The plague killing off American honey bees, a growing concern in Congress, has now been witnessed by administration environmental officials who are also looking into beekeeper complaints that too many pesticides are being approved and that illegal use of the insecticides is going unpunished.

Industry officials said that an assistant Environmental Protection Agency administrator last month toured a California bee farm and saw the devastation. Owner Jeff Anderson said that of the 3,150 hives he had last spring, just 992 have survived.

He and other industry officials added that the death rate of honey bees critical for fruit, nut and vegetable pollination, has reached such a crisis that many professional beekeepers can't afford to replace their colonies and are getting out of the business.

"Beekeepers will just not be able to recover from these losses," added Bret Adee, president of the National Pollinator Defense Fund. He told the industry trade Bee Culture that the lack of bees will result in smaller crops and "I expect that next year may be worse."

The industry has been on a crusade to get the EPA's help in halting the approval of bee-killing pesticides. They also want those who use pesticides illegally to be punished. The EPA has been focusing more recently on the issue, even limiting the use of one pesticide.

On Monday, Earth Day, groups dedicated to the bee are launching a campaign called BEE Protective to push for changes to pesticide rules in Washington.

Many in the honey industry believe that the mysterious Colony Collapse Disorder is in part the result of new and stronger pesticides that remain potent for years, meaning that they are in the pollen bees collect over time. Bee Culture reported that a Pennsylvania State University study of 800 hives found six different kind of pesticides inside. The study called it a "remarkably high level for toxicants in the food of brood and adults" in the hive.