You think the price of food is steep now? Just imagine what it will cost when our main, natural pollinators are gone. Since 2006, honey bees have been disappearing rapidly, by about 1/3 of existing bee populations per year! The official name is “Colony Collapse Disorder” but don’t allow that to deceive you. As might be expected, the real cause is unabated human interference with Mother Nature. My mother recalled a documentary where the all too undiscriminating and reckless use of pesticides in China has forced the Chinese to arm their citizenry with little brushes, and have them walk down the rows of trees in their orchards to pollinate the flowers artificially. Mind-boggling, and economical madness at the same time.
During the past couple of months, I have seen several articles pointing in the same two directions – pesticides and electromagnetic radiation. The green design blog Inhabitat recently alerted its readership to growing evidence that cellphones in use emits radiation that confuses bees to the point of completely losing their sense of direction, and eventually dying before finding their way back to the hive. This past week, the World Health Organization officially listed cell phones on the growing list of carcinogens, so apparently bees aren’t the only creatures affected by our use of this icon of modern convenience. For now, I will focus on what I think is a greater cause of the problem. It is definitely the easier of the two, to remedy.
Here’s the skinny… Honey bees alone are responsible for pollinating more than 30% of our crops. This number does not take into account all other wild forms of bees, who do the same thing. Aside from the late 1980’s introduction of the East Asian parasitic varroa mite which initially caused some decline, we now have a completely different set of manmade problems. In the 1990’s, the German chemical giant Bayer developed a group of systemic pesticides collectively known as “neonicotinoids”. Systemic means that plants absorb the chemicals through the roots. It is present in the entire plant, as opposed to only as a surface application that can be reduced by washing before eating. The three big trade names to be on the lookout against are Clothianidin, Imidacloprid, and Thiomethoxam, which all occur in products with yet other names. Read your labels! Even minute doses of this poison weakens the bees’ natural defense against diseases they might otherwise survive, for example a a parasitic microsporidia fungus, Nosema ceranae. As Nosema had been simultaneously linked with losses in honey bee population, the pesky fungus was incorporated into the research. Results proved that the mortality of the Nosema fungus was significantly increased when paired with microscopic doses of Imidacloprid. The first to suggest the synergistic relationship between the natural pathogens and the pesticides was professor Joe Cummins in a writing for ISIS – Institute of Science in Society. You can read more here: http://www.i-sis.org.uk/Parasiticfungi.php
As the death of honey bees took on epidemic proportions across Europe, people took notice. Neonicotinoid pesticides have now been banned by several European governments, Germany included. Italy experienced no wide-spread hive death in 2009, after the neonicotinoids were banned there. This was a first since 1999! On the US end of things, a leaked document shows that the EPA is well aware of the problem. The document states that Bayer’s “highly toxic” product is a “major risk concern to non-target insects” – (read honey bees). On yet another green blog, I found this interesting tidbit, quoted from an EPA science fact sheet on Clothianidin:
“Available data indicate that clothianidin on corn and canola should result in minimal acute toxic risk to birds. However, assessments show that exposure to treated seeds through ingestion may result in chronic toxic risk to non-endangered and endangered small birds (e.g., songbirds) and acute/chronic toxicity risk to non-endangered and endangered mammals. Clothianidin has the potential for toxic chronic exposure to honey bees, as well as other nontarget pollinators, through the translocation of clothianidin residues in nectar and pollen..In honey bees, the effects of this toxic chronic exposure may include lethal and/or sub-lethal effects in the larvae and reproductive effects in the queen.”
Currently, the seeds growing in millions of acres of corn, soy and wheat fields are routinely treated with these pesticides, the fruits of which are subsequently ingested by an all too complacent public.
Mark Twain once remarked that “we have the best government money can buy”. Not much has changed since then – in fact, quite the contrary. The EPA is under heavy pressure from the Chemical Giants who are pouring millions into corporate lobbying efforts in order to keep these toxins on the market. The stakes are high – as stated earlier, more than 30% of the US food supply depends on the honey bees to do their magic. Although the EPA has already stated that they will re-evaluate their decision to allow the neoniconitoids, this is not expected to happen anytime soon, or at an acceptable rate. Let’s follow the lead of those sensible Europeans – turn up the heat and start making noise! For starters, join the company of American beekeepers, Pesticide Action Network, Pesticide Watch, Slow Food USA, and others and sign the petition urging the EPA to take immediate action. After that, pass it on to everyone you know. This is a global issue and we all need to take action. I know this sounds dramatic, but it is true – without bees, the concept of Colony Collapse will be but a memory as our entire ecosystems will follow. I urge you all to perpetuate and sustain the buzz (pun intended) – LET’S ALL BAND TOGETHER TO BAN NEONICONITOIDS NOW!
Lastly, I have a confession to make. I have an unopened bottle of Bayer’s Advanced All-In-One Rose and Flower Care concentrate sitting on a shelf in my garden shed. I bought it last year when I discovered that my supposedly disease resistant Rosa Rugosa had gotten afflicted by thrips and nothing I tried seemed to work. For some reason though, ever suspicious and sceptic, I stalled on using it, thinking I would make one last attempt to battle them with a more benevolent method before resorting to the big guns. While writing this posting, I went outside to look at the label. Wouldn’t you know it – Imidacloprid is listed as an active ingredient! A whole 0.15% of it! After what I have found out, you can rest assured that this bottle will remain unopened on my shelf, as a testament to my gullibility and vain strife for the perfect garden. I guess I’ll consider my wasted investment a $30 life insurance for bees. As long as it’s locked in the bottle, it won’t hurt them. So what if my yard doesn’t look perfect – the bees still seem to like it, as they buzz around it in their daily forage for food. Listening to them makes me so glad I never got to use it…