The Sad Decline of the Bee
For more than fifteen years we have known about Colony Collapse Disorder and the decline of the Bee population, the powers that be still seem to be talking with little show of any worthwhile action, in these incidences we need to follow the money. Pesticides have been blamed as one of the factors to blame for the decline of the Bee and as we know the Agro/Chemical Industry make lots and lots of money from Pesticides.........need I say more. What can we do? We sign petitions, we write to our MP's, we buy organic, we become urban beekeepers, we pray to God.
For the First Time, Bees Declared Endangered in the U.S.
Seven species of Hawaiian yellow-faced bee, decimated by invasive species and habitat loss, are now federally protected.
As the legend goes, when star-crossed lovers Naupaka and Kaui knew they'd be forever separated, Naupaka took the flower from behind her ear and tore it in two pieces, keeping one and giving Kaui the other.
As she went to the mountains, and he to the sea, the plants around them felt their sorrow, and from then on bloomed only in half-flowers.
Such is the Hawaiian myth behind the naupaka, a beach shrub native to the islands whose flowers look like they're missing half of their petals.
Now the plants are linked to another sad event: Their primary pollinators, a group of more than 60 yellow-faced bee species in the genus Hylaeus, are disappearing fast. So fast that on September 30, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service deemed seven Hylaeus species as endangered—the first bees ever on the list. (See seven intimate pictures that reveal the beauty of bees.)
In the early 1900s, yellow-faced bees were the most abundant Hawaiian insects, ranging from the coastlines to the mountains and even the subalpine slopes of Mauna Kea.
Yet habitat loss, invasive species, and climate change have hit Hawaii's only native bees so hard that they're now one of the state's least observed pollinators. Only two known populations of H. anthracinus, one of the most studied species, remain on the island of Oahu, and a few small populations are scattered across several other islands, according to recent surveys.
"What we saw was really alarming—the bees were doing a lot worse than we thought," says Cynthia King, an entomologist with Hawaii's Division of Forestry and Wildlife.
In 2010, the state government stepped up efforts to learn more about the bees. Around the same time, the invertebrate nonprofit Xerces Society submitted a petition to federally protect seven yellow-faced bees. Saving these species is a "necessary part" of the White House's strategy to protect pollinators, says Xerces executive director Scott Black.
"We should protect the rarest of the rare."
Ignored InsectsThe six-millimeter-long, solitary bees—so named for the golden mark between the males' eyes—are the only bees from Hawaii.
Even so, they flew largely under the radar until around 1995, when Karl Magnacca, now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Hawai'i, noticed bees buzzing in his house on the Big Island. When he looked up the insects up in recent scientific literature, he came up virtually empty.
"That was surprising, since bees in general are an important group. [Yellow-faced bees] have been ignored since the 1920s."
Magnacca decided to do his Ph.D. on the bees, and in the process discovered ten new species, as well as mapped out where the various species live in Hawaii—"sparking a renaissance of interest in them," he says. (Read "Quest for a Superbee" in National Geographic magazine.)
The bees have possibly gone overlooked in part because they look like wasps.
For one, they're fast—if a bee passes you, all you'll likely see is a little black squiggle, Pigpen-style, according to King, the state entomologist. The insects also have black, shiny bodies, without that classic bee fuzz.
Deadly InvadersTo figure out the life cycle of this little-seen insect, University of Hawai'i entomologist Jason Graham has studied—for the first time—where H. anthracinus lives and nests on Honolulu's Ka Iwi coast and in the James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge on the North Shore.
He found that the bees like to nest in holes in coral rocks that have washed ashore or in the hollow stems of a few coastal plants. After laying eggs, females seal the holes with a type of waterproof cellophane.
Graham has also observed an invasive bee from India—ironically from the same genus—competing with the native bees, nesting in the same plant cavities and foraging on the same flowers.
Invasive species in general are devastating—in addition to these rivalHylaeus bees, yellow-faced bees must contend with alien ants. (Hawaii has no native ant species.)
Highly efficient foragers and predators, ants see a yellow-faced bee nest, with its beefy larvae, "as an amazing little buffet," says King.
Giving Bees a BoostBy dissecting nests and measuring their sizes, as well as raising bees in the lab, Graham has developed an artificial nest box that allows bees in and keeps ants out.
"The artificial nests are wooden blocks with pre-drilled holes that match the hole size female bees look for when home-shopping for a nest spot," he says. The cord that attaches the nest blocks to a branch is then covered with a sticky substance that prevents crawling predators, like ants, from getting inside.
Saving Bumblebees Became This Photographer's Mission
Natural history photographer Clay Bolt is on a quest to tell the stories of American native bees, and one elusive species—the rusty-patched bumblebee—has become his "white whale." Produced by Day's Edge Productions and Clay Bolt in partnership withXerces Society and Endangered Species Chocolate. Any views expressed are those of the filmmakers.
Eventually, Graham envisions placing such boxes in areas where yellow-faced bees no longer live, so that when adults emerge for the first time they'll return to the same spot to reproduce—and therefore reestablish populations.
The boxes "may bring these bees back from the verge of extinction," he says.
More difficult to combat are rising seas and more intense storm surges. In 2015, 40-foot waves wiped out an entire population of bees living on a rock jetty, Graham adds.
"We Can Do More"Black acknowledges that "Hawaii is one of the toughest places to do conservation. That said, we can do more."
For instance, the state could focus on setting aside the bees' remaining strongholds as conservation areas, ensuring they're free of development and agriculture and trying as much as possible to keep invasive species at bay. (See more gorgeous photos of bees.)
King is optimistic that the bees' new endangered status will strengthen plans to help the insects.
"A lot of people think of Hawaii as a lost cause because we have so many invasive species," she says, but "we're really well positioned right now to make headway for the bee."
Source : National Geographic
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A Win For The Bees
The California State Beekeepers Association was buzzing about pesticides at their annual convention in Sacramento last week. And with good reason.
Just days before, EPA took the rare step of banning a bee-toxic insecticide. For an agency that has been really slow to take meaningful bee-protective action, dragging out both scientific analysis and much needed policy shifts, this was a very welcome move.
The agency's decision to pull sulfoxaflor — manufactured by Dow — was largely a response to litigation brought on by beekeepers. And the courts ruled EPA had relied on "flawed and limited data" to approve the pesticide's registration in the first place, citing the “precariousness of bee populations.”
A close cousin to neonicotinoid pesticides, sulfoxaflor is pervasive in treated crops and acts on the same receptors in bee brains. It was also one more in the line of new bee-toxic chemicals that EPA and manufacturers have been hustling toward approval.
Pulling sulfoxaflor off the market will mean the product can no longer be applied to nuts, fruits and vegetables around the country — some of the very crops that rely on bees for pollination. While EPA missed an important opportunity to stop the export of this troublesome pesticide, it's still a clear win for bees and beekeepers in the U.S.
Focus on the pesticide problem
Despite federal officials moving slowly to address the wider spectrum of bee-harming pesticides, beekeepers are keeping the pressure on. Darren Cox, a commercial beekeeper from Utah and president of the American Honey Producers Association, highlighted the priority and urgency of the pesticide problem at the California convention:
"Our beekeeper members have made it clear that pesticides are their number one issue of concern. Despite efforts to blame mites or the practices of beekeepers, the reality is that widespread pesticide use, particularly systemic pesticides, poses a significant threat to our livelihood."
And that may be why remarks from state officials at the same convention didn’t land very well. One representative from the CA Department of Food and Agriculture, in speaking to convention-goers, placed virtually all responsibility on beekeepers; she encouraged them to register all their hives with local and state officials so they would have a record of hive locations. And she told beekeepers to pick up and move bee operations when they encounter a potential threat from nearby pesticide applications — a wholly unrealistic option.
These approaches simply ignore the reality of lingering residues in crops, soil and water — not to mention threats to native bees and other pollinators that can't be moved. More importantly, they let pesticide manufacturers like Bayer off the hook; these corporations should be held accountable for the impact of their pesticide products.
Scientists also spoke up at the conference, cutting through it all. Judy Wu, a researcher with the University of Minnesota Bee Lab, focused her talk on the harmful impacts of neonicotinoids on queen bees. She summed up the situation like this:
“Science has to be narrowly focused, but policy needs to address the bigger picture — an overuse and dependency on pesticides.”
EPA took a good step by halting use of sulfoxaflor, but it shouldn't have been approved in the first place. And there is clearly more work to be done to protect bees, beekeepers and sustain our agricultural economy.
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Climate change shrinking bees’ tongues, scientists say
Two species have adapted to feeding on shorter-tubed flowers since warmer summers have made deep-tube blooms less available, researchers believe.
Poor bees can’t catch a break.
Pesticides, pathogens and habitat loss have all decimated pollinator populations, with some North American bumblebee species declining up to 96 per cent in just a few decades.
Now, scientists say that climate change is causing some bees’ tongues to shrink.
A U.S.-Canadian research team found that deep-tubed flowers are blooming less often on the slopes of three Rocky Mountain ridges in Colorado, changes linked to increasingly warmer summers. As a result, two long-tongued species of alpine bumblebees that co-evolved to pollinate these plants have seen a 24-per-cent reduction in tongue length over the past 40 years.
The researchers believe the bumblebees have rapidly adapted to feeding on shorter-tubed flowers, transforming them from long-tongued specialist pollinators to short-tongued generalists over the course of a few dozen generations — potentially disrupting their alpine environment.
“The silver lining is that bees are adapting. That’s a good thing — they’re responding to these changes in selective pressure,” says Nicole Miller-Struttmann, an evolutionary ecologist at SUNY College at Old Westbury and a co-author on the paper, which was published Friday in the journal Science.
“The not-so-silver lining is the effect that this might have long term on the plants.”
The long-tubed flowering species the researchers examined live for many years, so the bees’ shift to shorter-tubed flowers hasn’t yet had an impact. But if the bees are visiting these species less often and spreading less of their pollen, the plants could decline, triggering further stresses on every other organism that relies on them.
“It’s sort of this cascading effect. At what point do things start falling apart? It will be really hard to predict what a seemingly small change like this will have on the larger community,” says Sheila Colla, a York University conservation biologist who specializes in North American bumblebees. Colla, who was not involved in the research, called the news “depressing, as most of the stuff that comes my way is.”
For the study, the researchers turned to a collection of alpine bumblebees gathered in the Rockies between 1966 and 1980 and stored at entomology museums. To measure their tongue lengths, Miller-Struttmann and her colleagues slowly rehydrated the specimens in a moist environment: To fold the tongues out to full length, they needed to make them flexible again. To compare the older bees with modern ones, the researchers spent successive field seasons on the same mountain peaks netting insects and measuring flower density.
One species of bumblebee, Bombus balteatus, saw their mean tongue length drop to six millimetres from eight millimetres in one mountain-range population. Another species,Bombus sylvicola, saw a drop to just under four millimetres from just over five millimetres.
Miller-Struttmann adds that while it’s good news the bees are adapting, it’s impossible to say how much more stress they can handle.
“Is that evolution fast enough in the long term? We don’t know yet.”
Source : The Star
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Bees feeding on fungicide-dosed flowers develop health issues, studies say
While insecticides are a known deadly threat, two studies find that bees exposed to fungicides are smaller, sickly and declining in ‘chemical cocktail’ farmlands
While the relationship between insecticides and bees has made headlines – and controversy – for years, two recent studies have shown that another class of agricultural chemicals, little-appreciated but used in ever-increasing amounts, may also pose a threat to pollinators.
The new studies have raised concerns about fungicides: in one, foraging on fungicide-dosed flowers harmed bumblebees. Colonies were smaller, their workers tinier, their queens seemed sickly, it found. In the other, exposures were linked to declines in wild bees living in agriculture-intensive areas. They are only two studies, and far from conclusive, but the findings fit with a growing body of research on fungicides once thought innocuous.
“It’s a group of pesticides that hasn’t been looked at too closely,” said entomologist Hannah Gaines-Day of the University of Wisconsin, whose bumblebee study appeared in the June issue of Insects. “Insecticides are meant to kill insects, so people have been really interested in how insecticides kill beneficial insects. But fungicides are not meant to kill insects, so they’ve been passed over.”
Gaines-Day and her colleagues conducted their study after being asked by local farmers whether it was safe to spray fungicides on crops while they bloomed, and while bees forage on the flowers. For insecticides, usually neonicotinoids, that’s obviously bad news: bees would feed on insect poison. But blossom-spraying is still customary with fungicides, said Gaines-Day, and early safety studies suggested the chemicals were safe. Yet those studies were limited.
They involved only honeybees, ignoring the many species of wild bees that also provide pollination, both to crops and to landscapes at large. They also focused on obvious, flagrant harm, such as bees dropping dead within a day or two, and generally ignored subtle but important effects evident over longer periods of time: whether fungicides affected bee behavior or immune systems, for example, and thus long-term health and reproduction.
Those methods came under criticism even as fungicides became steadily more popular around the world, with sales rising from $8bn in 2005 to a predicted $21bn in 2017. Fungicide pollution has been detected across the US; exposures are routine in bees, and some researchers have started to wonder whether they might contribute to declines in both honeybees and inwild, native bees.
Gaines-Day cautioned that her team’s study, which involved five bumblebee colonies kept in field enclosures where flowers were sprayed with field-realistic doses of chlorothalonil, a common fungicide, was small. The resulting diminishing in bumblebee colony size and health can’t be translated immediately to real-world colonies.
The findings also raise obvious methodological questions. Bees within the tents couldn’t feed anywhere else, but free-ranging bees can feed on non-treated flowers. That’s an important caveat, noted Gaines-Day. It also fits with patterns observed in another new study, published in the June Proceedings of the Royal Society B by researchers led by Mia Park, a pollinator ecologist at the University of North Dakota.
Park’s team found bees in New York orchards to be healthier on farms located within nature-rich areas rather than agriculture-intensive habitats. In the latter there were fewer bees, and fewer different species. Fungicides made “a significant contribution” to pesticide effects, wrote Park and colleagues, suggesting “deleterious properties of a class of pesticides that was, until recently, considered benign to bees”.
Wild bees were affected much more than honeybees and avoiding sprays during blooms didn’t seem to help. “Our findings suggest that heavy use of conventional pesticides, even some traditionally viewed as benign, can render our crops net sinks for bee populations,” wrote the researchers. In layman’s terms, crops can kill more bees than they sustain.
David Goulson, a bee biologist at the University of Sussex, said the new studies “suggest that the fungicides may be having more profound effects on bees than would have been expected from the standard lab toxicity studies”. The Park study in particular, said Goulson, “demonstrates very clearly how the cocktail of chemicals used in modern farming makes farmland an inhospitable place for bees”.
Neither of the research groups investigated precisely how fungicides could harm bees, but one possible mechanism is described in a 2013 study by US department of agriculture researchers, who found that fungicides rendered honeybees more vulnerable to parasites. Their immune systems seemed to be weakened.
Also concerning is fungicide interaction with other chemicals. Fungicides like those used in Gaines-Day’s experiment can short-circuit bees’ natural ability to detoxify some pesticides. “A quick look at a fungicide bottle might show minimal risks,” said Aimee Code, pesticide program coordinator at Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, “but if mixed with some insecticides, the synergistic effects can be staggering.”
Gaines-Day and colleagues think fungicides might compromise bee microbiomes: the communities of beneficial microbes, including fungi, that are so important to the health of all animals. “Fungal diseases are a huge problem and can destroy a farmer’s crop,” said Gaines-Day, “but we don’t think, ‘What about the good microbes that can be helping a beneficial insect?’”
Source : The Guardian
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Bumblebee Pupae Contain High Levels of Aluminium
The causes of declines in bees and other pollinators remains an on-going debate. While recent attention has focussed upon pesticides, other environmental pollutants have largely been ignored. Aluminium is the most significant environmental contaminant of recent times and we speculated that it could be a factor in pollinator decline. Herein we have measured the content of aluminium in bumblebee pupae taken from naturally foraging colonies in the UK. Individual pupae were acid-digested in a microwave oven and their aluminium content determined using transversely heated graphite furnace atomic absorption spectrometry. Pupae were heavily contaminated with aluminium giving values between 13.4 and 193.4 μg/g dry wt. and a mean (SD) value of 51.0 (33.0) μg/g dry wt. for the 72 pupae tested. Mean aluminium content was shown to be a significant negative predictor of average pupal weight in colonies. While no other statistically significant relationships were found relating aluminium to bee or colony health, the actual content of aluminium in pupae are extremely high and demonstrate significant exposure to aluminium. Bees rely heavily on cognitive function and aluminium is a known neurotoxin with links, for example, to Alzheimer’s disease in humans. The significant contamination of bumblebee pupae by aluminium raises the intriguing spectre of cognitive dysfunction playing a role in their population decline.
Source : PLOSOne
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Quest for a Superbee
Can the world’s most important pollinators be saved? How scientists and breeders are trying to create a hardier honeybee.
Brother Adam must have known he had become a beekeeper at an unlucky time. It was 1915, and he was a 16-year-old novice at Buckfast Abbey in southwest England. Rapid bee die-offs have been recorded for centuries, but the catastrophe that confronted the young monk was unprecedented. A mysterious disease had wiped out almost every apiary on the Isle of Wight and now was devastating the rest of England. Brother Adam found his hives suddenly vacant, bees crawling beneath them, unable to fly. That year he lost 29 of the abbey’s 45 hives.
Scientists eventually linked the disease to a previously unknown virus. But the research came too late to save Britain’s native dark brown honeybee. Almost all the surviving hives were hybrids, the progeny of local drones that mated with foreign-bred queens. The apparently superior vigor of these blends made Brother Adam think about breeding a disease-resistant bee.
In 1950, after years of preparation, he finally got his chance. Commandeering an old abbey car, he traveled over the next 37 years through Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, collecting more than 1,500 queens: the hardworking bees of northern Turkey, the hyper-diverse bees of Crete, the isolated bees of Sahara oases, the deep black bees of Morocco, the tiny orange bees of the Nile, the supposedly placid bees of Mount Kilimanjaro. He took his exotic menagerie to a remote station in the moors, miles from other bees with their unwanted genes. Performing countless breeding tests in pristine solitude, he created the Buckfast bee—a superbee, as it was quickly dubbed. Tan-colored and robust, it was reluctant to sting, zealously productive, and resistant to what had come to be called Isle of Wight disease. By the 1980s Buckfast bees were sold across the world. Bee breeders are rare. Brother Adam had become something even rarer: an apiculture celebrity.
But honeybees were again under assault. An Asian mite with the evocative name ofVarroa destructor had invaded Europe and America. “Only a fully resistant, genetically endowed race or strain,” Brother Adam proclaimed in 1991, will be “the ultimate answer to this menace.” But before he could begin work, Buckfast’s abbot, convinced that Brother Adam’s growing fame conflicted with his vocation, removed him from his post. He died, heartbroken, in 1996. “Nobody really took his place at the abbey,” says Clare Densley, who two years ago restarted Buckfast’s storied beekeeping operation.
All the while, conditions worsened in Beelandia. In 2007 reports of “colony collapse disorder”—swift, terrible deaths of entire colonies—suddenly mushroomed across Europe and the Americas. News reports called it a “threat to global agriculture” and an “unprecedented catastrophe for the planet.” The headlines were justified: Insect pollination, mostly from honeybees, is critical to one-third of the world’s food supply.
Bee researchers, many inspired by Brother Adam, rushed to understand colony collapse. Most have concluded it is not a single problem, as first thought, but a lethal amalgamation of pests, pathogens, habitat loss, and toxic chemicals; varroa mites are a critical component. Most large-scale beekeepers now use pesticides to kill the mites—a stopgap solution, at best. To avoid chemicals, some bee researchers are returning to Brother Adam’s approach: Superbee Version 2.0. Only this time, they are using the tools of big science, including genetic modification. Others tout the opposite approach, one even more natural than Brother Adam’s. No chemicals, no manipulation—let the bees evolve on their own!
“Unfortunately, none of these approaches has yet produced a sufficiently mite-resistant and productive bee. And by ‘sufficiently’ I mean a bee that’s a game changer,” Keith Delaplane, director of the University of Georgia’s honeybee program, told me. Meanwhile, he says the pressures on the bee are enormous. “I stand in front of beekeepers and say, ‘You all tell me the success stories.’ I do not see any hands going up.”
Honeybees are superorganisms. Honeybees are hive minds. Honeybees are linguistic networks: One of the few nonhuman animals to communicate symbolically, they dance to explain the location of food to their fellows. Bee people use such metaphors but admit they don’t quite capture these complex, fascinating creatures and their ultra-organized communities. With a population of up to 80,000, a beehive is like a small human city.
Bumbling and buzzing, these industrious animals--Apis mellifera, as scientists call them—search flowers for tiny drops of a sugary secretion called nectar. Bees slurp the nectar into their “honey stomachs,” which break down the sugars. Inside the hive they regurgitate the goop and fan it with their wings to evaporate the water. The sweet, gluey result—honey—is stored for winter food or stolen by humans. A pound of clover honey, ecologist Bernd Heinrich has estimated, “represents the food rewards from approximately 8.7 million flowers.”
When you watch bees single-mindedly labor to make honey, it’s hard to believe that their greatest role in nature is something they are entirely unaware of: distributing pollen. Pollen is, in effect, the male part of a plant; it transfers DNA to the female part of the flower, an essential step in reproduction. Plants can disperse pollen by wind or animals, usually insects. As Apis mellifera hunts for nectar in flowers, pollen grains stick to its hairy body. When it visits more flowers, some of the pollen drops off, fertilizing the plant. Plants that rely on wind emit vast clouds of pollen, hoping a few grains will drift into other flowers. From an evolutionary point of view, harnessing insects is so much more efficient that insect-pollinated plants typically make one-thousandth as much pollen as their wind-dependent cousins.
Not until I visit Adam Novitt do I understand how all this works. Novitt, a beekeeper in Northampton, Massachusetts, keeps hives in his small urban backyard. His is an artisanal, locavore operation—“I’m at constant risk of sounding like an extra inPortlandia,” he says, referring to the hipster-skewering television series. Each jar of his Northampton Honey is labeled with the zip code where his bees labored. Novitt endured a two-year wait to obtain his much-in-demand Buckfast queens. Demonstrating their gentleness, he removes the tops from his hives without gloves or veil. A barnyardy smell—wax and honey and wood—rises into the air. On the combs the bees tumble over each other like children at a day care center.
Some of Novitt’s bees are stippled with reddish, pinhead-size dots: Varroa destructor. The mites latch on like ticks or leeches, draining bloodlike hemolymph from their hosts and enfeebling their immune systems. The hive environment—steamy and warm, bees in constant contact—is as perfect for bee pathogens as a day care center is for human pathogens. “The mite opens up the road; the bacteria or fungus or virus does the rest,” Novitt says. He snaps his fingers. “Pfft!--colony collapse.” Before varroa, he tells me, beekeeping was mostly a matter of bee-having--“they needed minimal attention, most of the time.” Since the mite arrived, “you really have to keep them.” Beekeeping, he says, should actually be called “mite management.”
Most farmers facing insect issues turn to chemicals, such as the pesticides sprayed on apple trees to control maggots. Even though mites and bees are more closely related than apples and maggots, chemical firms have discovered a dozen or more effective miticides. The chemicals are widely used, but not a single bee researcher, commercial beekeeper, or bee hobbyist I spoke with was happy about putting toxins into hives. In addition, scientists report, many varroa are already resistant to commercial miticides.
A different, potentially nontoxic treatment is envisioned by Beeologics, an arm of the agribusiness giant Monsanto, which uses RNAi (the last letter stands for “interference”). RNA molecules in cells carry the information from genes—that is, particular segments of DNA molecules—to the cellular machinery that makes proteins, the chemical building blocks of life. Each protein has a unique makeup, as do its associated RNA and gene. In RNA interference, cells are targeted with a substance designed to attack a specific variant of RNA. Crippling that RNA snaps the link between a gene and its protein. In the Beeologics version, bees would be fed sugar water containing RNAi, which disables mite RNA. In theory the doctored sugar water should not affect the bee. But when mites drink the bees’ hemolymph, the mites will also take in RNAi—and it should affect them. It’s as if you could kill vampires by eating pizza with garlic sauce.
Jerry Hayes of Monsanto Honey Bee Health hopes to have something on the market within five to seven years. The biggest challenge, he says, is creating a stable product—something beekeepers “can ride around with in a truck in Montana when it’s a hundred degrees out.”
Problem is, Marla Spivak says, RNAi is still a single-purpose tool. Spivak, of the University of Minnesota, is the only bee researcher ever to receive a “genius” grant from the MacArthur Foundation. “If you target one specific area,” she argues, “the organism will always make an end run around it.” Staving off the beepocalypse, in her view, ultimately requires a “healthier, stronger” honeybee, one that can fight mites and disease on its own, without human assistance.
In parallel efforts, two groups of researchers—Spivak and her collaborators, and John Harbo and his colleagues at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s research center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana—sought to breed mite-resistant bees. Although their approaches were different, they took aim at the same target: “hygienic” bees.
All Apis mellifera larvae grow in special cells in the comb, which adult bees fill with food and cap with wax. Mites enter the cells just before they are sealed and lay their eggs. When they hatch, the young mites feed on the helpless, immobile bee pupae. When the fully grown bee emerges into the hive, mites dot its back or belly. Unlike most honeybees, hygienic bees can detect mites inside sealed cells, probably by smell, then open the caps and remove infested bee pupae, interrupting the mite’s reproductive cycle.
Spivak and Harbo both succeeded in breeding versions of hygienic bees by the late 1990s. A few years after that, scientists realized that hygienic bees are less effective as the mites grow more numerous. How to overcome that remains uncertain, in part because the genetic basis of hygienic behavior is not yet understood. Similar problems beset another breeding target: grooming. By running their middle legs over their bodies, honeybees tidy themselves and each other. If bees groom before mites attach themselves, they can dislodge the pests. An obvious goal is a hygienic bee that grooms intensively. But breeders fear they will produce bees that primp constantly, like vain adolescents. And always there is the worry that breeding for one trait will compromise others—that hygienic bees, for instance, will be aggressive or make little honey.
Ultimately, solving these quandaries will require molecular biology, argues Martin Beye, a geneticist at Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf, Germany. To a geneticist, blindly breeding two bees that have a desired trait is like banging together two handfuls of marbles and scooping up the result. It’s much more effective to identify specific genes responsible for the desired traits and insert them. A consortium of more than a hundred researchers decoded the honeybee genome in 2006. Beye was part of the group. The next step, in his view, would be to identify genes that influence certain behaviors—and, if needed, modify them.
Although scientists had produced transgenic insects since the early 1980s, all attempts to insert genes into Apis mellifera had failed. Beye assigned the task of discovering a method to a young researcher, Christina Vleurinck. Science is like moviemaking: The result can be exciting, but the process is excruciating. Vleurinck had to extract eggs from a colony, inject genetic material (in this case a gene that makes certain tissues glow under fluorescent light), and reinsert the eggs into the hive. Time after time the new genes didn’t take. Poking needles into the eggs often resulted in damaged embryos. Worker bees swiftly killed them. It was like having thousands of tiny critics, each with the ability to close the show. With Beye and two other collaborators, Vleurinck gradually developed a successful technique. Still, it will take years of work before the method can be used to develop a better bee. And releasing genetically modified bees is bound to be controversial. “This is new ground,” Beye says. “People will want to be careful.”
Vleurinck’s bees are kept in a tent, sealed off from the outside world, as required by German laws about transgenic organisms. During my visit a staffer takes me into the tent, extracts a comb from a Styrofoam bee box, and lets me inspect it. It is covered with genetically modified bees. To my untrained eye, they look exactly like ordinary bees, except unhappier. When not allowed to fly freely, bees get grouchy. In the course of her research, Vleurinck was stung so many times she became allergic to bee venom. “I’m not allowed inside with them,” she says.
All of this makes Phil Chandler, the author of The Barefoot Beekeeper, roll his eyes. A preacher in the Church of Everything You Know Is Wrong, he argues that too many scientists, even if well-meaning, are effectively part of the problem. “We cannot solve our difficulties by using the type of thinking that created them,” Chandler says. He’s referring to the “persistent delusion” that humans can control nature. Better bees can be built, he believes, but only by bees themselves. The biggest enemy of honeybees, he contends, is not mites or viruses but industrial agriculture. Many scientists ruefully agree. The disagreement comes over what to do about it.
A century ago many crops were still pollinated by feral bees. Then family farms turned into agribusiness operations. Bees need to forage for food much of the year, but fields devoted to single crops typically have flowers for just a few weeks, while weeds that could tide bees over are killed by herbicides. So few bees now exist that farmers must rent hives from huge commercial outfits that transport them from crop to crop in 18-wheelers. The peak or nadir occurs every February and March, when about 1.6 million hives from all over converge on California’s Central Valley to pollinate almonds. In a few frenzied weeks, the hordes help produce about 80 percent of the world’s almond supply.
I meet Chandler near Buckfast Abbey, at a gathering of beekeepers. Many around him agree with his diagnosis. Still, they look vexed when he says that the best thing to do for varroa would be … nothing. Keep bees healthy and well fed, but let evolution work. For ten years or more, beekeepers might lose most of their bees, he concedes. But natural selection would eventually lead to some kind of resistant bee. “We have to think of these issues in terms of what is best for bees,” he says. “Not what is best for us.”
Chandler is not optimistic about the future for Apis mellifera; Densley, the Buckfast Abbey beekeeper, is worried, but more hopeful. To cheer them up, I tell them about Harvard University’s RoboBee project: an effort to create tiny, pollinating drones. In principle, the technology is feasible. Autonomous robots identify flowers by color, hover above them, and insert soft probes that pick up pollen. It might take the pressure off real bees, I suggest.
Chandler doesn’t look reassured. Densley too seems less than enthusiastic. “I’m not ready for a world of mechanical bees,” she says. “I think I like the ones we have.” She, like other bee people, is waiting for something to happen.
Source : National Geographic
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Beekeepers see 42% of US honeybee colonies die off in a single year
More than two out of five American honeybee colonies died in the past year, and surprisingly, the worst die-off was in the summer, according to a federal survey.
Since April 2014, beekeepers lost 42.1% of their colonies, the second-highest rate in nine years, according to an annual survey conducted by a bee partnership that includes the US Department of Agriculture.
“What we’re seeing with this bee problem is just a loud signal that there’s some bad things happening with our agro-ecosystems,” said study co-author Keith Delaplane at the University of Georgia. “We just happen to notice it with the honeybee because they are so easy to count.”
But it’s not quite as dire as it sounds. That’s because after a colony dies, beekeepers split their surviving colonies, start new ones, and the numbers go back up again, said Delaplane and study co-author Dennis vanEngelsdorp of the University of Maryland. But that pushes the bees to their limits, he said.
What shocked the entomologists is that this is the first time they have noticed bees dying more in the summer than the winter, vanEngelsdorp said. The survey found beekeepers lost 27.4% of their colonies this summer. That’s up from 19.8% the previous summer.
Seeing massive colony losses in summer is like seeing “a higher rate of flu deaths in the summer than winter,” vanEngelsdorp said. “You just don’t expect colonies to die at this rate in the summer.”
Oklahoma, Illinois, Iowa, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Maine and Wisconsin all saw more than 60% of their hives die since April 2014, according to the survey.
“Most of the major commercial beekeepers get a dark panicked look in their eyes when they discuss these losses and what it means to their businesses,” said Pennsylvania State University entomology professor Diana Cox-Foster. She wasn’t part of the study, but praised it.
Delaplane and vanEngelsdorp said a combination of mites, poor nutrition and pesticides are to blame for the bee deaths.
Dick Rogers, chief beekeeper for pesticide maker Bayer, said the loss figure is “not unusual at all” and said the survey shows an end result of more colonies: 2.74 million hives in 2015, up from 2.64 million in 2014.
That does not mean bee health is improving or stable, vanEngelsdorp said.
Source : The Guardian (May 2015)
Shedding Light on Three Big Lies About Systemic Pesticides and Bees
Recently, a friend sent me the article "Bee Deaths Reversal: As Evidence Points Away From Neonics As Driver, Pressure Builds To Rethink Ban." The wordy title hinting that systemic pesticides are safe seemed suspect, but because the op-ed was published in Forbes, a reputable publication, I knew many would read it as bona fide truth. I would have too, if I hadn't studied bees and colony collapse disorder for the past eight years. I am the director of a documentary film called Vanishing of the Bees, narrated by Ellen Page. I owe my life to the bees in many respects.
Nowadays, an increasing amount of blatant misinformation is being planted in the media about honeybees and the systemic pesticides that are killing them. Unlike typical pesticides, which are applied topically, systemic pesticides are entrenched in the soil or embedded in the seed so that the poisons are taken up by the plant and transported to all its tissues, including roots, stems, leaves, pollen and nectar.
Just a few days before I saw the Forbes article, I'd spotted another pesticide-friendly article on The Huffington Post: "Bee Experts Dismantle Touted 'Harvard' Neonics-Colony Collapse Disorder Study As 'Activist Science.'" Sure enough, both pieces were written by the same person. Who is this person, and why the sudden interest in disputing the effects of neonicotinoids on declining bee populations?
Suspecting ties to agribusiness, I did some research and quickly discovered that Jon Entine has written pieces defending genetically modified (GMO) crops, the cancer-causing herbicide atrazine and the toxic compound BPA.
Critics describe Entine as an "agribusiness apologist," "pseudo-journalist" and "biotech shill."
Tom Philpott, Mother Jones' food and agriculture correspondent, uncovered three years ago that Entine, who describes himself as an "author, think tank scholar, leadership and sustainability consultant, media commentator, and public speaker on the DNA of human behavior," has indirectly worked for Monsanto and has ties to Syngenta, the agrichemical company that makes atrazine and neonicotinoids (neonics).
At some point, it seems that this chemical company looked to hire some reporters to spin poisons - literally, chemicals designed to kill - in their favor.
"[Jon Entine] is hardly qualified to judge anyone on anything," says Tom Theobald, an activist and beekeeper, who has repeatedly lost bees to neonics. "He is guilty of exactly what he would criticize others of - '. . . sloppy reporting to create a false narrative - a storyline with a strong bias that is compelling, but wrong.'"
According to Mike Adams, "Entine has been instrumental in viciously smearing the reputations of numerous scientists, activists, independent journalists and environmentalists, usually through the use of wildly fraudulent smear tactics and the wholesale fabrication of false 'facts' which he weaves into deranged articles."
Let's set the record straight on some of the broad-stroke inaccuracies that Entine tries to pass off as truth about honeybees and neonics.
LIE #1: Mounting Evidence Shows Neonics Are Safe for Bees
"If the Environmental Protection Agency moves to restrict neonicotinoid (neonics) pesticides because of fears that they are causing bee deaths, it will happen in spite of the mounting evidence rather than because of it," Entine begins his Forbes piece.
In the United States, the phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder (CCD) has been devastating bees since 2006, when commercial beekeepers began finding their hives empty except for a clump of young bees and a queen. A healthy colony usually consists of about 50,000 bees, many of them workers. But with CCD, the bees vanish and soon the hive fails. Some 10 million hives, $2 billion worth of honeybees, have died since.
According to Entine, the "cause of the mysterious surge [of deaths] is still unclear." He downplays the negative effects of neonics, stating that "the vast majority of scientists who study bees for a living disagree - vehemently" they're the driving force behind bee deaths. He also spins passages out of context from other articles (like misquoting Philpott to make it seem as if he is dismissing neonics), and interviews a select few people like "annoyingly skeptical" beekeeper scientist Randy Oliver who - to quote a passage by a California beekeeper - "has positioned himself . . . somewhere between big bee and big brother."
The truth: Neonics are one of the most toxic classes of chemicals to bees and will kill bees and other beneficial insects, even at very, very low levels. In fact, systemic pesticides have been shown to be 5,000 to 10,000 times more toxic than DDT. (To compare: the systemic pesticide clothianidin is 10,800 times more toxic).
Consider this: It's 1994, and Gaucho, a pesticide containing the neonicotinoid chemical imidacloprid as its active ingredient, is introduced in France on sunflower crops. Soon after, beekeepers start losing bees en masse. At first, they blame themselves and then varroa mites, before finally realizing these newfangled systemic pesticides are the heart of the problem. Lab tests find Gaucho in the pollen of flowers, and beekeepers describe bees as disoriented after foraging.
Neonics are peddled as "safer" than foliar-applied organophosphates that are far more dangerous to humans and the environment - with a "comparatively benign toxicological profile," according to Entine.
Yet neonics are anything but benign. Unlike older pesticides, which are easy to implicate in bee deaths because you can see the little bodies writhing to their deaths at the foot of the hive, systemic pesticides operate on an insidious level. The doses are sublethal so the bees don't die outright. And when they do so, it's likely in the fields.
Neonics are embedded in seeds, which means the poison is absorbed and becomes part of the actual plant. They are also extremely persistent, water soluble and mobile, causing widespread contamination of soil, water and critical ecosystems.
There are numerous ways for honeybees to come into contact with toxic neonics: exposure from foliar sprays, dust from neonics-coated seeds during planting, neonic-contaminated water, dew droplets, soil, and even nectar and pollen from flowers that have absorbed these poisons. The bees then gather the pollen and bring it back to the hive, where they store it - thus affecting future generations.
Scientists have found up to 17 different pesticides in one tiny grain of pollen. In fact, bees have been described as "flying dust mops."
Neonics don't kill bees outright. Sublethal effects reported in scientific literatureinclude a range of behavioral disturbances in honeybees. They inflict chronic, sublethal damage by weakening their immune systems, disrupting digestion, impairing navigational abilities and subtly harming the brain. These effects can be particularly detrimental to colonial insects like honeybees. Even small levels of neonics can affect their homing capacity and impair their ability to detect odors - two crucial factors in their ability to forage for food.
Here in the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) knew the systemic pesticide clothianidin (often used on corn) was toxic to bees before the pesticide's release in 2003. The manufacturer, Bayer, gained the agency's approval after producing a required study, which has since been deemed flawed by the EPA. (The EPA does not conduct any independent studies. Instead, it relies on the data provided by the chemical companies themselves. The fox guarding the hen house, anyone?)
It's 2006 and the same chain of events occurs in the United States: Neonics figure prominently in the environment; millions of bees die; beekeepers blame themselves; they eventually suspect neonics, and on and on. Rinse and repeat. Similar stories are also reported in countries such as Germany, England, Italy, and most recently, Canada and Australia.
Sheer coincidence or empirical data?
In his Huffington Post piece, Entine attacks Chensheng Lu, a School of Public Health professor at Harvard, who came out with a landmark study in 2014, illustrating a definitive link between neonics and CCD. Entine, who calls Lu the "Dr. Doom of honey bees," points to several holes in his study. He also quotes Randy Oliver, who has said that Lu is not competent to study bees and is "just a media publicity seeker."
Entine focuses on one article and acts like he's debunked the entire connection between neonics and bees. He couldn't be further from the truth. It's not like there are a shortage of peer-reviewed studies that highlight the negative impacts of neonic use. The International Task Force on Systemic Pesticides, for instance, has evaluated more than 850 publications on systemic pesticides.
"The evidence is very clear," according to lead author Dr. Jean-Marc Bonmatin of the National Centre for Scientific Research in France. "We are witnessing a threat to the productivity of our natural and farmed environment equivalent to that posed by organophosphates or DDT. Far from protecting food production, the use of neonics is threatening the very infrastructure which enables it, imperiling the pollinators, habitat engineers, and natural pest controllers at the heart of a functioning ecosystem."
Today, neonics are the most widely used insecticides in the entire world, with more than 500 different neonicotinoid products on the market, and applications estimated to exceed 200 million acres annually nationwide.
Entine goes on to say that "in panic mode, the default of agencies under the microscope is often, 'when in doubt, regulate.'"
I wish that were the default, but in reality, we do not operate under the precautionary principle in this country, which is why neonics have continued to remain on the market despite faulty studies, and despite the fact they've contaminated waterwaysand have been linked to negative effects on developing brains.
Entine and his powerful friends don't have to fret, as the EPA announced it wouldn't complete its regulatory review for several more years. The US Fish and Wildlife Service, however, will ban neonics in wildlife refuges starting in 2016.
LIE #2: Honeybee Colonies Are on the Rise
Bees have been dying at a steady clip since 2006. In 2014, some states reported more than 50 percent losses. Many beekeepers who have been in business for generations have had to burn their hives (because the chemicals stick around in the hives, preventing them from being reused) and close shop, while others have resorted to all kinds of last-ditch tricks. Many beekeepers are forced to hide their bees in forests away from conventional crops that have been treated with systemic pesticides in the hopes that they will recover from the onslaught of chemicals they come into contact with.
Yet, according to Entine, "the numbers simply don't support the 'beepocalypse' narrative." He includes impressive charts and figures and refers to Scientific American's Francie Diep who noted "honeybee colony numbers have been stable for years at about 2.5 million even as neonics usage became more widespread."
So what's going on? Well, bees are at the forefront of our consciousness now more than ever before, and as a result we are experiencing a burgeoning interest in urban beekeeping all over the country. So, yes, technically, hives are on the rise. Statistics include these new populations, and urban beekeepers are not experiencing abnormally high bee kill incidents because they're not near major agricultural areas where neonics are used.
Secondly, bees regenerate quickly. A queen can lay up to 2,500 eggs a day. And commercial beekeepers "split" hives: a practice in which you divide one hive into two by introducing an artificially raised queen to the new half. Beekeepers are now splitting one hive into four, which is hardly sustainable. But it keeps the hive numbers up. Commercial beekeepers also work double time, trucking bees all over the country and tricking bees into thinking it's spring to keep baby-laying going all year round.
None of these stop-gap practices can be sustained in the long term.
LIE #3: Bees Are Thriving in Australia Despite Neonics
Entine writes that the government of Australia, where neonics are used extensively, reaffirmed in February 2014 that "honeybee populations are not in decline despite the increased use of [neonicotinoids] in agriculture and horticulture since the mid-1990s."
But, according to Theobald, bees and neonics cannot live together happily ever after: "The exact opposite is true - beekeepers exposed to the neonics are seeing the same horrible damages as the U.S. and the rest of the world. Australia's equivalent of the EPA has been corrupted just like the EPA has. . . . This is tragic shortsightedness on a global scale."
Indeed, 85 percent of the whole insecticide market in Australia is made up of neonics. They were used in the mid-1990s, though only in very small amounts; the market blossomed in the past five years with the introduction of neonicotinoid-coated genetically modified seeds, according to Australian Jeffrey Gibbs of Northern Light Candle Company. He's been beekeeping for nearly two decades in northern New South Wales.
"I can tell you with all certainty that neonicotinoids are killing and damaging thousands of beehives in Australia. But beekeepers won't speak up because they need the relationship with the farmers," Gibbs writes.
Gibbs also remarks that while old organophosphates kill bees outright, death via neonics is very slow and more pervasive. It can take the hive down over months and it can take months to bring the bees back.
"The fuckers . . . so much money and lobbying behind them," Gibbs recently told Theobald via email.
Beekeepers in Australia have been able to survive, Gibbs says, because after being exposed to neonics, they can run their hive into the forests for fresh nectar and pollen (primarily red gum and iron bark trees).
Entine gives advocacy groups and activist journalists a lot of credit for "driving science and agricultural regulations into a policy ditch." He also describes us as an irrational and indecisive lot. He writes:
Like the fictional parents in the edgy comedy show South Park who blame Canada for all of their woes, activists often coalesce around an issue and then come up with a simple but sometimes simplistic narrative to frame it. Strident opponents of modern agricultural technology initially blamed GMOs for bee deaths, and some still make that claim, although there is zero evidence to back it up. When that didn't get traction, the focus switched to neonics.
This is precisely why we need to get our facts straight when it comes to CCD, or we lose credibility.
"Will (regulators) examine the evidence? Or will politics drive the science?" Entine wonders.
Finally, we agree. Because I am asking myself the very same thing.
Source : TruthOut
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Bacteria found in honeybee stomachs could be used as alternative to antibiotics, scientists claim
Bacteria found in honeybees could be used as an alternative to antibiotics and in the fight against antibiotic-resistant strains of MRSA, scientists have claimed.
For millenia, raw unmanufactured honey has been used to treat infections.
Scientists believe its effectiveness could lie in a unique formula comprised of 13 types of lactic acid bacteria found in the stomachs of bees. The bacteria, which are no longer active in shop-bought honey, produce a myriad of active anti-microbial compounds.
The findings could be vital both in developing countries, where fresh honey is easily available, as well as for Western countries where antibiotic resistance is an increasingly concerning issue.
By applying the bacteria to pathogens found in severe human wounds - including MRSA - scientists from Lund University, Sweden, found that the formula from a bee’s stomach successfully counteracted the infections.
Researchers believe that the formula works so potently because it contains a broad spectrum of active substances, unlike conventional man-made antibiotics.
"Antibiotics are mostly one active substance, effective against only a narrow spectrum of bacteria. When used alive, these 13 lactic acid bacteria produce the right kind of antimicrobial compounds as needed, depending on the threat,” Dr Tobias Olofsson of the Medical Microbiology department at Lund Unviersity explained.
"It seems to have worked well for millions of years of protecting bees' health and honey against other harmful microorganisms.
"However, since store-bought honey doesn't contain the living lactic acid bacteria, many of its unique properties have been lost in recent times," he added.
To take the study forward, scientists will investigate wider clinical use against topical infections, on both humans and animals.
The findings are likely to give further ammunition to bee protection groups, after a separate study found that the use of neonicotinoids – the world’s most commonly used pesticides - damage vital bee populations.
It warned that the pesticides, which are linked to the decline of honeybees and other beneficial organisms including earthworms and butterflies, are having a dramatic impact on ecosystems that support food production and wildlife.
Source : Independent
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Neonicotinoids Interfere with Specific Components of Navigation in Honeybees
- Johannes Fischer,
- Teresa Müller,
- Anne-Kathrin Spatz,
- Uwe Greggers,
- Bernd Grünewald,
- Randolf Menzel
Three neonicotinoids, imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiacloprid, agonists of the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor in the central brain of insects, were applied at non-lethal doses in order to test their effects on honeybee navigation. A catch-and-release experimental design was applied in which feeder trained bees were caught when arriving at the feeder, treated with one of the neonicotinoids, and released 1.5 hours later at a remote site. The flight paths of individual bees were tracked with harmonic radar. The initial flight phase controlled by the recently acquired navigation memory (vector memory) was less compromised than the second phase that leads the animal back to the hive (homing flight). The rate of successful return was significantly lower in treated bees, the probability of a correct turn at a salient landscape structure was reduced, and less directed flights during homing flights were performed. Since the homing phase in catch-and-release experiments documents the ability of a foraging honeybee to activate a remote memory acquired during its exploratory orientation flights, we conclude that non-lethal doses of the three neonicotinoids tested either block the retrieval of exploratory navigation memory or alter this form of navigation memory. These findings are discussed in the context of the application of neonicotinoids in plant protection.
Source : PLOS One
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The Plight of the Honeybee Billions of dollars—and a way of life—ride on saving pollinators.
Bees are back in the news this spring, if not back in fields pollinating this summer's crops. The European Union (EU) has announced that it will ban, for two years, the use of neonicotinoids, the much-maligned pesticide group often fingered in honeybee declines. The U.S. hasn't followed suit, though this year a group of beekeepers and environmental and consumer groups sued the EPA for not doing enough to protect bees from the pesticide onslaught.
For the last several years scientists have fretted over the future of bees, and although research has shed much light on the crisis, those in the bee business—from hive keepers to commercial farmers—say the insects remain in deep trouble as their colonies continue to struggle.
The current crisis arose during the fall of 2006 as beekeepers around the country reported massive losses—more than a third of hives on average and up to 90 percent in some cases. Bees were flying away and simply not coming back; keepers would find boxes empty of adult bees except for a live queen. No bee corpses remained to tell the tale. The losses were unprecedented and fast.
Now it's five years later, and though colony collapse disorder (CCD)—the name given to the mysterious killer condition—has dwindled in the manner of cyclical diseases, bees are still battling for their lives and their colonies are weaker than ever. The latest data, from the 2012-2013 winter, indicate an average loss of 45.1 percent of hives across all U.S. beekeepers, up 78.2 percent from the previous winter, and a total loss of 31.1 percent of commercial hives, on par with the last six years. (Most keepers now consider a 15 percent loss "acceptable.")
Unprecedented Pollinator Crisis
Why keep worrying over the fate of a bunch of pesky stinging insects? Bees in their crucial role as pollinators are paramount. Western nations rely heavily on managed honeybees—the "moveable force" of bees that ride in trucks from farm to farm—to keep commercial agriculture productive. About a third of our foods (some 100 key crops) rely on these insects, including apples, nuts, all the favorite summer fruits (like blueberries and strawberries), alfalfa (which cows eat), and guar bean (used in all kinds of products). In total, bees contribute more than $15 billion to U.S. crop production, hardly small potatoes.
No, we wouldn't starve without their services—much of the world lives without managed pollinators. But we'd lose an awful lot of good, healthy food, from cherries and broccoli to onions and almonds. Or we'd pay exorbitant costs for farmers to use some other, less efficient pollination technique to supplement the work that healthy natural pollinators could do. Plus, bee health can tell us a lot about environmental health, and thus about our own well-being.
Today's pollinator crisis, which has also hit Europe and now parts of Asia, is unprecedented. But honeybees have done disappearing acts on and off for more than a century, possibly since humans began domesticating them 4,500 years ago in Egypt. In the United States, unexplained colony declines in the 1880s, the 1920s, and the 1960s baffled farmers, and in 1995-1996 Pennsylvania keepers lost more than half of their colonies without a clear cause. The 1980s and 1990s saw various new parasites that hit bees hard; Varroa and tracheal mites became major killers, and they continue to plague hives and keep beekeepers up at night.
When CCD appeared, the USDA's Agricultural Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture joined forces to study and fight the assailant, but a half-dozen years later they still lack a smoking gun. Recent work reveals higher loads of pathogens in the guts of bees from collapsed colonies versus healthy ones—making viral infections a likely culprit.
But this isn't a case of one cause, one effect. Bee expert Dennis vanEngelsdorp of the University of Maryland likens the situation to HIV/AIDS in humans. "You don't die of AIDS; you die of pneumonia or some other condition that hits when your immunity is down," he says. Today's bee mortalities may be behaving slightly differently. "But we're pretty sure in all these cases, diseases are the tipping point" after bees' immune systems are compromised.
So what makes bees vulnerable to those diseases, what's killing their immunity, continues to be the $15-billion question.
Problems Piling Up
Zac Browning is a fourth-generation beekeeper based in North Dakota. His mostly migratory commercial operation runs about 22,000 hives in three states—meaning he trucks his bees to different locations at different times of year, renting out their pollination services to big farms like those producing almonds in California and canola in Idaho.
CCD devastated his hives a few years back, but "we've seen losses more recently from everything imaginable," he says. "Pests, parasites, pesticide exposure, starvation, queen failures, you name it."
In addition to these problems piling up, "our inputs have gone up one-and-a-half times in the last decade," he says. "We now have to try to sustain bees [with extra food] when natural food is scarce, dearth periods that didn't exist before."
Part of the problem is keepers have to boost hive numbers to meet demand, "but the carrying capacity of the environment hasn't changed." In fact, it's gone down. The amount of undeveloped land with good bee forage just isn't enough to sustain the masses, he says.
Meanwhile, studies have shown that colonies with access to the best pollens (with more than 25 percent protein plus essential amino acids), which occur in diverse plant habitats once common across the landscape, are more robust and more resistant to disease than those in pollen-poor environments.
The Threat From Pesticides
Another adversary in the bees' battle, as the EU reminds us, is pesticides. Pesticides themselves aren't necessarily a death sentence for bees—and debate rages over whether, when properly applied, these chemicals can be used safely among pollinators. But exposure to them seems to open the door to other killers.
For example, bees exposed to sublethal doses of neonicotinoids—the type the EU is banning and that are used routinely in the U.S. on wheat, corn, soy, and cotton crops—become more easily infected by the gut parasite Nosema.
Meanwhile, last year a French study indicated that this same class of chemicals can fog honeybee brains and alter behavior. And a British study on bumblebees, a natural pollinator in decline in many places, reported neonicotinoids keep bees from supplying their hives with enough food for queen production.
"Honeybees are complex," says Browning. "If you reduce their lives by even just a few days, the colony itself never thrives, never reaches its maximum potential. Sublethal effects that don't kill adults outright may still render hives weak and lethargic. And those hives might not survive the winter."
What takes down the individual bee doesn't necessarily wipe out the colony, vanEngelsdorp explains. And pesticides, like other factors, do their worst when combined with other chemicals or stressors, not necessarily all by themselves. "It's synergism," he says. "One plus one may equal 10 with the right two products or insults together." (Samples of bee-collected pollen typically contain residue from numerous pesticides.) In the end, then, an immune-suppressed colony faces a downward spiral, unable to cope with stressors that weren't a problem during healthier years.
The chemicals of modern agriculture have long been vilified, and they certainly represent a vital and active line of inquiry: The number registered for use in the U.S. exceeds 1,200 active ingredients distributed among some 18,000 products, and state pesticide use records are mostly unavailable, leaving a lot of question marks. No one knows much about how low-level exposure to various chemicals over time or how various combinations affect the insects. Meanwhile, migratory colonies likely have very different chemical exposure than those who stay put. The landscape is messy.
A New Concern
In newly worrisome findings, a study from a team at Penn State has revealed that "inert" ingredients (adjuvants) used regularly to boost the effectiveness of pesticides do as much or more harm than the active "toxic" ingredients. In one study adjuvants were shown to impair adult bees' smelling and navigation abilities, and in a separate study they killed bee larvae outright.
The formulas for these other ingredients "are often proprietary information and not disclosed by the companies," says Penn State's Maryann Frazier, who wasn't an author on the study, "so they cannot be independently tested and assessed for toxicity. When [the] EPA screens pesticides for registration, they only consider the active ingredient," she says.
In addition, "there are no requirements by [the] EPA for companies to test the impacts of pesticides on immature stages of pollinators," she says, "only adults."
The EPA participated in a stakeholder conference last year to discuss honeybee health (a report is just out from that event). An EPA spokesperson declined to comment on the pending lawsuit but noted that the agency has been working to speed up its review of research related to neonicotinoids and their effect on honeybees. It is also tweaking existing regulatory practices to address various concerns including pesticide dust drift, product label warnings, and enforcement of bee-kill investigations.
Barrage of Stressors
So in addition to a changing climate and bizarre local weather systems, bees are threatened by chemical exposure in untested and unregulated combinations, disappearing foraging habitat with increasing monoculture that requires trucking bees from place to place, and fungal and viral intruders, plus the dreaded Varroa mite.
Meanwhile, nature is not sitting still. The diseases that are taking out immune-suppressed bees are quick to evolve resistance to farmers' attempts to protect their bees. "Based on our management surveys last year, not one commercial product against Varroa worked consistently," says vanEngelsdorp, citing numerous examples.
With the barrage of stressors bees face, perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that they're no longer as resilient as they once were. And honeybees, vanEngelsdorp points out, are among the most robust pollinators. The native insects, such as bumblebees, stingless bees, and flies, may be in worse shape, though their plights—and role in the ecosystem—are far less well known.
Meanwhile, the lawsuit against the EPA is just revving up (the first hearing was March 15), and scientists continue to push hard to get more information on the unregulated ingredients in agrochemicals that are proving harmful. "Unless we can get at what's actually being used on fields, we can't analyze their effects," says toxicologist Chris Mullin, a co-author of the Penn State adjuvant study. And some products, he says, "are nearly 100 percent adjuvant. Illogically, they are considered safe until proven otherwise."
Other voices have risen strongly against current land use practices. "Honeybees need habitat," Browning says. "That's any floral source with good nutrition. And that's not wheat, corn, or soy, crops that take up well over 60 percent of U.S. farmland." We've traded bee needs for biofuel, he laments, and we're paying the price.
"We also need good cooperation from [the] EPA—and from farmers and pesticide applicators—to implement and enforce best management practices," he says. Also on his wish list: a better battery of tools to effectively combat the Varroa mite, the bane of all beekeepers.
"Bee culture has adapted to fit monoculture, and that's not healthy," says Browning. "If we can instead invest in good sustainable practices in agriculture, we can still thrive."
But his confidence in the future, along with that of many of his fellow beekeepers, is declining with his hives. "We're just about tapped out," he says. "Without some real action we'll see this industry dwindle away." And as the industry goes, so go the little yellow insects that put so much good food on our plates.
Source : National Geographic
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EPA Slapped with Lawsuit over Ongoing Bee Deaths
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has failed to protect bees from neonicotinoid pesticides, according to a lawsuit against the agency, filed by beekeepers and environmental groups. Said Paul Towers, spokesperson for the Pesticide Action Network (PAN), one of the groups involved in the lawsuit:
“Despite our best efforts to warn the agency about the problems posed by neonicotinoids, the EPA continued to ignore the clear warning signs of an ag system in trouble.”
Lawsuit Maintains the Link Between Neonicotinoids and Bee Die Off Is ‘Crystal Clear’ Neonicotinoid pesticides are a newer class of chemicals that are applied to seeds before planting. This allows the pesticide to be taken up through the plant’s vascular system as it grows, where it is expressed in the pollen and nectar.
These insecticides are highly toxic to bees because they are systemic, water soluble, and pervasive. They get into the soil and groundwater where they can accumulate and remain for many years and present long-term toxicity to the hive as well as to other species, such as songbirds.
Neonicotinoids affect insects' central nervous systems in ways that are cumulative and irreversible. Even minute amounts can have profound effects over time.
The disappearance of bee colonies began accelerating in the United States shortly after the EPA allowed these new insecticides on the market in the mid-2000s. The lawsuit alleges that the EPA allowed the neonicotinoids to remain on the market despite clear warning signs of a problem.
It also alleges the EPA acted outside of the law by allowing conditional registration of the pesticides, a measure that allows a product to enter the market despite the absence of certain data.
European Food Safety Authority Ruled Neonicotinoids ‘Unacceptable’ The EPA’s continued allowance of neonicotinoids becomes all the more irresponsible in light of recent findings by other government organizations. Earlier this year, for instance, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) released a report that ruled neonicotinoid insecticides are essentially “unacceptable” for many crops.1 The European Commission asked EFSA to assess the risks associated with the use of three common neonicotinoids – clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam – with particular focus on:
- Their acute and chronic effects on bee colony survival and development
- Their effects on bee larvae and bee behavior
- The risks posed by sub-lethal doses of the three chemicals
“...only uses on crops not attractive to honeybees were considered acceptable.”
As for exposure from dust produced during the sowing of treated seeds, the Authority ruled “a risk to honeybees was indicated or could not be excluded...” Unfortunately, neonicotinoids have become the fastest growing insecticides in the world. In the US, virtually all genetically engineered Bt corn crops are treated with neonicotinoids.
Serious Risks to Bees Already Established One of the observed effects of these insecticides is weakening of the bee's immune system. Forager bees bring pesticide-laden pollen back to the hive, where it's consumed by all of the bees.
Six months later, their immune systems fail, and they fall prey to secondary, seemingly "natural" bee infections, such as parasites, mites, viruses, fungi and bacteria. Pathogens such as Varroa mites, Nosema, fungal and bacterial infections, and Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus (IAPV) are found in large amounts in honeybee hives on the verge of collapse.
Serious honeybee die-offs have been occurring around the world for the past decade but no one knows exactly why the bees are disappearing.
The phenomenon, dubbed Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), is thought to be caused by a variety of imbalances in the environment, although agricultural practices such as the use of neonicotinoid pesticides are receiving growing attention as more research comes in. As written in the journal Nature:3
"Social bee colonies depend on the collective performance of many individual workers. Thus, although field-level pesticide concentrations can have subtle or sublethal effects at the individual level, it is not known whether bee societies can buffer such effects or whether it results in a severe cumulative effect at the colony level. Furthermore, widespread agricultural intensification means that bees are exposed to numerous pesticides when foraging, yet the possible combinatorial effects of pesticide exposure have rarely been investigated."
This is what the Nature study set out to determine, and it was revealed that bees given access to neonicotinoid and pyrethroid pesticides were adversely affected in numerous ways, including:
- Fewer adult worker bees emerged from larvae
- A higher proportion of foragers failed to return to the nest
- A higher death rate among worker bees
- An increased likelihood of colony failure
"Here we show that chronic exposure of bumble bees to two pesticides (neonicotinoid and pyrethroid) at concentrations that could approximate field-level exposure impairs natural foraging behavior and increases worker mortality leading to significant reductions in brood development and colony success.
We found that worker foraging performance, particularly pollen collecting efficiency, was significantly reduced with observed knock-on effects for forager recruitment, worker losses and overall worker productivity. Moreover, we provide evidence that combinatorial exposure to pesticides increases the propensity of colonies to fail."
Why the Food Supply Could Be Dependent on Urgent Action by the EPA The EPA acknowledges that “pesticide poisoning” may be one factor leading to colony collapse disorder,4 yet they have been slow to act to protect bees from this threat. The current lawsuit may help spur them toward more urgent action, which is desperately needed as the food supply hangs in the balance.
There are about 100 crop species that provide 90 percent of food globally. Of these, 71 are pollinated by bees.5 In the US alone, a full one-third of the food supply depends on pollination from bees. Apple orchards, for instance, require one colony of bees per acre to be adequately pollinated. So if bee colonies continue to be devastated, major food shortages could result.
There is also concern that the pesticides could be impacting other pollinators as well, including bumblebees, hoverflies, butterflies, moths and others, which could further impact the environment.
Four Steps to Help Protect the Bees If you would like to learn more about the economic, political and ecological implications of the worldwide disappearance of the honeybee, check out the documentary film Vanishing of the Bees. If you’d like to get involved, here are four actions you can take to help preserve and protect our honeybees:
- Support organic farmers and shop at local farmer's markets as often as possible. You can "vote with your fork" three times a day. (When you buy organic, you are making a statement by saying "no" to GMOs and toxic pesticides!)
- Cut the use of toxic chemicals in your house and on your lawn, and use only organic, all-natural forms of pest control.
- Better yet, get rid of your lawn altogether and plant a garden or other natural habitat. Lawns offer very little benefit for the environment. Both flower and vegetable gardens provide excellent natural honeybee habitats.
- Become an amateur beekeeper. Having a hive in your garden requires only about an hour of your time per week, benefits your local ecosystem, and you can enjoy your own honey!
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A Letter From AVAAZ - We did it -- Europe just banned bee-killing pesticides!!
Mega-corporations like Bayer threw everything they had at this, but people-power, science and good governance came out on top!!
Bee "die in" at Bayer's headquarters, Cologne Vanessa Amaral-Rogers from the specialist conservation organisation Buglife, says:
“It was a close vote, but thanks to a massive mobilisation by Avaaz members, beekeepers, and others, we won! I have no doubt that the floods of phonecalls and emails to ministers, the actions in London, Brussels and Cologne, and the giant petition with 2.6 million signers made this result possible. Thank you Avaaz, and everyone who worked so hard to save bees!” Bees pollinate two thirds of all our food -- so when scientists noticed that silently, they were dying at a terrifying rate, Avaaz swung in to action, and we kept on swinging until we won. This week’s victory is the result of two years of flooding ministers with messages, organizing media-grabbing protests with beekeepers, funding opinion polls and much, much more. Here’s how we did it, together:
- Keeping France strong. In January 2011, 1 million people sign our call to France to uphold its ban on deadly neonicotinoid pesticides. Avaaz members and beekeepers meet the French agriculture minister and fill the airwaves, pressing him to face down fierce industry lobbying and keep the ban, sending a strong signal to other European countries.
- Tackling industry head on. Bayer has faced Avaaz and allies protesting at its last three annual meetings. The pesticide giant's managers and investors are welcomed by beekeepers, loud buzzing, and massive banners with our 1 million plus call on them to suspend use of neonicotinoids until scientists reviewed their effect on bees. Avaaz even makes a presentation inside the meeting, but Bayer says 'no'.
- Making the science count. In January the European Food Safety Agency finds that three pesticides pose unacceptable risks to bees, and we jump in to ensure Europe's politicians respond to their scientific experts. Our petition quickly grows to 2 million signatures. After many talks with EU decision-makers, Avaaz delivers our call right to the EU HQ in Brussels. Later that same day, the Commission proposes a two-year ban!
- Seizing our chance. The battle to save the bees heats up in February and March. Across the EU, Avaaz members are ready to respond as all 27 EU countries decide whether to welcome or block the proposal. When farming giants UK and Germany say they won't vote yes, Avaaz publishes public opinion polls showing huge majorities of Brits and Germans in favour of the ban. Avaaz members also send almost half a million emails to EU Agriculture Ministers. Apparently afraid of dealing with citizens rather than industry lobbyists, UK minister Owen Paterson complains of a “cyber-attack”, which journalists turn into a story in our favour! And then comes Bernie -- our 6 metre bee in Brussels -- a powerful visual way to deliver our petition as negotiations enter the final stages. Journalists flock to Bernie, and we hear we've helped get the Spanish ministry to look harder at the science and shift position . But we didn't get the majority we needed to pass the ban.
- Turning the red light green. In April the bee-saving proposal is sent to an Appeals Committee, giving us a glimmer of hope if we can switch a few more countries' positions. In the final sprint, Avaaz teams up with groups including Environmental Justice Foundation, Friends of the Earth and Pesticides Action Network, plus beekeepers and famous bee-loving fashion designers to organise an action outside the UK Parliament. In Germany, beekeepers launch their own Avaaz petition to their government, signed by over 150,000 Germans in just two days and delivered in Cologne soon after. More phone calls rain down on ministries in different capitals as Avaaz responds to a last-minute wrecking amendment by Hungary, and positions Bernie the bee again in Brussels. Pesticide companies buy adverts in the airport to catch arriving officials, and take to the airwaves suggesting other measures such as planting wild flowers. But their slick messaging machine is ignored, first Bulgaria then -- the big prize -- Germany switch their stances and this week we win, with over half of EU countries voting for the ban!
It’s been a long haul, to get this win, and it wouldn't have been possible without scientists, specialists, sympathetic officials, beekeepers and our campaign partners. We can be proud of what we've helped to accomplish together.
One strong bees advocate, Paul de Zylva, head of the Pesticides and Pollinators Unit at Friends of the Earth said:
"Thanks to millions of Avaaz members who mobilised online and in the streets. Without a doubt Avaaz's massive petition and creative campaigning helped push this over the edge, complementing our work and that of other NGOs."
It's time to celebrate this breathing space for one of the earth's most precious and important creatures. But the EU ban is only in place for 2 years pending further review. And around the world bees continue to die from the pesticides which weaken and confuse them, as well as from loss of habitat as we plough up and build over the countryside. In Europe and across the world there's lots of work to do to ensure sound science guides our farming and environmental policies. And we're just the community for the job. :)
With hope and happiness,
Ricken, Iain, Joseph, Emily, Alex, Michelle, Aldine, Julien, Anne, Christoph and the rest of the Avaaz team
PS: Let's keep this going -- chip in to ensure we can launch rapid-fire, multi-tactic campaigns on the issues we all care about: https://secure.avaaz.org/en/bees_victory/?bNDBobb&v=24665
PPS: Many Avaaz campaigns -- like the German beekeeper one this month -- are started by individuals or groups of members. Just click here to see how easy it is to start yours right now: http://www.avaaz.org/en/petition/start_a_petition/?rba13
Source : AVAAZ
Pesticide suspected in bee die-offs could also kill birds
Controversial pesticides linked to catastrophic honeybee declines in North America and Europe may also kill other creatures, posing ecological threats even graver than feared, say some scientists.
According to a report by the American Bird Conservancy, the dangers of neonicotinoid pesticides to birds, and also to stream- and soil-dwelling insects accidentally exposed to the chemicals, have been underestimated by regulators and downplayed by industry.
"The environmental persistence of the neonicotinoids, their propensity for runoff and for groundwater infiltration, and their cumulative and largely irreversible mode of action in invertebrates raise environmental concerns that go well beyond bees," stated the report, which was co-authored by pesticide policy expert Cynthia Palmer and pesticide toxicologist Pierre Mineau, both from the American Bird Conservancy.
Chemical and pharmaceutical company Bayer, a major neonicotinoid manufacturer, said the criticisms lack solid evidence. "This report relies on theoretical calculations and exposure estimates that differ from accepted risk assessment methodologies, while disregarding relevant data that are at odds with its claims," the company said in a statement.
Neonicotinoids became popular in the late 1990s, largely replacing earlier insecticides that posed blatant health and environmental risks. Derived from nicotine, which short-circuits the nervous systems of insects that try to eat tobacco plants, neonicotinoids at first seemed both effective and safe.
They now account for some one-quarter of global insecticide sales, used on hundreds of crops and also in gardens and cities. In the last several years, though, it's become evident that regulators, especially the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the US, overlooked the extreme toxicity of neonicotinoids to honeybees and other pollinators. Regulatory approvals were partly based on industry studies now considered unreliable, and sometimes despite the concerns of the EPA's own scientists.
Neonicotinoids subsequently emerged as a prime suspect in colony collapse disorder, the unexplained malady that since 2005 has annually killed about one-third of the nation's commercial honeybees, and may also affect bumblebee populations. The pesticides are blamed for triggering collapses outright or making bees vulnerable to diseases and parasites.
We're going to see profound changes in aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems Pesticide toxicologist Pierre Mineau
A group of beekeepers and environmental groups have sued the EPA, which now plans to review evidence of neonicotinoid harms. Yet amidst the honeybee furore, far less attention has been paid to what the pesticides may do to other creatures.
Early toxicity studies suggested the risks were relatively small: vertebrates don't have precisely the same receptors to which neonicotinoids bind so tightly in insects, so higher doses are needed to cause harm.
It was also assumed that neonicotinoids wouldn't accumulate in the environment at levels capable of harming either vertebrates or non-pest, non-pollinator invertebrates -- the countless insect species that are the foundation of terrestrial and aquatic food webs.
Since then, however, researchers have found widespread evidence of neonicotinoids spreading beyond their crop targets, and the methodologies used to establish neonicotinoid safety have come under question.
"The more studies I see, the more I think the preponderance of evidence is leaning towards neonicotinoids being tremendously bad for lower animals in the food chain, especially all the invertebrates," said Scott Black, executive director of the Xerces Society, an invertebrate conservation group.
Seeds used to grow crops like corn, sunflowers and canola are routinely coated in neonicotinoids, which then spread through plants as they grow. Many species of birds eat seeds. In the absence to date of studies directly observing farmland birds and their day-by-day fates, the question of whether neonicotinoids harm them quickly becomes an argument over methods used to set toxicological guidelines.
In the American Bird Conservancy report, Mineau and Palmer note that the EPA typically sets guidelines for bird exposures using laboratory tests on just two species, mallard ducks and bobwhite quail. Their results become the basis of standards for other birds, but this elides widely varying sensitivities among hundreds of species.
For example, the LD50 -- a standard toxicological measure for a dose that kills half of exposed animals -- for bobwhite and mallards consuming imidacloprid, the most common neonicotinoid formulation, are 152 and 283 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. For canaries, that number drops to about 35 mg/kg, and for grey partridge it's just 15 mg/kg.
Were the guidelines calculated more carefully, say Mineau and Palmer, drawing broadly on peer-reviewed literature and accounting for heightened sensitivity in certain species, they'd be very different. What are now considered safe exposure levels would be recognised as poisonous -- and many birds could reach them by eating just a few seeds.
Asked for comment, the Environmental Protection Agency said the report "uses a method to compare risks across chemicals that differs from the long-standing peer-reviewed approach EPA uses. The agency will carefully consider the report's studies, analytic methods and conclusions."
David Fischer, director of environmental toxicology and risk assessment in Bayer's CropScience division, said the report misrepresented industry testing. "We tested a lot of species. We did tests beyond what was required by the EPA," Fischer said. If neonicotinoids really were killing birds, said Fischer, it would already have been reported, as were die-offs from the earlier, more-toxic chemicals that neonicotinoids largely replaced.
"There have been few instances of mortality in the field. They're extremely rare," Fischer said. "I don't know of any incidents in North America." Mineau responded that, even with earlier chemicals, researchers didn't find evidence of bird deaths until they actively looked for them. That hasn't yet happened with neonicotinoids, he said, and poisoned birds don't immediately and visibly drop dead on fields. They may die hours or days later in a tree or bush, making it unlikely that anyone will even notice.
The report also notes that chronic toxicity -- effects that don't kill animals outright, but over time cause health, reproductive and behavioural problems -- has largely been overlooked. Preliminary studies suggest a potential for embryo development disorders and decreased immune responses, but guidelines were again set by reference to bobwhite and mallards. Tests only measured obvious birth defects, ignoring the many other ways that animals can be impaired.
Mineau thinks neonicotinoids are at least playing a role in the precipitous decline of birds that live in or migrate through agricultural areas. "I believe this is happening right now," he said. Yet that, said Mineau, may be just a prelude to other problems. "I think the aquatic and soil impacts are even greater," he said. "We're going to see profound changes in aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems."
Soil and Streams
Neonicotinoids are what's known as "systemic" pesticides, which spread through plant tissue, suffusing it from root to tip. For any given dose, a large proportion of any dose ends up in soil, carried there by roots or plant debris. Depending on conditions, neonicotinoids can remain active for weeks or even months.
What this does to soil-dwelling insects, which would generally be extremely sensitive to exposure, is uncertain. Fischer said neonicotinoids bind to particles of clay, effectively removing them from circulation and making keeping them from being absorbed by other insects. Black said some invertebrates, such as earthworms, do pick up neonicotinoids, and that the pesticides are re-absorbed by subsequent generations of plants, creating new and unintentional exposures.
Soil-bound neonicotinoids also leach into groundwater, ending up in streams and waterways. The danger to fish appears low, if not negligible, but is much higher for aquatic invertebrates. Not only are they neurologically vulnerable to neonicotinoids, said environmental scientist Jeroen van der Sluijs of Utrecht University in the Netherlands, but each exposure builds on the last. Damage caused by neonicotinoids their nervous systems is irreversible, producing compounded effects from multiple exposures.
The EPA's own reviews state that imidacloprid is "acutely very highly toxic" to aquatic invertebrates, with lethality to common creatures seen at concentrations of .05 parts per million, and chronic damage at even lower concentrations. In the United States, where just one-fifth of all streams are considered healthy, systematic watershed testing for neonicotinoids hasn't been conducted, but concentrations well above those levels have been measured in multiple locations.
Over a six-month period at waterways near Marietta and Whitesburg, Georgia, for example, imidacloprid levels averaged 7.13ppm, or some 142 times higher than what the EPA had considered highly toxic. Neonicotinoids have also been detected in water in California, Wisconsin, New York and Quebec.
According to Bayer, their own laboratory tests show that, even at the reported concentrations, effects are not significant. "We've tested entire aquatic communities, in microcosm tests," with no decline in biomass until well beyond routinely measured concentrations, said Fischer.
Yet van der Sluijs argues that real-world effects are visible. Large-scale neonicotinoid in the Netherlands started around 2004, and preliminary research from his own laboratory has correlated neonicotinoid levels in Dutch waterways with large drops in insect populations. "This will likely have an impact on insect-feeding birds," said van der Sluijs.
Insect-eating birds are indeed declining in the Netherlands and elsewhere, a trend that dates to the 1960s and is blamed on a variety of factors, including earlier generations of pesticides, habitat alteration and climate change. Neonicotinoids represent a fairly new threat, but van der Sluijs is not alone in his concerns.
Ecotoxicologist Christy Morrissey of the University of Saskatchewan said there is "considerable circumstantial evidence that these chemicals are causing large-scale reductions in insect abundance. At the same time, we are observing serious declines in many species of birds in Canada, particularly aerial insectivores, swifts and swallows for example, that are highly dependent on insects to raise their young."
Like the EPA, Canada's Pest Management Regulatory Agency is also reviewing neonicotinoids. Morrissey's research is still preliminary, but in most of the wetlands she's sampled, she's found neonicotinoids. "It is moving off the seeds in the fields and into the water," Morrissey said. There appear to be fewer insects in heavily agricultural sites than elsewhere, she said, and birds nesting nearby have lower body weights.
Concerning as these observations may be, correlations are not proof of causation. Still, the American Bird Conservancy and Xerces Society think there's concern enough for the EPA to accelerate their neonicotinoid review, which is expected to finish in 2018, and consider limiting some uses of the pesticides immediately.
Though prompted by concerns over pollinators, the EPA's review "is not limited to evaluating potential impacts on bees," but will include comprehensive ecological assessments, said the agency. Companies will be required to monitor the environmental presence of neonicotinoids.
Bayer argues that neonicotinoids have become invaluable to farming, and trying to replace them could backfire. "Without these products, an additional three million acres of corn would need to be planted to compensate for the lost productivity," the company said in the statement. "There would be pressure to convert land currently set aside for nature to farmland."
Black said that integrated pest management, or IPM, which combines precisely targeted chemical use with other, non-chemical means of pest control, can deliver industrial-scale yields in an environmentally sustainable way. "We've moved away from IPM, from scouting your farm, putting in habitat for beneficial insects, and spraying only if there's damage," he said. "With neonicotinoids, you don't do that any more."
In coming months, more studies are expected to be published on the ecological effects of neonicotinoids. These may provide a more conclusive diagnosis of what's happening. For Black, the situation resembles what happened with the pesticide classes they replaced, which were rushed to market to replace environmentally toxic DDT. Only later were their dangers recognised. "We've gone full circle here," he said. "We seem to approve these products before we have all the information."
Source : Wired
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New Study Finds Combination of Pesticides Dangerous To Bumblebees
A recent study from the School of Biological Sciences, Royal Holloway, University of London found harmful affects on bumblebees from a combination of pesticide exposure of two pesticides-neonicotinoids and pyrethroids. The study, which evaluated these pesticides concentrations in conditions that could approximate field-level exposure, found that chronic exposure to these insecticides:
impairs natural foraging behaviour and increases worker mortality leading to significant reductions in brood development and colony success. We found that worker foraging performance, particularly pollen collecting efficiency, was significantly reduced with observed knock-on effects for forager recruitment, worker losses and overall worker productivity.
The researchers, Richard J. Gill, Oscar Ramos-Rodriguez and Nigel E. Raine, also found that combined “exposure to pesticides increases the propensity of colonies to fail.”
The University of London’s study is part of a growing body of evidence that implicates neonicotinoids in the decline of the world’s bee population.
Popularity of Neonicotinoids
Worldwide, neonicotinoids are the most widely used class of insecticides. In 2008, for example, such pesticides were registered in 120 countries and had a global market share of 1.5 billion euros (roughly about $2 billion U.S. dollars) – 25% of the world insecticide market.
As a class, neonicotinoids include insecticides such as clothianidin, imidacloprid, thiamethoxam, among others. The insecticides work by paralyzing insects: they block “specific chemical pathway that transmits nerve impulses in the insect’s central nervous system.” Systemic pesticides have become popular because they are considered to be more effective in insects than in the nervous systems of mammals.
Neonicotinoids are systemic insecticides because the chemical is absorbed and spreads throughout the plant. According to the Xerces Society, a non-profit organization that seeks to protect wildlife through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitat, “[p]lants absorb these chemicals through their roots or leaves, and the vascular tissues transport the chemical into stems, leaves, flowers, and even fruit.”
In the United States, a citizen petition filed by environmental groups and 25 individuals last year asked the EPA to suspend the registration of clothianidin, manufactured by Bayer A.G. as well as other companies, because of the imminent hazard to bees, described neonicotinoids as follows:
While used on dozens of crops, the predominant use of neonicotinoids is as a seed treatment for corn. Production of corn for food, feed and ethanol production is the largest single use of arable land in North America, occurring in nearly every State and reportedly reaching a near-record 92 million acres in 2011 (a cumulative area virtually equivalent to the entire country of Germany); it is expected to continue to climb. Almost all of the corn seed planted in North America, except for 0.2% used in organic production, reportedly is coated with neonicotinoids, primarily clothianidin and its closely related compound, thiamethoxam.
Despite the concern raised by the Citizen Petition, the EPA declined to suspend the registration the systemic pesticide stating, among other things, that there is no “evidence adequate to demonstrate an imminent and substantial likelihood of serious harm occurring to bees and other pollinators from the use of clothianidin.”
As an aside, in the United States, not only is most of the corn treated with neonicotinoids, it is also predominantly genetically engineered. According to statistics released last July by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 85 percent of all corn planted was genetically engineered.
EPA’s Reaction to UK Study
The EPA did not specifically comment on the newly released study from the U.K. but the agency is reviewing neonicotinoid pesticides as a group during its mandatory 15 year registration review. According to information on the EPA website, the agency has moved the review of several of these pesticides ahead in the schedule. It has also cautiously mentioned that “[s]ome uncertainties have been identified since their initial registration regarding these pesticides’ potential environmental fate and effects, especially as they relate to pollinators.”
Earlier this year, three studies further advanced the already strong connection between neonicotinoids and the bee die offs that have become the new norm for many North American beekeepers. In light of this growing evidence, the EPA’s inaction, as seen by critics, is a reflection of the EPA’s pro-corporation slant.
In the past several years, France, Germany, Italy and Slovenia have banned or suspended the use of some neonicotinoids.
The agency’s response has beekeepers worried. Steve Ellis, for example, told the Star Tribune recently that he lost 500 hives during this summer.
Tom Theobald, a Colorado beekeeper and activist who has seen the impact of neonicotinoids firsthand, told GMO Journal that he is disappointed in the response from the U.S. regulators. He is concerned that the heavy reliance on neonicotiniods is a “huge environmental disaster” in part because these systemic pesticides have a propensity to remain in the soil for long periods of time and accumulate over years thus creating an environment that is hostile to bees. Mr. Theobald believes that the EPA has not used “sensible judgment” in reviewing the science on systemic pesticides.
Source : GMO Journal
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Multiple Routes of Pesticide Exposure for Honey Bees Living Near Agricultural Fields
Populations of honey bees and other pollinators have declined worldwide in recent years. A variety of stressors have been
implicated as potential causes, including agricultural pesticides. Neonicotinoid insecticides, which are widely used and
highly toxic to honey bees, have been found in previous analyses of honey bee pollen and comb material. However, the
routes of exposure have remained largely undefined. We used LC/MS-MS to analyze samples of honey bees, pollen stored in
the hive and several potential exposure routes associated with plantings of neonicotinoid treated maize. Our results
demonstrate that bees are exposed to these compounds and several other agricultural pesticides in several ways
throughout the foraging period. During spring, extremely high levels of clothianidin and thiamethoxam were found in
planter exhaust material produced during the planting of treated maize seed. We also found neonicotinoids in the soil of
each field we sampled, including unplanted fields. Plants visited by foraging bees (dandelions) growing near these fields
were found to contain neonicotinoids as well. This indicates deposition of neonicotinoids on the flowers, uptake by the root
system, or both. Dead bees collected near hive entrances during the spring sampling period were found to contain
clothianidin as well, although whether exposure was oral (consuming pollen) or by contact (soil/planter dust) is unclear. We
also detected the insecticide clothianidin in pollen collected by bees and stored in the hive. When maize plants in our field
reached anthesis, maize pollen from treated seed was found to contain clothianidin and other pesticides; and honey bees in
our study readily collected maize pollen. These findings clarify some of the mechanisms by which honey bees may be
exposed to agricultural pesticides throughout the growing season. These results have implications for a wide range of largescale
annual cropping systems that utilize neonicotinoid seed treatments.
Source : Plos One
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Bees are being killed: beekeepers take first step to sue EPA over pesticides
The battle of the bees and the deadly insecticides killing them en mass has taken a first step in a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency for negligence in not protecting the bees. The Washington Times Communities is the first to bring you news about this approaching lawsuit. Buzz on Bees has obtained an exclusive copy of the “Emergency Petition” filed with the EPA, demanding the agency comply with federal law and Congress to protect bees from lethal pesticides.
The 64-page petition is a “first step” in resolving the use of deadly pesticides in agriculture, which is killing bees. If this step fails, a lawsuit may ensue against the EPA, said Steve Ellis, secretary of the National Honey Bee Advisory Board and one of the petitioners.
The lawyer representing the case says he hopes litigation is not needed, said Peter Jenkins, with the Center for Food Safety and International Center for Technology Assessment. He said the EPA has 90 days to respond. If they refuse to comply, he may also take it to Congress and the president.
The Petition alleges the EPA is in violation of federal law by allowing the continued “sale and use of clothianidin, a neonicotinoid pesticide.”
This pesticide, and other neonicotinoids, is used across the country to control insect damage to crops, like corn used for human food, livestock feed and ethanol.
Bees May Soon Be Missing From Gardens Too
Most states grow corn, “reaching a near-record 92 million acres in 2011 (the size of Germany)” states the Petition. However, this problem is not restricted to agri-business. Everyday gardeners will find many of these lethal chemicals in their vegetable and flower pesticide sprays.
And innocently working all these poisoned areas are the busy, pollinating honeybees. The March 20, 2012 petition says when exposed to neonicotinoid “toxic chemicals” the bees soon after suffer “massive die-offs.”
A major loss of bees would be an economic catastrophe. And experts say that’s where we’re headed.
“We’ve been suffering for the past 5 years,” said Jeffery Pettis, lead bee researcher at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). “There’s been about a 30 percent loss through the fall and winter.”
Honeybees are critical in agriculture. The value of crops in U.S. agriculture that depend on their pollination is $19 billion, according to USDA estimates. Worldwide, that crop value is $217 billion.
That is why several countries including Germany, France and Italy have either banned neonicotinoid pesticides outright or severely limited its use.
Yet despite this European action showing neonicotinoids are the culprit killing bees, the EPA continues to allow their use.
Petitioners say the EPA has known about this toxic culprit for years, but allows continued sales of the pesticides.
“The agency has full notice of the compound’s ability to destroy large numbers of bee colonies in the field,” says the Petition. A 2008 EPA study showed “hundreds of thousands of hives were destroyed in a highly probable case involving” the use of neonicotinoids.
“They are the most toxic compound on earth for honeybees,” said Ellis. “They are bee killers; they are designed to be insect killers. And they are really good at what they do.”
The EPA, begun under President Richard Nixon in 1970, is charged with protecting the health of Americans and the environment. Under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), the agency regulates pesticide use in farming.
What Does the EPA Know and When Did It Know It?
It is under the FIFRA federal law that the 27 petitioners and “hundreds of thousands” of other concerned Americans demand the EPA “stop the use of clothianidin,” a neonicotinoid pesticide. That “is at the heart of this Petition.”
The Times requested comment over several days from the EPA. But the EPA could not offer any timely comment on this story, as the comment process takes “two levels of approval,” said Dale Kemery, press officer with EPA.
The EPA did offer a response to Ellis and others two years ago. In the Feb. 18 letter the Office of Pesticide Programs “determined” that they followed the law and in “hundreds of studies” met all “risk standard uses.”
Director Steven Bradbury wrote: “I want you to know that EPA continues to advance its regulatory and scientific approaches to ensure honey bees and other pollinators are protected….”
That answer from Washington, D.C. did not sit well on the Front Range in Colorado.
“What they did in that response was they conveniently shifted the argument from honoring the law to whether or not there was adequate science,” said Tom Theobald, a beekeeper of 37 years who specializes in local natural honey.
“The issue with clothianidin (a neonicotinoid pesticide) is whether or not we expect an agency such as this to follow the law,” Theobald said. “It’s a game they play.”
And the game is called “agnotism,” explained Ellis, which is the art of keeping an issue unresolved with endless studies, debates and talk where nothing gets resolved.
“This is one more example of the manipulation of the system to the disadvantage of the people, but to the advantage of these mega corporations,” Theobald said. “This is like dealing with organized crime for crying out loud.”
But many other informed beekeepers, academics and industry experts say the “science” is not all that black and white clear.
“It’s not that they (neonicotinoids) are harmless,” said Randy Oliver, a beekeeper, researcher and teacher in northern California. “The question is when properly applied…they appear by all evidence, to be a vast improvement over previous classes of insecticides.”
And in serious science, facts matter.
“There simply is no supporting evidence that (neonicotinoid) application is causing harm to the bees,” Oliver said. “So people are polarizing between black and white. And it’s not black and white. Pesticides are all shades of gray.”
Not A Simple Issue To Resolve, Says the Other Side
Here the science is not so black and white in the battle of the bees.
“There are beekeepers that feel we should stick to evidence and be a part of the agricultural community and understand farmer’s needs,” he said. “There’s another contingent that feel that we should be aligned with environmental groups and petition the EPA and tell them how to do their job. There is a clear schism.”
Some see this environmental activism more like the Spanish Inquisition.
“It’s almost like the 1400s in the Inquisition. You know it’s all on speculation or faith, on rumor, more than it is on fact,” said Collin Henderson, vice president and project research manager at Bee Alert Technology, Inc. “It’s a mob mentality.”
Dr. Henderson remembers a time not long ago when passions in America raged over chemical use.
“We went through this whole thing with pesticides in the 60s and the Silent Spring and we had a lot of real nasty pesticides. They killed indiscriminately,” recalls Henderson.
And today with the “Green Movement” an anti-pesticide philosophy is again emerging no matter how safe and beneficial modern pesticide use is.
“It’s almost an anti-agriculture, anti-industrial pursuit,” Henderson said. “They are looking for a culprit, a victim. We’ve talked to a number of environmental folks who just jumped on the neonicotinoid bandwagon right away.”
And this bandwagon seems to pass blindly by the millions of dollars spent on numerous academic and government studies showing neonicotinoids are safe for bees.
“Literally there have been well over 100 studies on honeybee affects, looking at neonicotinoids,” said Jack Boyne, an entomologist and director of communications at Bayer CropScience, a leading producer of neonicotinoids.
“This would be studies of Bayer, university researchers, independent researchers have conducted on this thing. And the vast weight of those studies all say the same thing, that neonicotinoids do not represent a long-term hazard to honeybee colony health. And that’s also the conclusion of the EPA as well.”
USDA Believes Focus on Pesticides Is Misdirected
The USDA, the sister branch to the EPA, has also looked at this bee problem and sides with its sibling, Boyne said.
“Their conclusion has been, after three years of research and many millions of dollars, that bee health is a problem, but pesticides are not the answer,” Boyne said. “They believe there are other factors involved, but certainly not pesticides. They find efforts to focus on pesticides are misdirected.”
Bayer, like other chemical companies, is in the business to help and advance agriculture, Boyne said. They are not in the business to destroy their clients.
“We are involved in the agriculture industry. We recognize the value of honeybees as pollinators,” Boyne said. “We have an inherent interest in agriculture and if agriculture depends on honeybees for pollination, well, so do we. It’s ludicrous to assume otherwise.”
This raging debate is now legally before the EPA, and the battle of the bees may soon head to federal court, where justice must prevail. All parties involved agree on this: Bees are important to our economy and society. And if we lose our bees, the U.S. as we know it is lost.
Source : The Washington Times
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Four days in April deadly for bees
While Ohio agriculture officials look for the cause of another mass die-off of commercial honeybees, beekeepers say they know what’s killed them — a popular insecticide.
Hundreds of thousands of dead honeybees were discovered outside hundreds of hives last month in Delaware, Fairfield, Hardin, Miami, Pickaway and Ross counties.
“We are trying to figure this out because we don’t want it to happen again,” state apiarist Barb Bloetscher said.
Central Ohio beekeeper Jim North said he believes a class of insecticide called neonicotinoids is responsible for the dead bees outside of more than 300 of his 350 hives in Pickaway, Fairfield and Ross counties.The insecticide is used to control crop pests.
“I haven’t found a hive that I could definitely point to and say that the pesticide has wiped it out,” North said. “It has seriously weakened a lot of them to the point where we won’t be able to get a spring honey flow.”Jack Boyme, a spokesman for Bayer CropScience, one of the largest manufacturers of neonicotinoids, said the company has been in touch with Ohio officials, and Bayer thinks something other than pesticides might have caused the bee deaths.
“It’s been kind of an unusual weather pattern with a mild winter and an early spring,” Boyme said. “Some of the reports that we’re hearing is that the bees are coming out earlier and that there is not enough available food for them.”
These deaths come in the midst of a global investigation of another mysterious bee malady called colony collapse disorder, in which bees suddenly abandon their hives and die.
Though neonicotinoid pesticides are being investigated as a cause for colony collapse, Bloetscher and other experts say these deaths are different.
“The classic example is the pile of dead bees outside the colony,” said Reed Johnson, bee researcher with the Ohio State University Extension. “Having a lot of them happen simultaneously, it is almost certainly a pesticide.”Ohio farmers rely on bees to pollinate more than 70 crops, including apples, strawberries and pumpkins. Nationwide, bees pollinate $14.6 billion in fruits and vegetables every year.State records list 33,932 hives at 6,553 registered apiaries statewide.Neonicotinoids are used to coat seed corn and have been linked to bee deaths in other states and countries. Their use in crops was suspended at least temporarily in France, Germany, Italy and Slovenia, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The agency has begun safety reviews of seven neonicotinoids, citing concerns relating to bees.
A Purdue University study, published in the journal PloS One in January, found “extremely high levels” of the insecticide in talc, a lubricating powder used to spread corn seeds in fields, after bees died in Indiana in 2010.
The study found the greatest potential for exposure to bees occurred when waste talc is released in planting machinery exhaust.
Johnson and other beekeepers say their honeybees did not starve to death.
“A mild winter can be a problem, but it wasn’t this year,” Johnson said.
Bloetscher and Matt Beal, chief of plant health for the Ohio Department of Agriculture, said they hope lab tests will reveal a cause in coming weeks. The deaths were reported from April 12 through April 16 while corn was being planted.
Dana Stahlman, president of the Ohio State Beekeepers Association, said the group is urging its members to report suspected pesticide kills on its website, www.ohiostatebeekeepers.org, and to the state.
Like Johnson, he said Ohio’s early spring was shaping as a good one for bees.
“There was no shortage of food,” Stahlman said.
Source : The Columbus Dispatch
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The Tragic Mistake That Now Threatens 1 Out of Every 3 Bites You Eat
Honey bees are the angels of agriculture, but they're disappearing at a startling rate in a mysterious phenomenon dubbed Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).
Since 2007, North American honey bees are literally disappearing without a trace. There are no massive dead bee bodies appearing in or around the hives—the bees are simply GONE, bewildering beekeepers and scientists alike.
In fact, serious honey bee die-offs have been occurring around the world for the past decade. The U.S. and the U.K. both reported losing a third of their honey bees in 2010.
Italy lost half of theirs.
The die-offs have spread to China and India, in addition to many other countries. Environmental scientists are concerned that CCD reflects a far more serious problem than pollination—that it's an ominous sign of severe environmental crisis.
Bees provide pollination for crops, orchards and flowers, and make honey and wax for cosmetics, food and medicine. One of every three bites of food you eat depends on the honey bee. They pollinate at least 130 different crops in the U.S. alone, including fruits, vegetables and tree nuts.
Without honey bees, farmers would have to resort to pollinating their crops by hand.
According to a recent British report, replacing the pollination of food crops that bees do for free with hand pollination would cost the UK £1.8 billion per year. In the words of Michael Pollan:
"CCD is one of the signs--the unmistakable signs—that our food system is unsustainable… It's destroying the conditions upon which it depends. It has internal contradictions that will lead to breakdown."
The documentary film "Vanishing of the Bees" takes a piercing investigative look at the economic, political and ecological implications of the worldwide disappearance of the honey bee. Directors George Langworthy and Maryam Henein tell the story of Colony Collapse Disorder, as well as suggesting a platform of solutions. I strongly encourage you to watch this important film, which is being offered here in its entirety, FREE for a limited time.
Busy as a Bee Honey bees represent one of the matriarchies of the insect kingdom. Colonies consist of one queen, lots and lots of male worker bees and a few male drones. Ninety-five percent of the worker bees are female. A healthy hive is occupied by a collection of overlapping generations. Tasks are divvied up according to age and colony needs via a very intricate system of communication:
- Younger worker bees (nurse bees) tend to the queen and the baby bees.
- Older worker bees forage for food and water for the colony, convert nectar into honey, construct wax cells and clean the cells, and guard the hive from invaders. Worker bees develop stingers to defend the eggs lain by the queen.
- Drones have only one purpose—to mate with the queen. In fact, the queen will leave her hive only once in her lifetime, in order to mate with several drones and store up enough sperm to last the rest of her life.i
Why are We Losing Our Bees? Scientists have investigated a number of factors to help explain CCD and have offered a variety of explanations. The primary theory seems to be that Colony Collapse Disorder is caused by a variety of imbalances in the environment, secondary to current agricultural and industrial practices.
Bees are sensitive to the constant flood of manmade chemicals into their system, especially pesticides, many of which accumulate over time. Honey bee colonies are further stressed by the "factory farming" style of beekeeping employed by the commercial bee industry. They are being raised using unnatural practices, artificially inseminated, and fed cheap sugary nectarsubstitutes instead of their natural food.
It should be noted that the theory of cell phones causing the disappearance of bees has largely been dismissed. This theory reportedly originated from the misinterpretation of a German study, and then spread like wildfire.
Queens are "Knocked Out and Knocked Up" In nature, queen bees live for up to five years, but workers and drones live for only a few weeks or months. Large commercial bee farms routinely kill the queen bee after only a few months by pinching off her head, and then replace her with a younger, artificially raised queen. In the film, it is suggested that artificial queen breeding is one of the primary factors causing the demise of the colonies.
Organic beekeepers say that artificial insemination is also to blame. The queen is "knocked out and knocked up." She is sedated with carbon dioxide and inseminated with semen from male drones, selected for traits, which narrows the gene pool.
The other problem is bee nutrition—or the lack thereof—in the commercial bee industry. Honey, which the bees make from natural rich plant nectar, is taken away from the hives and replaced with sugar syrup, which is completely lacking in nutrition.
All of these practices stress the honeybees' immune system. Weakened colonies are further stressed by being shipped across country or overseas, multiple times, to pollinate commercial crops—a practice which is unsustainable but made necessary due to dwindling local bee populations. Honeybee colonies are further damaged when they live near areas sprayed with pesticides and planted with GM crops, like Monsanto corn and soy. There is a great deal of evidence that the newer, systemic insecticides are fueling a virtual bee holocaust.
Are Bees Victims of the Agrichemical Industry? The newer systemic insecticides, known as neonicotinoids, have become the fastest growing insecticides in the world. Two prominent examples, Imidacloprid and Clothianidin, are used as seed treatments in hundreds of crops.Virtually all of today's genetically engineered Bt corn is treated with neonicotinoids.
Bee colonies began disappearing in the U.S. shortly after the EPA allowed these new insecticides on the market. Even the EPA itself admits that "pesticide poisoning" is a likely cause of bee colony collapse.
These insecticides are highly toxic to bees because they are systemic, water soluble, and very pervasive. They get into the soil and groundwater where they can accumulate and remain for many years and present long-term toxicity to the hive. They enter the vascular system of the plant and are carried to all parts of it, as well as to the pollen and nectar. Neonicotinoids affect insects' central nervous systems in ways that are cumulative and irreversible. Even minute amounts can have profound effects over time. And the little bees are being exposed over and over again as pesticides become more necessary due to monoculture.
Monoculture is the growing of just one type of crop on a massive scale and is another variable contributing to CCD as there is no such thing as monoculture in nature!
Farmers used to be diversified… cows, pigs, chickens, and vegetables could be found on every farm. But today, fields of corn and soy stretch for hundreds of miles. Commercial bee farmers are no exception and have fallen prey to this agricultural model. Pests LOVE monoculture, so massive quantities of pesticides are required to crash the pest party. Beekeepers used to move beehives away from spray zones, but now this is nearly impossible. The chemicals seep into waterways, air, soil, and are incorporated into the plant itself, from the seed on up, as well as into adjacent fields.
Hives Now Show Increased Levels of Pesticide Contamination A Purdue University studyii found multiple sources of pesticide exposure for honey bees living near agricultural fields, including high levels of Clothianidin in agricultural machinery exhaust, in the soil of unplanted fields near those planted with Bt corn, and on dandelions growing in those fields. The chemicals were also found in dead bees near hive entrances and in pollen stored in the hives.
"According to the new study, neonicotinoid insecticides 'are among the most widely used in the world, popular because they kill insects by paralyzing nerves but have lower toxicity for other animals.' Beekeepers immediately observed an increase in die-offs right around the time of corn planting using this particular kind of insecticide."
Jim Frazier from Penn State sampled hives from across the U.S. and found an average six pesticides in each hive, with one hive testing positive for 31 different pesticides, some of which are of the systemic varieties.iv
But how do we determine if it's the pesticides that are leading to CCD?
What makes it so tricky is that bees can display NO symptoms for many months after small pesticide exposures—sub-lethal exposures are hard to detect, in bees as in humans and other animals. Adverse consequences appear much later, making it difficult to connect the dots.
One of the observed effects of these insecticides is weakening of the bee's immune system.
Forager bees bring pesticide-laden pollen back to the hive, where it's consumed by all of the bees. Six months later, their immune systems fail, and they fall prey to natural bee infections, such as parasites, mites, viruses, fungi and bacteria. Indeed, pathogens such as Varroa mites, Nosemav , fungalvi and bacterial infections, and Israeli acute paralysis virusvii (IAPV) are found in large amounts in honey bee hives on the verge of collapse. In addition to immune dysfunction and opportunistic diseases, the honey bees also appear to suffer from neurological problems, disorientation, and impaired navigation.
A bee can't survive for more than 24 hours if she becomes disoriented and unable to find her way back to the hive.
Even our butterfliesviii are suffering at the hands of "pestitution"… to borrow the documentary's clever pun. A decline in the North American monarch butterfly population has been linked to increased plantings of herbicide-tolerant GM crops, and overuse of the herbicide glyphosate, which is the key chemical in Monsanto's Roundup. Glyphosate is killing milkweed plants, upon which monarchs rely for habitat and food.
Pesticides Cause Bees to Lose their Way... A recent article in Science Newsix highlights the findings of two new bee studies, which found that even when the neonicotinoids don't kill the bees, they tend to lead to "delayed downturns in bee royalty and a subtle erosion of workforces."
"To simulate pesticide exposures that bumblebees might encounter when a field of canola blooms, entomologist Dave Goulson, of the University of Stirling in Scotland, and his colleagues fed 50 Bombus terrestris lab colonies nonfatal doses of the pesticide imidacloprid. After two weeks of eating spiked pollen and sugar water, bees were set outside and allowed to forage around the Stirling campus at will. By season's end, the pesticide-dosed colonies were an average of 8 percent to 12 percent smaller than 25 unexposed neighbor colonies," Science News reports. "More noticeably, the contaminated colonies managed to produce only about two young queens each. The other colonies averaged about 14."
Of course, Bayer CropScience, which markets imidacloprid, tries to downplay such findings. Ecotoxicologist David Fischer of Bayer CropScience pointed out that earlier research didn't find a decline in young queens, Science News reports. However, those earlier studies were done on constrained rather than free-flying bees, and Goulson reportedly replied to Fisher's objection by pointing out that "navigation isn't important when you live in a box."
Blamed for Bee Collapse, Monsanto Buys Leading Bee Research Firm Genetic engineering of crops has also been blamed for dwindling bee populations. Monsanto, which is the leader in this type of biotechnology is likely none too pleased about the accusations, which, if found to be truthful through the dedicated application of research into the mystery, stands to lose just about everything—both their genetically engineered crop seeds and the pesticides/herbicides to go with them. It appears Monsanto has taken a proactive stance to the problem and is getting more involved—by purchasing one of the leading bee research firms... A recent Activist Post article reportsxxi :
"Recently banned from Poland with one of the primary reasons being that the company's genetically modified corn may be devastating the dying bee population, it is evident that Monsanto is under serious fire for their role in the downfall of the vital insects. It is therefore quite apparent why Monsanto bought one of the largest bee research firms on the planet.
It can be found in public company reports hosted on mainstream media that Monsanto scooped up the Beeologics firm back in September, 2011. During this time the correlation between Monsanto's GM crops and the bee decline was not explored in the mainstream, and in fact it was hardly touched upon until Polish officials addressed the serious concern amid the monumental ban.
Owning a major organization that focuses heavily on the bee collapse and is recognized by the USDA for their mission statement of "restoring bee health and protecting the future of insect pollination" could be very advantageous for Monsanto. In fact, Beelogics' company information states that the primary goal of the firm is to study the very collapse disorder that is thought to be a result — at least in part — of Monsanto's own creations."
It'll be interesting to see the results emerging from Beeologics in the future, with regards to Monsanto products and their impact on bee populations, now that Monsanto owns it lock stock and barrel...
Honey: Nectar of the Gods Honey gathering has been a human tradition since Paleolithic times. Honey bees came to North America during the 17th Century alongside migrating humans, and have been an integral part of American culture ever since. Pure, natural, unfiltered raw honey has an abundance of medicinal and nutritional uses, including the following:
A bounty of nutrition, including enzymes, antioxidants, amino acids, vitamins and minerals Promotes the growth of friendly bacteria in your intestinal tract Good for your skin
Helps with occasional sleeplessness Promotes heart health by reducing homocysteine levels Tames allergies
Can help fight viruses, such as herpes, and bacteria, such as that present in chronic sinusitis Helps sooth a cough Helps prevent tooth decay
Honey's healing powersx come from components such as:
- Glucose oxidase: This is an enzyme that breaks down glucose and generates hydrogen peroxide, which has antimicrobial properties
- Methylglyoxal or MGO: This powerful antibacterial compound is only found in certain natural honeys (highest in Manuka honey, which is made by bees that feed off the flowers of the Manuka bush, a medicinal plant native to New Zealand)
- Bee Defensin 1:An antimicrobial peptide (AMP); this special protein is found in royal jelly (the food made especially for queen bee larvae)
Precautionary Note... Although raw honey is loaded with all of the benefits described above, you still must exercise caution in how much you consume because it's about 70 percent fructose. Fructose is fructose, and if you're challenged with insulin resistance, you will not likely do well eating large quantities of honey. Please also note that honey should not be given to children under one year of age. Infants less than 12 months old are at risk for infant botulism from eating honey that contains Clostridium botulinum spores, and in a baby, this can result in nervous system damage or even death. These spores do not affect older children and adults.
Are You Eating Funny Honey? Fake honey is unfortunately common in this era of food manipulation and control. Some Chinese brokers sell a mixture of sugar water, malt sweeteners, corn or rice syrup, jaggery, barley malt sweetener or other additives, and label it as "honey". Nearly all of this fake honey is made in China.
A good deal of this "funny honey" is also tainted with illegal antibiotics, including chloramphenicol, which can cause DNA damage and cancer, and heavy metals such as lead.
A recent report by Food Safety Newsxi reveals just how often they get away with this trickery. More than 75 percent of the honey on American supermarket shelves may be ultra-processed—to the point that all inherent medicinal properties are completely gone—and then smuggled into the country by the barrel drum. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) states that any product that's been ultra-filtered and no longer contains pollen is NOT honey. In their investigation, Food Safety News discovered the following:
- 76 percent of honey samples bought at grocery stores (such as TOP Food, Safeway, QFC, Kroger, Harris Teeter, etc.) were absent of pollen
- 77 percent of the honey from big box stores (like Costco, Sam's Club, Walmart, and Target) were absent of pollen
- 100 percent of the honey sampled from drug stores (like Walgreens, Rite-Aid, and CVS Pharmacy) were absent of pollen
The Buzz about Organic Beekeeping One way to make sure your honey is high quality and contains the full compliment of natural health benefits is to obtain it from organic beekeepers, preferably local ones. Supporting organic beekeepers will also increase healthy bee colonies, which are so crucial to our food supply.
Organic beekeepers take a far different approach to beekeeping than large migratory operations. They don't feed their bees the sugar syrups and artificial pollen substitutes typically used in commercial bee operations, and they avoid chemical pesticides. They have fewer hives, and they don't truck their bees around for pollination.
Several countries have banned many systemic insecticides, including France, Italy, Germany, and Slovenia. Most European nations place safety as the highest priority. When there is evidence of an environmental problem, they take the chemical off the market. Not so in America, where government regulators are in the grips of the agrichemical industry, and "pestitution" remains legal.
But there is some good news. One of America's most effective environmental action groups, the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC)xii , has come to the aid of our honey bees. NRDC sued EPA in federal court about improper approval of a certain systemic pesticide—and won. They stopped the retail sale of Bayer's toxic Moventoxiii as of January 2010. As these damaging chemicals are eliminated, there is hope for honey bee recovery. In France, honey bee populations bounced back just one year after these products were banned from the marketplace.
What You Can Do Vanishing of the Bees recommends four actions you can take to help preserve our honey bees:
- Support organic farmers and shop at local farmer's markets as often as possible. You can "vote with your fork" three times a day.
- Cut the use of toxic chemicals in your house and on your lawn, and use organic pest control.
- Better yet, get rid of your lawn altogether and plant a garden. Lawns offer very little benefit for the environment. Both flower and vegetable gardens provide good honey bee habitats.
- Become an amateur beekeeper. Having a hive in your garden requires only about an hour of your time per week, benefits your local ecosystem, and you can enjoy your own honey!
- Pesticide Action Network Bee Campaignxiv
- The Foundation for the Preservation of Honey Beesxv
- American Beekeeping Federationxvi
- Help the Honey Beesxvii
For more information about raising bees, consult The Practical Beekeeperxix and the Yahoo group "Organic Beekeepers."xx
Source : Dr Mercola
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How Bees Are Harmed by Common Crop Pesticides
A widely used insecticide can threaten the health of bumblebee colonies and interfere with the homing abilities of honeybees, according to a pair of new studies. The reports, one by a U.K. team and one by a French team, were published 29 March at the Science Express Web site of the journal Science.
Bumblebees and honeybees are important pollinators of flowering plants, including many major fruit and vegetable crops. Each year, for example, honeybee hives are driven from field to field to help pollinate almond, apple, and blueberry crops, among others.
In recent years, honeybee populations have rapidly declined, in part due to a phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder. Bumblebee populations have been suffering as well, according to Dave Goulson of the University of Stirling in Stirling, U.K., who is a co-author of one of the studies.
"Some bumblebee species have declined hugely. For example in North America, several bumblebee species which used to be common have more or less disappeared from the entire continent," he said. "In the U.K., three species have gone extinct."
Researchers have proposed multiple causes for these declines, including pesticides, but it's been unclear exactly how pesticides are inflicting their damage.
"It's been difficult to make direct connections between pesticides as they would be encountered in natural conditions, and the negative impacts we've seen in laboratory studies," said Science Associate Editor Sasha Vignieri at a 29 March Paris press conference about the papers.
Both of the Science studies looked at the effects of neonicotinoid insecticides, which were introduced in the early 1990s and have now become one of the most widely used crop pesticides in the world. These compounds act on the insect's central nervous system, and they spread to the nectar and pollen of flowering crops.
In one study, Penelope Whitehorn of the University of Stirling in Stirling, U.K. and colleagues exposed developing colonies of bumblebees, Bombus terrestris, to low levels of a neonicotinoid called imidacloprid, found in brand names pesticides such as Gaucho, Prestige, Admire, and Marathon. The doses were comparable to what the bees are often exposed to in the wild.
The researchers then placed the colonies in an enclosed field site where the bees could forage under natural conditions for six weeks. "These bees perform extraordinary feats of navigation in the real world" to find and bring food back to their colonies, Goulson said at the press conference. "Anything that reduced its ability to learn or to navigate could have a very big effect in the wild which would not be detected or detected very weakly in a lab situation."
At the beginning and end of the experiment, the researchers weighed each of the bumblebee nests -- which included the bees, wax, honey, bee grubs, and pollen -- to determine how much the colony had grown.
Compared to control colonies that had not been exposed to imidacloprid, the treated colonies gained less weight, suggesting less food was coming in. The treated colonies were on average 8% to 12% smaller than the control colonies at the end of the experiment. The treated colonies also produced about 85% fewer queens. This last finding is particularly important because queen production translates directly to the establishment of new nests following the winter die-off. Thus, 85% fewer queens could mean 85% fewer nests in the coming year.
"Bumblebees pollinate many of our crops and wild flowers," Goulson said. "The use of neonicotinoid pesticides on flowering crops clearly poses a threat to their health, and urgently needs to be re-evaluated."
In the other Science report, a French team found that exposure to another neonicotinoid pesticide impairs honeybees' homing abilities, causing many of the bees to die.
Mickaël Henry of the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) in Avignon, France, and colleagues tagged free-ranging honeybees with tiny radio-frequency identification or "RFID" microchips that were glued to each bee's thorax. These devices allowed the researchers to track the bees as they came and went from their hives. The researchers then gave some of the bees a sublethal dose of the pesticide thiamethoxam, which has been sold under the brand names Cruiser and Platinum.
Compared to control bees that were not exposed to the pesticide, the treated bees were about two to three times more likely to die while away from their nests. These deaths probably occurred because the pesticide interfered with the bees' homing systems, the researchers propose.
In the second part of their study, the researchers used data from the tracking experiment to develop a mathematical model that simulated honeybee population dynamics. When the mortality caused by the homing failure was incorporated into the simulations, the model predicted that honeybee populations exposed to this pesticide should drop to a point from which it would be difficult to recover.
At the press conference, Henry said this simulation showed the bee populations could suffer "a marked decline in a matter of weeks," leaving them more susceptible to other stresses such as parasites and climate change.
The authors note that even though manufacturers are required to ensure their pesticide doses remain below lethal levels for honeybees, the studies used to determine this lethality level have probably underestimated the ways that pesticides can kill bees indirectly, for example by interfering with their homing systems.
"Our study raises important issues regarding pesticide authorization procedures," said Henry. "So far, they mostly require manufacturers to ensure that doses encountered on the field do not kill bees, but they basically ignore the consequences of doses that do not kill them but may cause behavioral difficulties."
Source : Science Daily
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Have Bees Become Canaries In the Coal Mine? Why Massive Bee Dieoffs May Be a Warning About Our Own Health
What scientists are beginning to understand about the cause of colony collapse could be a message for all of us. It's often said that we have bees to thank for one out of every three bites we take of food. In addition to producing honey, honeybees literally criss-cross the United States, pollinating almonds, oranges, melons, blueberries, pumpkins, apples, and more. And while carrots are a biennial root
crop that are harvested long before they flower, all carrots are planted from seed, and honeybees pollinate the carrot flowers that produce the seeds. Other species of bees, both social and solitary bees, pollinate other crops. And the populations of all these species of bees are in decline.The decline of bees has been in the headlines for several years, and theories to explain their deaths abound. But perhaps there is not just one single cause. University of California San Diego professor of biology James Nieh studies foraging, communication and health of bees. "I would say it's a combination of four factors; pesticides, disease, parasites, and human mismanagement," says Nieh. Bees might be weakened by having a very low level of exposure to insecticides or fungicides, making them more susceptible if they are attacked by viruses or parasites. "It's kind of like taking a patient who is not doing so well -- very weak, poor diet, exposing them to pathogens, and then throwing more things at them. It's not surprising that honeybees are not very healthy."
One class of pesticides, neonicotinoids in particular has received a lot of attention for harming bees. In late 2010, the EPA came under fire from beekeepers and pesticide watchdog organizations. This happened when Colorado beekeeper Tom Theobald spoke out about how the EPA allowed clothianidin to be used without any proof it was safe and despite the fact that the EPA's own scientists believed it "has the potential for toxic risk to honey bees, as well as other pollinators."
At that time Theobald had reported losing up to 40 percent of his bees, and now, things are looking even worse. "As a business, I think it's over," he says. "I think my business is no longer viable. I'll continue to keep bees as best I can and may be able to pull off a halfway decent crop for another year or two but the trendline is down and over the edge of a cliff and that's typical of what's going on nationally."
A recently published study sheds a little more light on the impact of clothianidin. The study, which focuses on pesticide exposure in bees, looks at two pesticides that are used by treating seeds prior to planting. Each corn seed contains enough pesticide to kill 80,000 honeybees. Once the plant develops, all parts of the plant -- including the pollen collected by bees -- contain lower doses of the pesticide. One of the main revelations of the study is that bees get a hefty dose of these pesticides, clothianidin and thiamethoxam, during spring planting as the seeds are coated in talc to keep them from sticking together and then much of the talc enters the environment either with the seed or behind the planter through its exhaust fan.
The study found the pesticides on the soil of fields -- even unplanted fields -- and on nearby weeds, as well as in dead honeybees and in pollen collected by honeybees. Clothianidin is used on both corn and canola in the U.S., and while corn does not rely on honeybees for pollination (it is wind pollinated), the study found that "maize pollen comprised over 50 percent of the pollen collected by bees, by volume, in 10 of 20 samples."
Tucked in the middle of the study is a bombshell: "The levels of clothianidin in bee-collected pollen [from treated maize] that we found are approximately 10-fold higher than reported from experiments conducted in canola grown from clothianidin-treated seed."
Source : AlterNet
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Are Pesticides Behind Massive Bee Collapse?
More clues have been found in the case of the disappearing honey bees.
Powdery waste blown off from seed planters was found to contain up to 700,000 times the bee's lethal dosage of neonicotinoid insecticides in a Purdue University study. The study also found the insecticides clothianidin and thiamethoxam in dead bees laying in and around hives in Indiana.
"We know that these insecticides are highly toxic to bees; we found them in each sample of dead and dying bees," said Christian Krupke, associate professor of entomology at Purdue and a co-author of the study published in PloS One, in a press release.
The waste dust is mostly harmless talc, which is used to help coat corn, soy and cotton seeds with insecticides. Without the talc, the polymers used to bind the chemicals to the seeds clog up the seed coating machine and in the planters.
But the excess talc brings some of the pesticide with it when it gets blown off into the air when mechanical planters put the seed in the ground. The talc, along with the pesticides, then settles on nearby vegetation.
"Given the rates of corn planting and talc usage, we are blowing large amounts of contaminated talc into the environment. The dust is quite light and appears to be quite mobile," Krupke said.
"Whatever was on the seed was being exhausted into the environment," Krupke said. "This material is so concentrated that even small amounts landing on flowering plants around a field can kill foragers or be transported to the hive in contaminated pollen. This might be why we found these insecticides in pollen that the bees had collected and brought back to their hives."
The research also consistently found the pesticides at low levels in soil, even up to two years after treated seed was planted. Corn pollen also showed traces of the chemicals.
Source : The Ecologist
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Leaked document exposes risks to bees and insects from Bayer pesticide
US government scientists flag up risks to bees and aquatic insects from neonicotinoid pesticide that biotech giant Bayer are trying to gain approval for use by farmers Biotech giant Bayer CropScience is seeking approval for a neonicotinoid pesticide whose use poses a potential 'long-term toxic risk' to honeybees and an 'acute and chronic risk' to freshwater invertebrates, according to a leaked document from the US Environment Protection Agency (EPA).
Neonicotinoid pesticides are a comparatively new group of synthetic chemicals used as a coating for agricultural seeds and in pot plants. The chemicals spread throughout the plant and into the nectar and pollen to kill insects attacking the plant. Bayer are seeking approval from the EPA to allow the use of the neonicotinoid Clothianidin, an insecticide, on cotton and mustard seeds.
Campaign groups including the Soil Association and Buglife claim the use of neonicotinoids on crops expose insects to levels of the chemical that is enough to weaken their immune system and in the case of bees, affect their ability to forage and breed.
'At the levels people were recording in the field when then applied to bees in a laboratory it had a significant impact on there behaviour,' said Buglife CEO Matt Shardlow. 'It's not the same as killing them but enough to stop them foraging and so they will die out.'
Although not recommending a ban, EPA scientists said existing Bayer-funded field studies on the impact on aquatic life, from the leaching of the chemical into the soil, and honey bees were inadaquate. They cited an incident in Germany in 2008 where clothianidin, not properly applied to sweetcorn seeds, was allowed to drift off from seed planting equipment killing millions of honeybees.
Bayer reject EPA and campaigners fears and say only those insects biting into the plant and trying to destroy it would be adversely affect. 'Bees drink the nector and pollen but the levels they are exposed to are extremely tiny and well within safety limits,' said spokesperson Dr Julian Little. Aquatic life would also be unaffected, he said, as only a small amount of the chemical could come off the surface of the seed once it had been applied and therefore the amount of leaching would be minimal.
A number of campaign groups, including Pesticide Action Network (PAN) and Buglife said they would now be putting renewed pressure on government agencies in the US and Europe to ban neonicotinoids in 2011. 'The tide is turning against these chemicals but the decision-makers appear reluctant to step in,' said Shardlow.
Source : The Ecologist
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Beekeepers call for immediate ban on CCD-linked pesticide
On December 8, Pesticide Action Network and Beyond Pesticides joined beekeepers from around the country in calling on EPA to pull a neonicotinoid pesticide linked with Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) off the market immediately. Our call is based on a leaked EPA memo that discloses a critically flawed scientific study, thus suggesting there may be imminent hazards to honeybees posed by continued use of clothianidin, the pesticide in question. CCD is the name given to the mysterious decline of honeybee populations across the world beginning around 2006. Each winter since, one-third of the U.S. honeybee population has died off or disappeared. CCD is likely caused by a combination of pathogens, the stresses of industrial beekeeping, loss of habitat and more. But many scientists believe that sublethal pesticide exposures are a critical co-factor potentiating this mix. In the U.S., agencies are focused on research, trying to quantify these risks. In Germany, Italy and France, they decided they knew enough to take action years ago, banning suspect neonicotinoid pesticides. Bee colonies there are recovering and beekeepers here are outraged.
Several issues are at play: poorly conducted science, a broken regulatory system that puts chemicals on the market before testing them, lack of transparency and, most critically, the survival of honeybees and commercial beekeepers.
Beekeepers Reflecting on the one-third loss of bees each winter, 50-year beekeeper, David Hackenberg, says: "Beekeepers are a stubborn, industrious bunch. We split hives, rebound as much as we can each summer, and then just take it on the chin – eat our losses. So even these big loss numbers understate the problem. What folks need to understand is that the beekeeping industry, which is responsible for a third of the food we all eat, is at a critical threshold for economic reasons and reasons to do with bee population dynamics. Our bees are living for 30 days instead of 42, nursing bees are having to forage because there aren’t enough foragers and at a certain point a colony just doesn’t have the critical mass to keep going. The bees are at that point, and we are at that point. We are losing our livelihoods at a time when there just isn’t other work. Another winter of ‘more studies are needed’ so Bayer can keep their blockbuster products on the market and EPA can avoid a difficult decision, is unacceptable.”
It is clothianidin Hackenberg is referring to, one of Bayer Crop Science's top-selling pesticides, and the controversy surrounding its conditional registration. According to the leaked EPA memo, clothianidin's registration is based on a flawed field study that was subsequently downgraded to an EPA-speak "supplemental" category that amounts to "interesting, but not enough to base a decision on." Clothianidin (product name “Poncho”) has been widely used as a seed treatment on many of the country’s major crops for eight growing seasons under a “conditional registration” granted in 2003 while EPA waited for Bayer to conduct the field study assessing the insecticide’s toxicity to bees — the study that now appears to be too flawed to rely upon.
"In an apparent rush to get products to the market," 35-year beekeeper Tom Theobald notes, "chemicals have been routinely granted 'conditional' registrations. Of 94 pesticide active ingredients released since 1997, 70% have been given conditional registrations, with unanswered questions of unknown magnitude. In the case of clothianidin those questions were huge."
Rushing to market: "conditional" registrations EPA is supposed to license ("register") pesticides only if they meet standards for protection of the environment and human health. But pesticide law allows EPA to waive these requirements and grant a "conditional" registration of a new pesticide when health and safety data are lacking. In other words, this loophole allows companies to sell a pesticide before EPA gets safety data.
It is a common practice for the EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP) to afford rapid market access for products that then remain in use for many years before they are tested. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, of the 16,000 current product registrations:
- 11,000 (68%) have been conditionally registered;
- almost 8,200 products have been conditionally registered (“CR status”) since 2005;
- approximately 5,400 products have had CR status since 2000; and
- over 2,100 products have had CR status since 1990.
... because this problem reflects an overuse of the conditional registration program in OPP, we urge you to set an immediate moratorium on the use of such registrations until the program is fully evaluated for compliance with its underlying statutory responsibilities. The conditional registration of clothianidin in 2003 with outstanding data critical to its safety assessment represents a failure that could and should have been avoided.
Honeybee toxicity Clothianidin is of the neonicotinoid family of pesticides. They are designed as systemics, to be taken up by a plant’s vascular system and expressed through pollen, nectar and guttation droplets from which bees then forage and drink. Scientists are concerned about the combined and cumulative effects of the multiple pesticides bees are exposed to in these ways. Neonicotinoids are of particular concern because they have cumulative, sublethal effects on insect pollinators that correspond to CCD symptoms – namely, neurobehavioral and immune system disruptions.
According to Dr. James Frazier, professor of entomology at Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences, "Among the neonicotinoids, clothianidin is among those most toxic for honey bees; and this combined with its systemic movement in plants has produced a troubling mix of scientific results pointing to its potential risk for honey bees through current agricultural practices. Our own research indicates that systemic pesticides occur in pollen and nectar in much greater quantities than has been previously thought, and that interactions among pesticides occurs often and should be of wide concern." Professor Frazier said that the most prudent course of action would be to take the pesticide off the market while the flawed study is being redone.
With a soil half-life of up to 19 years in heavy soils, and more than a year in the lightest of soils, commercial beekeepers are concerned that even an immediate ban of clothianidin won’t save their livelihoods or hives in time.
For more detailed background, a copy of the memo and timeline of clothianidin's registration process, see our press release; for a good read, see Tom Philpott's in-depth coverage on Grist. For opportunities to take action, stay tuned.
Source : Pesticide Action Network
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Timeline of a Bee Massacre: EPA Still Allowing Hive-Killing Pesticide
Beekeepers across the U.S. are reporting record low honey crops as their bees fail to make it through the winter. One-third of American agriculture, which relies on bee pollination, is at stake. And the problem may be at least partially attributable to clothianidin, a Bayer-branded pesticide used on corn and other crops.
But as we revealed last week, the EPA knew that clothianidin could be toxic when the product came on the market in 2003. So why is it still on the market?
The bee-toxic pesticide problem can be traced back to 1994, when the first neonicotinoid pesticide (Imidacloprid) was released. Neonicotinoids like imidacloprid and clothianidin disrupt the central nervous system of pest insects, and are supposed to be relatively non-toxic to other animals. But there's a problem: The neonicotinoids coat plant seeds, releasing insecticides permanently into the plant. The toxins are then released in pollen and nectar--where they may cause bees to become disoriented and die.
After imidacloprid was released in France (under the name Gaucho) the number of bees in the country dropped rapidly, from 75 kg per hive down to 30 kg per hive between 1995 and 2001. France conducted an official study on the pesticide in 1998, but found no solid evidence that imidacloprid played a part in bee deaths. Nevertheless, Imidacloprid was banned for use on sunflowers and, later, sweet corn.
Enter clothianidin, a next-generation neonicotinoid released by Bayer in 2003. "In terms of the neonicotonoid family, clothianidin is one of the most toxic members," explains Dr. James Frazier, a professor of entomology at Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences.
The EPA first brought up the link between clothianidin and bees before the pesticide's release in February 2003. The agency originally planned to withhold registration of the pesticide because of concerns about toxicity in bees, going so far as to suggest that the product come with a warning label (PDF): "This compound is toxic to honey bees. The persistance of residues and the expression clothianidin in nectar and pollen suggest the possibility of chronic toxic risk to honey bee larvae and the eventual stability of the hive."
But in April 2003, the EPA decided to give Bayer conditional registration. Bayer could sell the product and seed processors could freely use it, with the proviso that Bayer complete a life cycle study of clothianidin on corn by December 2004. Bayer was granted an extension until May 2005 (and permission to use canola instead of corn in its tests), but didn't complete the study until August 2007. The EPA continued to allow the sale of clothianidin, and once the Bayer study finally came out, it was flawed.
In a statement to the Pesticide Action Network, beekeeper Jeff Anderson explains:
"The Bayer study is fatally flawed. It was an open field study with control and test plots of about 2 acres each. Bees typically forage at least 2 miles out from the hive, so it is likely they didn’t ingest much of the treated crops. And corn, not canola, is the major pollen-producing crop that bees rely on for winter nutrition. "This is a critical point because we see hive losses mainly after over-wintering, so there is something going on in these winter cycles. It’s as if they designed the study to avoid seeing clothianidin’s effects on hive health." [Emphasis ours]
The U.S. bee population didn't start dying off until 2005, says David Hackenberg, the beekeeper who first discovered Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). "We started seeing problems where bees were disappearing in the fall. We blamed it on mites, viruses and a lot of other stuff because we didn't know what to blame it on."
But soon Hackenberg made the connection: bee die-off seemed to follow corn crop plantings so much that "you can follow the trail of this stuff to where bees are collapsing," says Hackenberg.
Frazier first started paying attention to the problem in 2007. "Ever since we started this work, the sheer magnitude of the use of neonicotonoids in the environment has always made them suspect for us," he explains.
Frazier and Hackenberg weren't alone in their concern. Germany suspended the use of neonicotinoids in 2008 after the misapplication of clothiandin by beekeepers in the Baden-Württemberg area caused the pesticide to get into the air. Two-third of the beekeepers' bees in the region died as a result (tests on dead bees showed that 99% had clothiandin build-up).
Italy also suspended the use of neonicotinoids in 2008. The country has evidence that the ban is saving bees. In 2009, Italy saw zero cases of bee mortality in apiaries surrounding neonicotinoid-free corn crops. Bee mortality had been an issue around corn crops in the country since 1999.
The EPA's response to these suspensions: "Several European countries have suspended the use of certain pesticides in response to incidents involving acute poisoning of honey bees. To EPA's knowledge, none of the incidents that led to suspensions have been associated with Colony Collapse Disorder."
And then came last week's news that the EPA recently conducted another study on clothiandin (PDF) in response to Bayer's request to use the pesticide on cotton and mustard (the chemical can currently be used on corn, canola, soy, sugar beets, sunflowers, and wheat).
The new study, unearthed by Colorado beekeeper Tom Theobald, invalidates Bayer's previous study, claiming that "after another review of this field study in light of additional information, deficiencies were identified that render the study supplemental. It does not satisfy the guideline 850.3040, and another field study is needed to evaluate the effects of clothianidin on bees through contaminated pollen and nectar." The study also warns that clothiandin is highly toxic to bees on both a contact and oral basis.
And yet, the EPA is continuing to allow the sale of clothiandin, even though the study that the agency based its decision on proved to be invalid. "It's a matter of perspective," says Frazier. "If the core study to judge registration is no longer considered a valid core study, do you allow continued use of something without good scientific data behind it? That's the choice that's been left to be made by the EPA."
Hackenberg doesn't think that the EPA will take action unless it's sued by a major environmental organization (note: in 2008, the NRDC sued the EPA to release Bayer's studies on neonicotinoid safety). Indeed, Hackenberg tells Fast Company that an EPA official recently told him that clothiandin is still on the market in part because of fears that Bayer would sue the agency if it is removed.
"I was at the EPA yesterday," Hackenberg says. "They keep telling us that bee scientists have to prove to the EPA that there's a problem. The problem is that the EPA is supposed to protect the environment, it's their responsibility to make sure that the chemical companies are doing their job."
No one can say for sure that neonicotinoids alone are causing bees to die off--many more studies have to be done. But the EPA would do well to err on the side of caution for the beekeepers who are rapidly losing their bees. Tom Theobald, for example, saw his smallest honey crop in 35 years of beekeeping, and Hackenberg claims that he has talked to beekeepers across the country who have lost up to 90% of their output this year.
Is it really worth waiting to find out what happens if the EPA doesn't take neonicotinoids off the market? There isn't time to waste. Clothiandin has a half-life of 19 years in heavy soils favored by farmers.
The EPA has not responded to our requests for comment.
Earlier: Wik-Bee Leaks: EPA Document Shows It Knowingly Allowed Pesticide That Kills Honey Bees
Beekeeper Who Leaked EPA Documents: "I Don't Think We Can Survive This Winter"
Source : Fast Company
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‘Growing body of evidence’ links pesticides to bee decline Ecologist
5th August, 2010
Government and retailers, including B&Q and Wyevale, under pressure to impose a ban on sale of pesticides linked to bee population decline following new research Environmental groups including the Soil Association and Buglife are making a renewed call for an end to the use of neonicotinoid pesticides, which are among the most commonly used pesticides worldwide, after a new study linked them to a decline in bee in bee populations.
The study, published in the journal Toxicology, says the effects on bees of two particular neonicotinoid pesticides, known as imidacloprid and thiacloprid, have previously been underestimated and may explain the decline in bee populations.
It says even low concentrations of the pesticides may be more deadly then previously thought due to their high persistence in soil and water, supporting claims for the role that pesticides may play in bee deaths.
‘The acceptable limits are based mainly on short-term tests. If long-term studies were to be carried out, far lower concentrations may turn out to be hazardous. This explains why minute quantities of imidacloprid may induce bee decline in the long run,’ says study author Dr. Henk Tennekes.
Calls for a ban
Buglife campaigner Vicky Kindemba has welcomed the new research, saying it adds support to calls for a suspension in the use of the pesticides in the UK.
‘This new information adds to the growing body of evidence that neonicotinoid pesticides are very harmful and even at extremely low levels in our environment they could still negatively impact on UK wildlife including pollinators, soil organisms and aquatic invertebrates,’ Kindemba said.
The Soil Association said other products containing the pesticides should also be withdrawn from general sale in UK supermarkets, hardware stores and garden centres.
‘If the honeybee disappeared off the surface of the globe forever we’d be facing up to an unimaginable food crisis,' said a spokesperson. 'This latest research only adds to the evidence that is already strong enough to justify an immediate ban on neonicotinoids today.'
The campaign group has written to the chief executives of B&Q, Wilkinson's and Wyevale asking them to withdraw any products containing neonicotinoid pesticides from their store.
Government disregards warning
Responding to the new study, Defra said the UK would not be following some other EU countries in restricting the use of neonicotinoids.
'This research highlights a need for more data on long-term risks to bee health. We have already been considering this and pesticide companies will soon need to provide this data under new EU rules.
'We will keep this area under review and will not hesitate to act if there is any evidence of an unacceptable risk to bees,' said a spokesperson.
Source : The Ecologist
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Agri-chemical companies are both breeding and killing bees Tom Levitt
13th October, 2009
Agri-chemical companies like Syngenta don’t just make the chemicals that have been blamed for the decline in bees; they also breed the bees that are being used as a replacement for wild pollinators The new documentary, ‘Vanishing of the Bees’ - out in UK cinemas this week - once again blames the spread of neonicotinoid pesticides for the decline in honeybee populations.
Neonicotinoids are a comparatively new group of synthetic chemicals used as a coating for agricultural seeds and in pot plants. The chemicals spread throughout the plant and into the nectar and pollen that bees then eat.
Conservationists say that exposure to these chemicals does not kill the bees outright but weakens and makes them more susceptible to other diseases.
‘No-one doubts they are toxic to honey bees,’ says Dr David Chandler an expert in bee health from Warwick University.
‘The question is whether the dosage that honey bees acquire in agriculture is significant to cause damage to their health.’
Groups including the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Buglife and even the traditionally sceptical National Farmers Union, have been calling for independent research to look into the link.
But so far much of the research appears to be directed by the interests of agri-chemical companies.
Only last week, the biotech giant Syngenta, which produces neonicotinoid pesticides, announced the joint funding of a £1m research project into the decline of honey bees.
However, a spokesman for the company said the research was ‘not going to look at pesticides’.
The bee-breeding industry
But pesticides aren’t the only reason agri-chemical companies are interested in bees.
Biotech companies like Syngenta, through a subsidiary Syngenta Bioline, are part of a multi-million dollar industry breeding bees in captivity.
'Syngenta Bioline are dedicated to the production of premium quality bumblebees...for use in vegetables, fruit, flowers and ornamental crops,' claims the website.
These factory-reared bees are used by farmers to pollinate soft fruits and other crops.
Modern farming methods may have taken away the main wild bee habitats of meadows, hedgerows and flower-rich grasslands but they have not removed the need for pollinators.
Ironically, as wild pollinator numbers fall it is the biotech companies’ ‘natural’ pollination service that stands to be the biggest beneficiary.
But while the use of factory-reared bees may be vital for pollination they are also a dangerous threat to native bees.
Pollination experts have identified three main risks. If the factory-farmed bees are better at food collecting they can out-compete local bees and establish themselves as a dominant species. They can also inter-breed and gradually dilute native gene-pools.
But most significantly, they can act as a vector for diseases by the shared use of flowers to collect pollen.
The manufacturers say the bees are used in polytunnel production systems for soft fruits and vegetables like strawberries and peppers, and as such are only ever released in an enclosed area.
However, ecologist and pollinator expert Dr Claire Carvell from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH), says studies from the UK, Canada and Japan have shown that even in these circumstances bees do escape and mix with the native population.
Dr Carvell points out that Japan has previously banned the import of bees because of the threat of disease. A batch of queen bees from Australia in 2007 was found to have been affected by the nosema parasite.
The United States provides an even more worrying example of what can go wrong when we mass-produce and ship bees around the world.
In 2004, the US relaxed laws on importing bees and allowed farmers to bring in bumblebees from Australia to use on almond crops.
Many scientists believe that these bees brought in a disease - Israeli acute paralysis virus (IAPV) - which subsequently spread to the native bee population and contributed to a sudden and catastrophic collapse in honeybee numbers.
The UK Government department responsible for wildlife, Defra, claims the industry is small and that, 'all bumblebee imports already need to receive a health certificate from the exporting country so they don’t spread disease, and we work with industry on the risks to native species and safeguards.'
Bumblebee Conservation Trust (BCT) director Dr Ben Darvill says the industry is far from small and that the UK imports upwards of 50,000 bee colonies every year - equating to millions of bees.
As well as Syngenta Bioline, the other major companies involved in the UK market are Koppert and Biobest.
Dr Darvill says the sector lacks proper controls and that to minimise the risk of disease spreading, Defra should ban imports.
‘The problem comes when you move bees over a scale of countries. You are moving genes and species to countries where they have not been.
'We’re in favour of breeding in the same country rather than a global hub. There is no good reason in the UK why we couldn’t produce our own,’ he says.
Helping wild bees
Some argue that the very presence of a bee-breeding industry indicates a misguided focus away from increasing the native, wild bee population, and towards selling a product.
‘We don’t know whether the pollination service works or whether it is just clever marketing,’ says Dr Darvill.
‘It may be that just looking after your hedgerows will bring you more native bees and instead of relying on a factory to produce your bees. Getting a wild pollination service from a synthetic pollinator seems very odd.’
Source : The Ecologist
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