This colony disorder has wiped out, not only the honeybees themselves, but also the livelihood of many beekeepers since it was identified in 2006. Many of these beekeepers believe that this is due to harmful pesticides and a lawsuit is underway against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by a nonprofit group called Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). It is believed that the EPA withheld vital information regarding the safety of a class of widely used pesticides called neonicotinoids on the honeybees which are then transferred to the honeycombs.
Imidacloprid and clothianidin, are two forms of neonicotinoids that the EPA has identified as being highly toxic to honeybees. These pesticides can cause a bee to lose its sense of navigation and memory loss as well as paralysis and eventually death.
Bayer CropScience has been marketing the insecticide imidacloprid since 1991 and it currently the most commonly used insecticide throughout the world. It is most often used as a seed dressing for sunflowers and corn.
However, since a possible connection between Colony Colapse Disorder and these insecticides has been made, their use has been suspended in France, Germany, Slovenia, and Italy as well as other European countries. Over the past 10 years, France has witnessed the death of 90 billion honeybees, which reduced the production of honey by 60%.
Last year the German Organization Coalition, on behalf of German beekeepers who claimed that thousands of their hives were destroyed after being poisoned by the pesticides, accused Bayer CropScience of “marketing dangerous pesticides and thereby accepting the mass death of bees all over the world.”
The Coalition contends that the beginning of large scale honeybee deaths coincided with the beginning of the sales for the pesticides across both European and American countries. Now, the Coalition is insisting that the neonicotinoids are removed from the worldwide market by Bayer immediately.
Bayer CropScience believes that the honeybee deaths that were reported all over Europe were actually caused by farmers not applying a fixing agent before spray with the pesticides, and not the actual pesticides themselves. Bayer says that without the use of the fixing agent, the pesticides can become airborne which would then affect the bees. Although, Bayer does state that their pesticides are extremely toxic, they have also stated that it is impossible for honeybees to encounter such a large amount that it would kill them.
An Italian study is disproving Bayer’s beliefs by showing that honeybees in Italy have been ingesting the pesticides at levels that are 1,000 times higher than what is commonly found in normal pollen by way of water droplets that have formed on corn leaves grown directly from seed that has been sprayed with the neonicotinoids. These droplets are a commonly sought after source of water for bees. The study found that bees that drank the water could die within five minutes due to such high concentrations of the pesticides present in the droplets.
The other commonly used neonicotinoid, clothianidin was approved in 2003 on the condition that Bayer was to provide research on how honeybees would be affected by the chemical.
Although Bayer complied, the EPA has not made the information public – which is what resulted in the lawsuit from the NRDC in the first place.
The lawsuit, that was filed in federal court in Washington, DC, was an attempt by the NRDC to compel the EPA and the federal US government to release the information to the beekeepers and farmers. The silence on the part of the EPA has caused many beekeepers, as well as the NRDC to worry about the true effects of the pesticides on the honeybees.
Despite the lawsuit, a definitive reason as to the deaths of so many honeybees, still has not surfaced. What is known though, is that neonicotinoids are simply one of many chemicals that honeybees encounter on a daily basis.
In 2007, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) formed the Colony Collapse Disorder Working Team, whose job it was to research other potential causes of the deaths. During their research a chemical cocktail was discovered. Tests on both honeycombes and individual pollen samples revealed at least 170 different chemicals present!
Mourning the Loss of Our Honeybees
Bees are not just another pesky insect! Our survival is based on their survival. According to the USDA one out of every three bites of food that we consume is reliant on bee pollination. To put the deaths of the honeybees in a different light, one researcher asked Congress, “How would our government respond if one out of every three cows was dying?” What do you think?
Photo Credit: Todd Huffman