative, one trick frequently used by companies is to simply claim plant characteristics, such as genetic conditions or changes in the phenotype of plants. The scope of these patents covers all plants with these same characteristics, no matter which process was used in breeding. In addition, in many cases random mutations are claimed as inventions although the EU had clearly stated that only methods for genetic engineering can be considered inventions. In 2016, up to 65% of patents granted on conventionally bred plants were based on random mutations. One example of how these loopholes are being exploited are patents on beer held by Carlsberg and Heineken. Starting with random mutations, all barley plants with a specific quality in brewing, the brewing process and the beer produced thereof are claimed as inventions. Similar patents on random mutations were granted to Bayer (oilseed rape), Monsanto (plants for oil production) and DuPont (maize). No Patents on Seeds! calls on the member states of the EPO to take decisive action at their next meeting in June to stop patents on conventional plant and animal breeding. (ab)

2017-04-05 |

International food trade is depleting groundwater resources, study finds

NASA Fields irrigated by water from aquifers 1 km under the desert (Credits: NASA/Landsat/ Robert Simmon and Jesse Allen)

Around 11% of non-renewable groundwater used for irrigation is embedded in international food trade, new research shows. Scientists at the University College London and NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Studies found that Pakistan, the US and India are the countries exporting the most crops that depend on non-renewable aquifers. The study, published in the journal Nature on March 29, determines which specific crops come from groundwater reservoirs that won’t renew on the scale of a human life-time, where they are consumed and which products and countries have the biggest impact. The reserachers used FAO trade data on countries’ agricultural commodities and combined it with a global hydrologic model to trace the sources of water used to produce 26 specific crop classes. Their results show that the crops using the biggest amounts of non-renewable groundwater are rice (29%), followed by wheat (12%), cotton (11%), maize (4%) and soybeans (3%). Two-thirds of the exported food that depends on non-renewable groundwater are produced in Pakistan (29%), the United States (27%), and India (12%). In these countries, the amounts of exported crops produced using unsustainable groundwater increased remarkably between 2000 and 2010. In India, exports of groundwater-depleting crops doubled in that period. The amount increased by 70% in Pakistan and by 57% in the US.

According to the researchers, the major importers include the United States, Iran, Mexico, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Bangladesh, the United Kingdom, Iraq, and China. These countries turned from net exporters in 2000 to net importers in 2010. “It's not just individual countries that experience groundwater depletion, but also their trade partners,” said lead author Carole Dalin of the University College London. “When people consume certain imported foods, they should be aware that they can have an impact on the environment elsewhere.” The study warns that countries that export and import crops that depend on non-renewable aquifers may be at risk of losing these crops and their profits in the future. Co-author Michael Puma gives the example of Japan importing corn from the United States: “It's important from Japan’s perspective to know whether that corn is being produced with a sustainable source of water, because you can imagine in the long term if groundwater declines too much, the United States will have difficulty producing that crop.” The researchers say that their results can help target efforts to improve the sustainability of water use and food production. Decision makers and local farmers will need to decide on a strategy for using non-renewable water resources that balance the needs of short-term production versus long-term sustainability. The study lists solutions to minimize groundwater depletion. Water-saving strategies in the producing countries include improving irrigation efficiency and growing more drought-resistant crops, together with measures such as the regulation of groundwater pumping. (ab)

2017-04-03 |

Report warns 108 million people worldwide face severe food insecurity

Burundi Burundi - grim food security outlook (Photo: CC0)

Around 108 million people in the world faced severe food insecurity in 2016, according to new global report on food crises. The Food Security Information Network (FSIN), a global collaboration between the EU and USAID, regional food security institutions and UN agencies, says the figure is up 35% compared to 2015, when almost 80 million were affected by acute food insecurity. This dramatic increase is mainly due to conflict, record-high food prices in local markets in affected countries and extreme weather conditions caused by El Niño, which prevent people from accessing or producing food. “The numbers tell a deeply worrying story with more than 100 million people severely food-insecure, a level of suffering which is driven by conflict and climate change. Hunger exacerbates crisis, creating ever greater instability and insecurity,” said Ertharin Cousin, Executive Director of the World Food Programme.

The report offers a detailed analysis for countries facing acute food insecurity conditions and is based on the so-called IPC/CH classification, which comprises five phases from minimal food insecurity to famine. The 108 million people reported to be facing severe food insecurity, are categorized under IPC Phase 3 and above, estimating the population in crisis, emergency and famine. Civil conflict was the driving factor in nine of the 10 worst humanitarian crises, says the report. The acute and wide-reaching effects of conflicts left 17 million food insecure people in need of urgent assistance in Yemen, followed by Syria with 7.0 million people, South Sudan with 4.9 million and northeast Nigeria with 4.7 million people. Other countries that were affected by severe food insecurity due to conflict were Somalia, Burundi and Central African Republic. The report warns that the food security situation in these countries will continue to worsen in coming months.

In some countries, food security has been undermined by El Niño, which largely manifested in extreme weather conditions such drought and erratic rainfall, damaging agricultural livelihoods. The countries most affected were in eastern and southern Africa and include Somalia, Ethiopia (9.7 million), Madagascar (0.8 million), Malawi (6.7 million), Mozambique (1.9 million) and Zimbabwe (4.1 million). The authors warn that record staple food prices, especially in some southern African countries, Nigeria and South Sudan, also severely constrained food access for vulnerable people. “The cost in human and resource terms only increases if we let situations deteriorate,” said José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). “We can prevent people dying from famine but if we do not scale up our efforts to save, protect and invest in rural livelihoods, tens of millions will remain severely food insecure.” The report is different from FAO’s flagship publication, the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World. The Global Report on Food Crises assesses acute food insecurity originating from major crises, referring to the ‘peak’ of the situation during the year, whereas the FAO report assesses the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals by monitoring long-term trends in chronic food insecurity. Only people with an inadequate calorie intake lasting for over one year are counted as food insecure. According to the latest estimates, 795 million people, almost one in nine, are currently undernourished. (ab)

2017-03-29 |

EU clears DuPont-Dow merger, despite concerns raised by civil society

Megamerger Letter against mega mergers of agricultural giants (Photo: CC0)

The European Commission has approved a merger between agribusiness giants Dow Chemical and Du Pont, despite warnings of civil society organisations that this would be a threat to farmers, consumers, the environment, and food security. On Monday, the EU regulators gave green light for the $130bn mega-merger, the first in a new round of agribusiness takeovers which also includes the planned mergers between Syngenta and ChemChina as well as Monsanto and Bayer. The Commission cleared the deal on the condition that DuPont will sell off large parts of its global pesticides business.

On Monday, more than 200 organisations sent an open letter to Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, calling on the European Commission to reject the impending mergers of the world’s biggest agrochemical and seed companies in an already concentrated market. The farmers’, beekeeper, religious, international development, and environmental groups warn that the proposed mergers of Dow Chemical with DuPont, Monsanto with Bayer AG, and Syngenta with ChemChina will lead to an unacceptable monopoly, with three companies controlling around 70% of the world's agro-chemicals and more than 60% of commercial seeds. “Approving these mergers works completely against the rights of peasants, with far reaching effects in our society,” said Ramona Duminicioiu of the farmer organization “European Coordination Via Campesina” in a press release. “The already fragile rights of peasants regarding seeds, land and markets risks of being obliterated by these mega-corporations.” The organisations fear that increased market dominance would further restrict the diversity of seeds, harm farmers’ freedom of choice and their rights to save their seeds. They said that more market control would also reduce the food choices of European consumers.

In their letter, the organisations also warn that these mergers risk major monopoly outcomes that would further increase the use of agrochemicals. The result would be reduced diversity of farming and a greater dominance of monoculture farming with its heavy reliance on chemical inputs, which would further harm the environment, biodiversity, and human health. “Europe's food and farming system is broken and if giant firms, like Monsanto and Bayer, are allowed to merge they will have an even tighter toxic grip on our food,” said Adrian Bebb of Friends of the Earth Europe. “The mergers are a marriage made in hell and should be blocked by regulators,” he added. “We need to build a fairer and greener food system out of corporate control.” The Commission said it was concerned that the Dow-DuPont merger would have reduced competition for existing pesticides in a number of EU countries. “We were only able to agree to it, because the companies offered to sell off a significant part of their business, to preserve effective competition,” said Commissioner Margrethe Vestager. (ab)

2017-03-27 |

Transition needed to meet the soaring U.S. demand for organic food

Orgnc US demand for organic food continues to soar (Photo: CC0)

Despite the rapid growth in recent years, U.S. production of organic food lags behind consumer demand, according to a new report released by Environmental Working Group. The U.S. environmental organization argues that even modest reforms to existing federal programs would help farmers transition away from the current form of agriculture with its reliance on pesticides and expand the acreage dedicated to organic agriculture. “Driven in large part by the multiple environmental and health benefits, Americans’ appetites for organic food is seemingly insatiable,” said Colin O'Neil, EWG’s agriculture policy director and author of the report. Between 1997 and 2015, sales in the organic sector have grown from $3.7 billion to more than $43 billion. This double-digit growth nearly every year makes the organic sector one of the fastest growing segments of the food industry. Organic food sales now represent 5 percent of total U.S. food sales. However, US production does not meet the growing demand for organic food, the report shows. Major retailers such as Costco report that they can’t get enough organic food to meet customer demand.

According to analysis by the Organic Trade Association of data from the USDA’s Global Agricultural Trade System, in 2014 the U.S. imported roughly $1.2 billion worth of organic products. Organic exports were only $550 million. While some of the most heavily imported organic products tend to be foods grown in tropical and sub-tropical climates, such as coffee, bananas, olive oil and avocados, many American organic food companies have to turn to foreign suppliers for staples like soybeans, corn and rice – demand that could be met by domestic producers since these crops are ideally suited to U.S. climates. In 2015, the U.S. had to import more than $240 million of organic soybeans. “The current organic trade deficit presents Congress with a unique chance to expand market opportunities for U.S. producers, while also benefitting consumers, food companies and the environment,” said Colin O'Neil. “With modest reforms to current programs in the next farm bill, Congress can reduce barriers to farmers who want to transition organic methods at no additional cost.” One measure could be to embed organic transition into existing conservation programs. Congress and the administration could make better use of tax incentives, small business grants and existing loan programs to also facilitate transition. This would help increasing the number of organic farms and the amount of organic acreage. “The organic trade deficit presents organic businesses, farm groups and Congress with an opportunity to expand market opportunities for U.S. farmers, while at the same time addressing the public health and environmental footprint of American agriculture,” the report concludes. (ab)

2017-03-24 |

Wastewater is an untapped resource for agriculture, says World Water Report

Irrgtn Wastewater instead of freshwater? (Photo: CC0)

The vast quantities of domestic, agricultural and industrial wastewater which are discharged into the environment everyday, are an untapped resource, according to the United Nations World Water Development Report. The report, released on March 22 on the occasion of World Water Day, argues that once treated, wastewater offers many benefits for human health and the environment, food and energy security as well as climate change mitigation. The heading of the press release even describes wastewater as the new black gold. However, a large proportion of wastewater is still released into the environment without being either collected or treated. It is estimated that globally, over 80% of all wastewater is discharged without treatment, especially in low-income countries.

“Wastewater is a valuable resource in a world where water is finite and demand is growing,” said Guy Ryder, Chair of UN-Water. “Everyone can do their bit to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal target to halve the proportion of untreated wastewater and increase safe water reuse by 2030. It's all about carefully managing and recycling the water that runs through our homes, factories, farms and cities,” he added. Over the past decades, agricultural water use has increased remarkably. The area equipped for irrigation has more than doubled, from circa 1.4 million km² in 1961 to almost 3.2 million km² in 2012. Total livestock has more than tripled from 7.3 billion units in 1970 to 24.2 billion in 2011. Aquaculture has grown more than twentyfold since the 1980s. Agriculture is by far the largest consumer of the Earth’s available freshwater, accounting for 70% of freshwater withdrawals.

In many countries of the world, wastewater is commonly used for agricultural irrigation. Estimates of the total area that is being irrigated with raw and diluted wastewater range from 5 to 20 million hectares, with the largest share in China. In Jordan, over 90% of treated wastewater is currently being used for irrigation. In Israel, treated wastewater already accounts for nearly half of all water used for irrigation. However, wastewater’s vast potential remains underexploited, especially in Africa.

But the report also warns against the dangers of water pollution, especially from agriculture. Water pollution from agriculture occurs when fertilizers and other agrochemicals are applied more heavily than crops can absorb them or when they are washed away. Nutrients can also be released by livestock production and aquaculture. The report says that agriculture can be a source of several other types of pollutants, including organic matter, pathogens, metals and emerging pollutants. In addition, over the last 20 years, new agricultural pollutants have emerged, such as antibiotics, vaccines, growth promoters and hormones that may be released from livestock and aquaculture farms. There are serious health concerns if water used for irrigation contains pathogens that can contaminate crops.

The report calls for improved wastewater management which includes reducing pollution at the source, removing contaminants from wastewater flows, reusing reclaimed water and recovering useful by-products. Treated wastewater can be a potential source of raw materials such as phosphorus and nitrates that can be turned into fertilizer. According to FAO estimates, 22% of global demand for phosphorus, a finite and depleting mineral resource, could be met by reusing treated wastewater. “In a world where demands for freshwater are continuously growing, and where limited water resources are increasingly stressed by over-abstraction, pollution and climate change, neglecting the opportunities arising from improved wastewater management is nothing less than unthinkable,” the report concludes. (ab)

2017-03-14 |

One in four North American bee species at risk of extinction, report warns

Megachile Bee at risk: Megachile fortis (Photo: USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Laboratory)

One in four North American bee species are at risk of extinction due to threats such as habitat loss and pesticide use, new research shows. According to a report released by the Center for Biological Diversity, a US-based conservation organisation, population levels of more than 700 of the 4,000 native bee species in North America and Hawaii are declining at an alarming rate. The main drivers are habitat loss, heavy pesticide use, climate change and urbanization, the study found. To assess current population trends, the researchers reviewed the current conservation status of 316 species as established by state, federal or independent research and then conducted a comprehensive review of all available literature on native bees to determine a status for a further 1,121 species. They concluded that of the 1,437 native bee species for which sufficient data was available, about 749 or more than half were declining. According to the scientists, 347 native bee species – nearly one in four – are imperiled and at increasing risk of extinction.

The report says that a primary driver of these declines is agricultural intensification, which includes habitat destruction, widespread planting of monocultures and toxic pesticide use. “The evidence is overwhelming that hundreds of the native bees we depend on for ecosystem stability, as well as pollination services worth billions of dollars, are spiraling toward extinction,” said Kelsey Kopec, a pollinator researcher at the Center and author of the study. “It’s a quiet but staggering crisis unfolding right under our noses that illuminates the unacceptably high cost of our careless addiction to pesticides and monoculture farming.” While the decline of European honeybees in the US and beyond has been well publicized in recent years, the more than 4,000 species of native bees in North America and Hawaii have been much less documented, the report reads. “We’re on the verge of losing hundreds of native bee species in the United States if we don’t act to save them,” Kopec warned. Almost 90% of wild plants are dependent on insect pollination. Bees provide more than $3 billion in fruit-pollination services each year in the US. “And these unique insects, and their pollination services, are vital to the survival of ecosystems. Our lives and culture would be significantly impoverished without these hardworking, underappreciated and declining animals,” the report concludes. (ab)

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