More bad news for bees

Photo New York Times 2013

It’s not easy to be a bee
The news on the bee front is going from bad to worse.  As discussed in an earlier post on this blog, bee populations throughout the world and particularly in Europe and North America, have been under pressure for the last decade.  Now come reports of more bad news.  New figures show that bee populations in the United States are declining at a faster rate than ever.   And at the same time, the European Union, under pressure from chemical manufacturers in France and Germany, failed to pass a 2 year ban on neonicotinoid pesticides, which many researcher believe play a role in declining bee population.

Worse year ever?
In a recent article in the New York times, author Michael Wines notes that, although the official U.S. Department of Agriculture numbers will not be out until May, many beekeepers are reporting losses of between 40 and 50% of their hives in 2012.  This compares with losses of about 30% in 2011.  FDA bee research director Jeff Pettis said that he was confident that the May USDA report would show colony losses well in excess of the 2011 losses.

Bees can’t kick the habit
There are many theories as to what is killing the bees, everything from GMO corn syrup in sugar water used to feed commercial bee colonies, to electromagnetic fields generated by electronic devices like cell phones, to the increased use of herbicides made possible by herbicide-resistant GMO crops like Roundup Ready corn.

But many researcher feel that the most likely cause is a new class of pesticides derived from nicotine that are designed to be incorporated into every cell of the protected plant.  These pesticides, known as neonicotinoid or  systemic pesticides, were developed in the late ’80s and ’90s but have only come into widespread use since 2000 (the neonicotinoid pesticide imidacloprid is currently the most widely used insecticide in the world).  The unique characteristic of systemic pesticides that that they are not designed to kill pests immediately, but to build up in their system over time, distorting the DNA of pest insects so that not only the exposed insect, but also its offspring, are compromised.  For an in-depth report on the available scientific data linking neonicotinoid pesticides to bee mortality, check out this article in the Guardian UK.

Europe passes on ban
Last week, the European Union failed to pass a 2 year ban on neonicotinoid pesticides that was intended to give researcher a chance to study the effect on bee populations of the removal of these pesticides from the environment.  Representatives of nine European Union nations, led by France and Germany, voted against the ban.  Intense lobbying by European pesticide manufacturers Syngenta and Bayer is thought to have played a role in the decision.


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