Thursday, March 25, 2010

Bad News for Bees


The ongoing story of colony collapse of bees isn't getting any better.  According to a CBS News story, a federal survey indicates a heavy bee die-off this winter.  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.
Although bees have been declining over decades from various causes. But in 2006 a new concern, "colony collapse disorder," was blamed for large, inexplicable die-offs. The disorder, which causes adult bees to abandon their hives and fly off to die, is likely a combination of many causes, including parasites, viruses, bacteria, poor nutrition and pesticides, experts say.
This year bees seem to be in bigger trouble than normal after a bad winter, according to an informal survey of commercial bee brokers cited in an internal USDA document. One-third of those surveyed had trouble finding enough hives to pollinate California's blossoming nut trees, which grow the bulk of the world's almonds. A more formal survey will be done in April.
A scientific study which you can read at PLOSone.com, the online scientific journal  of the PLOS (Public Library of Science) found about three out of every 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.
Although there is no known risk of eating the honey, this indicates the scope of the problem a hive of bees faces in surviving and successfully pollinating our plants.  None of the chemicals themselves were at high enough levels to kill bees, but it was the combination and variety of them that is worrisome.
It is important to remember that one-third of the foods we eat are dependent on pollination by honeybees, spanning the gamut "from apples to zucchini."  While it is easy to blame pesticide manufacturers, it is important to understand that much of the productivity of farmers and orchard keepers depends on controlling pests which damage crops.  Certainly any of us who have watched Japanese beetles attack a garden can become overwhelmed with pesticidal urges.
There is more information on the pesticide debate in the CBS News story.

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