Jan 8 (Reuters) - The United States said it will fund more than $450,000 in research projects to reduce the use of pesticides that may harm honey bees, crucial in the pollination of many key U.S. crops.
A total of $459,264 will be divided among Louisiana State University, Penn State University and the University of Vermont to develop practices that reduce the use of potentially harmful pesticides, the Environmental Protection Agency said in a statement Wednesday.
Over the past few years, bee populations have been dying at a rate the U.S. government says is unsustainable. Honey bees pollinate plants that produce about a quarter of the food consumed by Americans, including apples, almonds, watermelons and beans, according to government reports.
Scientists, consumer groups and bee keepers say the devastating rate of bee deaths is due to the growing use of pesticides, sold by agrichemical companies to boost yields of staple crops such as corn.
However, Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer and other agrichemical companies say the bees are being killed by other factors, such as mites.
The Louisiana State University project is focused on minimizing the impact to bees from insecticides used for mosquito control.
The University of Vermont project focuses on reducing pesticide use and improving pest control while increasing crop yields on 75 acres of hops in the Northeast. The project's goal is to reduce herbicide and fungicide applications by 50 percent while decreasing downy mildew, a plant disease.
And the Pennsylvania State University project is exploring the benefits of growing crops without relying on neonicotinoid pesticide seed treatments. The so-called 'neonics' are a chief suspect in honey bee deaths.
"Protection of bee populations is among EPA's top priorities," the agency said.
The EPA said bee populations were also being hurt by parasites, disease and poor nutrition.
The agency has been working with bee keepers, growers, pesticide manufacturers, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and states to try to combat pesticide exposure to bees.