Colony collapse.

09 May

Or: Honey bees versus the stupid humans who take care of them.

All of a sudden, the media has noticed that honeybees in the US are dying off.  This may be because the EU has decided to ban neonicotinoids for a two-year period, in the hopes that the bee colonies will magically recover, while the EPA and the USDA in the US need more time to think about the situation.  Like, when the last bee expires, they will do an necropsy on him and commission the National Geographic Channel to present a special.

All the articles I have been reading lately discuss the problem with two details most prominently displayed: one; the articles only talk about commercial bee hives and two; the economic impacts are brought up ad nauseum.  I am here to tell you that there is a problem with wild bees in the US, too.  My neighbor and I are not bothering to plant gardens this year and did not last year, either.  There are no pollinators.  The gardens we worked so hard on two summers ago produced next to nothing.  This was after years of generous successes – the problem was not in our skill level or willingness to work.

I don’t think that there is one simple answer to the bee collapse.  I think about cell towers and wonder if the signals affect the bees’ homing instincts.  And what of our (bad) habit of mono-cropping?  Bees need a variety of nectars each season to stay healthy, but we plant the same crops in the same fields year after year.   Nor do I think that the media or the EPA is much worried about the wild bee populations.  Those little bees only pollinate our home truck gardens and do not affect the GDP – so who cares?  Which brings me to the second item covered in these articles, and the one most important to the guys in charge: the money angle.  There is not one thing in the US that is worthy of attention unless it has an “economic impact”.  Poor people dying for lack of food or more people going hungry due to rising food costs are subjects rarely touched upon – as a matter of fact, I don’t recall any recent article which mentions these points.  On the other hand, these may actually be considered positives.  A few less poor people hanging around looking wan has a salutary effect on the bottom line if you are one of those who thinks that way.  Colony collapse of a different species, is all.

Here is a typical article:

US honey bees have been dying by the tens of millions, with annual death rates of about 30 percent. With fewer bees to pollinate fruits and vegetables each year, ‘beemageddon’ may soon cause the collapse of the agriculture industry.

Honey bees pollinate more than 100 US crops, including apples, zucchinis, avocados and plums, that are worth more than $200 billion a year. Since 2006, about 10 million bee hives at an average value of $200 each have been lost in what scientists call the Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), according to a new report by the US Department of Agriculture. There are currently about 2.5 million honey bee colonies in the US, which is a drastic decrease from the 6 million that existed in 1947 and the 3 million that existed in 1990. Last winter alone, the honey bee population declined by 31.1 percent, with some beekeepers reporting losses of 90 to 100 percent.

In the previous two winters, beekeepers lost about 22 percent of their populations. “Currently, the survivorship of honey bee colonies is too low for us to be confident in our ability to meet the pollination demands of US agricultural crops,” the USDA report states. […]

But with a bee shortage that gets worse every year, many of the almond orchards will never be pollinated, which could eventually cause a global almond shortage and economic consequences for the US.

The USDA knows how the agriculture industry will be affected by the large-scale bee die-offs, but does not know why exactly they are dying in such numbers. The report cites “multiple factors… including parasites and disease, genetics, poor nutrition and pesticide exposure”, while also citing last summer’s drought as a contributing factor. […]

But US officials have stated that they don’t have enough evidence to ban neonicotinoids. And with a drastically decreasing honey bee population, ‘beemageddon’ might be just around the corner.“We are one poor weather event or high winter bee loss away from a pollination disaster,” Jeff Pettis, the USDA’s bee research leader, said in the report.

The following is from a petition I received from Credo Action yesterday:

Honey Bees are dying at an alarming rate, and this winter marked the worst losses by far. U.S. beekeepers reported that as many as 50% of their bees disappeared or died.

Last week, the European Union took a major step to protect its bee population – placing a two-year ban on the neonicotinoid class of pesticides, including clothianidin and thiamethoxam, which many scientists think are a major factor behind the alarming rate of colony collapse.

But the U.S. is still finding excuses for inaction. The USDA just published a study claiming that neonicotinoids are in fact the least important in a long list of contributing factors to bee die-offs.

With the health of our bee populations – and the estimated $15 billion in agricultural benefits they provide – on the line, it’s time for the EPA to stop ignoring the science, and follow the EU’s lead.

What is still a mystery to U.S. regulators appears to be abundantly obvious to our bees: these pesticides are deadly for honey bee hives.

Incredibly, in many hives that have died-off, the bees themselves appear to have identified the threat of pesticides and taken measures to protect their hives – physically sealing off hive cells full of pollen that contain dramatically higher levels of pesticides than neighboring cells.

While the bees make emergency – and unfortunately, insufficient – efforts to save their hives, it’s the same old story from U.S. regulators, who have been continually handing the reins to the industry since the EPA first approved the pesticide clothianidin against the warnings of its own scientists in 2003, just a few years before bees began dying off in large numbers.

Now, the EPA says that it needs to keep studying neonicotinoid pesticides for two more years. We can’t wait that long.

-credo action

Pesticide use is generous in Australia, but they do not seem to have the bee die-off problem that the US and the EU are experiencing; as a matter of fact, commercial bee-keepers in the US are importing bees from Australia in an effort to keep the crops pollinated one more year at a time.  Why is this?  One answer may be found in an article that is guaranteed to be widely ignored:

Much of the food that fills your dinner plate can only be produced with the help of a highly managed insect species: the western honey bee. Many farmers actually rent commercial colonies to unleash on their fields when the crops are in bloom. Such pollination services rake in $14 billion a year in the United States.

But honey bee populations have plummeted in the last half decade as worker bees have mysteriously flown off and never returned to the hives—a phenomenon now called Colony Collapse Disorder. Scientists are stumped. Some blame malnutrition. Others point fingers at pathogens. Perhaps it’s pesticides. New research has identified a particular chemical in pollen that may finally provide an answer.

Western honey bees have a taste for a range of nectars, so they are exposed to many different chemicals in and on the plants they pollinate. In addition, commercial hives are often treated with insecticides to kill parasitic mites. The trouble is that the western honey bee doesn’t have a lot of defenses: only 46 of its genes (about half that of most insects) can metabolize these potentially dangerous chemicals.

Even more important than how many genes the bees have is knowing what kicks these genes into gear. For the first time, researchers have identified the chemicals that regulate these genes, and have determined that many bees raised in commercial colonies don’t get enough of them.

The researchers identified a handful of chemicals that boost these detoxifying genes. The most potent was an acid called p-coumaric acid, which is found in pollen grains. By eating honey, which contains traces of pollen, the bees become less susceptible to the range of pesticides and pathogens they encounter on their pollinating exploits.

Wild bees are normally raised on honey, so there is no shortage of p-coumaric acid in their diets. But commercial colonies raised for agricultural pollination aren’t so lucky. To cut costs, many bee keepers harvest and sell the honey their bees produce and instead feed the growing bee babies high fructose corn syrup or other sweeteners. While nutritionally comparable, the researchers say these sugars lack essential chemicals like p-coumaric acid. […]

To cut costs, many bee keepers harvest and sell the honey their bees produce and instead feed the growing bee babies high fructose corn syrup…”

Kind of takes the breath away, doesn’t it?  There is simply no creature on earth like homo sapiens sapiens (genus americanus).


Posted by on May 9, 2013 in big ag/pharma, environment


2 responses to “Colony collapse.

  1. laura

    May 10, 2013 at 4:41 pm

    heh. genus americanus. nice.

    don’t know if you saw this already:
    “A group of 150 major Democratic donors and clean energy investors have sent President Obama a letter urging him to deny a presidential permit to the Keystone XL pipeline, comparing the decision’s significance to Abraham Lincoln’s push to end slavery through a constitutional amendment.”


    might be just more talk.

    I’m putting together a blog to be used as a hub with links to GG followers and others. do you want to be included?


    • Teri

      May 12, 2013 at 4:21 am

      I’m not sure, Laura. A few people have tried to start discussion groups with his commenters apart from GG’s main articles and they always fall apart quickly. Besides, I’ve been writing this blog since before I ever heard of Greenwald – I did not start as a “GG follower”. I don’t think that many of the regulars at GG’s are much interested in what I have to say anyhow. And I barely have time to keep up with this little blog site; I have a dozen articles half-finished that may never get done. I doubt I’d be able to participate frequently in discussions and all. Right now I’m inclined to say no, although I may change my mind later.

      Thank you so much, though, and I look forward to reading what you and others say, even if I am not a commenter!




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