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Death of Honeybees Equals Problems for Human Food Production

March 30, 2010

Takes a genius to figure this one out, right?  Pesticides kill bees, as well as other insects.  Crops sprayed with pesticides to kill insects also kill the honeybees brought in to pollinate them.  Hmm, no-brainer for some, but for the EPA, coming to that conclusion has taken decades, literally:

The mysterious 4-year-old crisis of disappearing honeybees is deepening. A quick federal survey indicates a heavy bee die-off this winter, while a new study shows honeybees’ pollen and hives laden with pesticides.

Two federal agencies along with regulators in California and Canada are scrambling to figure out what is behind this relatively recent threat, ordering new research on pesticides used in fields and orchards. Federal courts are even weighing in this month, ruling that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency overlooked a requirement when allowing a pesticide on the market.

And on Thursday, chemists at a scientific conference in San Francisco will tackle the issue of chemicals and dwindling bees in response to the new study.

Now I know the AP writer calls this a “mysterious crisis,” the death of honeybees, but I don’t know how mysterious it is that pesticides kill bees.  What’s even stranger is that somehow the EPA didn’t know that pesticides kill bees, because the manufacturers said they didn’t?

Among all the stresses to bee health, it’s the pesticides that are attracting scrutiny now. A study published Friday in the scientific journal PLOS (Public Library of Science) One found about three out of five pollen and wax samples from 23 states had at least one systemic pesticide — a chemical designed to spread throughout all parts of a plant.

EPA officials said they are aware of problems involving pesticides and bees and the agency is “very seriously concerned.”

The pesticides are not a risk to honey sold to consumers, federal officials say. And the pollen that people eat is probably safe because it is usually from remote areas where pesticides are not used, Pettis said. But the PLOS study found 121 different types of pesticides within 887 wax, pollen, bee and hive samples.

“The pollen is not in good shape,” said Chris Mullin of Penn State University, lead author.

None of the chemicals themselves were at high enough levels to kill bees, he said, but it was the combination and variety of them that is worrisome.

University of Illinois entomologist May Berenbaum called the results “kind of alarming.”

Despite EPA assurances, environmental groups don’t think the EPA is doing enough on pesticides.

Bayer Crop Science started petitioning the agency to approve a new pesticide for sale in 2006. After reviewing the company’s studies of its effects on bees, the EPA gave Bayer conditional approval to sell the product two years later, but said it had to carry a label warning that it was “potentially toxic to honey bee larvae through residues in pollen and nectar.”

So, if the EPA made Bayer add the warning that the chemicals are “potentially toxic to honey bee larvae,” didn’t the EPA know that the pesticide could kill the baby bees?  And if the pesticide kills baby bees, how does the hive grow?  Answer:  it doesn’t.

When Bayer was sued, and judges ruled that the pesticides should not be applied because the EPA hadn’t done enough to protect honeybee populations, Bayer’s response was that the lawsuit was “painful,” to them of course:

This court decision is obviously very painful for us right now, and for growers who don’t have access to that product,” said Jack Boyne, an entomologist and spokesman for Bayer Crop Science. “This product quite frankly is not harmful to honeybees.”

Boyne said the pesticide was sold for only about a year and most sales were in California, Arizona andFlorida. The product is intended to disrupt the mating patterns of insects that threaten citrus, lettuce and grapes, he said.

Berenbaum’s research shows pesticides are not the only problem. She said multiple viruses also are attacking the bees, making it tough to propose a single solution.

“Things are still heading downhill,” she said.

For Browning, one of the country’s largest commercial beekeepers, the latest woes have led to a $1 million loss this year.

“It’s just hard to get past this,” he said, watching as workers cleaned honey from empty wooden hives Monday. “I’m going to rebuild, but I have plenty of friends who aren’t going to make it.”

The pesticide is intended to “disrupt mating patterns of insects,” but somehow is supposed to just know a honeybee from a pest insect and leave it alone?  Yeah, now we are talking insanity from the EPA rep.  Really, farmers, this insecticide just won’t bother your honeybees, because it’s a nicer, kinder, gentler insecticide that knows who the bad guys are…

Bayer, of course, says the product isn’t harmful to honeybees, but the research is on the side of the dead honeybees:  apparently pesticides do kill bees, go figure…

2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 30, 2010 9:57 pm

    That’s just the beginning. See my post “Have you had your pesticides today?” at EPA has to be working for the chemical companies; there’s no other explanation.

    • brokeharvardgrad permalink*
      March 31, 2010 6:03 pm

      I will definitely check this out. I have had honeybee die-off in my own garden, and I use no pesticides. It’s horrible to see the honeybees and bumblebees happily buzzing and then decline, only to find spent and sporadic bees the next week. It’s so sad. Others have also linked the EPA to chemical company funds, but the World Wildlife Federation has also recently been in talks with Monsanto. It’s hard to separate any of the chemical companies from organizations that are supposed to police them.

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