Bees Dying by the Millions
Just weeks ago in Elmwood, Canada, local beekeeper Dave Schuit lost 600 hives, or a total of 37 million bees. Another Canadian farmer lost eight of his 10 hives.
The bees started dying in droves just after corn in the area was planted, an alarming red flag since corn seeds are often treated with neonicotinoid pesticides, which are known to kill insects by attacking their nervous systems.
Some governments are finally taking action against these toxic chemicals, but clearly not fast enough. How many more millions of bees have to die before protection is granted to these invaluable creatures?
For those who aren’t aware, there are about 100 crop species that provide 90 percent of food globally and, of these, 71 are pollinated by bees.1
In the US alone, a full one-third of the food supply depends on pollination from bees — so if bee colonies continue to be devastated, major food shortages will inevitably result.
Large Bee Kills Are Now Becoming Commonplace
Something is wrong – very wrong – if millions of bees are dying off in a matter of days. Schuit noted that he now has to replace his queen bees every few months, instead of every few years, because they are dying off so frequently.2
Last month, an estimated 25,000 bumblebees were found dead in an Oregon parking lot as well, just a short time after 55 trees in the area had been sprayed with Safari, a neonicotinoid insecticide. Ironically, the dead bees were found just as National Pollinator Week was kicking off.
These chemicals are typically applied to seeds before planting, allowing the pesticide to be taken up through the plant’s vascular system as it grows. As a result, the chemical is expressed in the pollen and nectar of the plant, and hence the danger to bees and other pollinating insects.
Adding to the problem are new ‘air seeders,’ which spread pesticide dust into the air when they’re planted, further increasing the toxic chemicals’ reach. According to the Cornucopia Institute:3
“What seems to be deadly to bees is that the neonicotinoid pesticides are coating corn seed and with the use of new air seeders, are blowing the pesticide dust into the air when planted. The death of millions of pollinators was looked at by American Purdue University.
They found that, ‘Bees exhibited neurotoxic symptoms, analysis of dead bees revealed traces of thiamethoxam/clothianidin in each case. Seed treatments of field crops (primarily corn) are the only major source of these compounds.’”
Oregon, European Union Ban Pesticides in Wake of Massive Bee Deaths
At least one US state is taking matters seriously. Following the June incident that killed 25,000 bumblebees, the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) installed bee-proof nets over the trees to prevent any further bee deaths. They also announced that they were restricting the use of 18 pesticide products containing dinotefuran, a type of neonicotinoid. According to ODA:4
“ODA has confirmed that the bee deaths are directly related to a pesticide application on the linden trees… to control aphids. The pesticide product Safari was used in that application. Safari, with its active ingredient dinotefuran, is part of a group of insecticides known as neonicotinoids. Valent USA is the distributor of Safari. ODA collected samples… of bees and foliage in the area, and conducted laboratory analysis.”
The restriction focuses on pesticide products used by both professionals and homeowners for ornamental, turf and agricultural purposes, and will continue while the investigation of the bumblebee kill continues. ODA stated:5
“By adopting a temporary rule, ODA is taking action, in an abundance of caution, to avoid the potential of similar large bee kills this summer due to specific pesticide applications.”
Earlier this year the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) also released a report that ruled neonicotinoid insecticides are essentially “unacceptable” for many crops,6 and now the European Union has voted to ban neonicotinoid pesticides including clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiametoxam for two years, beginning December 1, 2013, to study their involvement with large bee kills they, too, are experiencing.7 RT News reported:8
“European countries have been given six months to use up their current stocks of the chemicals. Scientists will then have two years to determine whether the ban helps stop declines in bee populations, after which the restriction may be reviewed. Until that point, the pesticide ban will be upheld.”
Beekeeping Industry Sues EPA for Approval of Bee-Killing Pesticide
As Oregon and the EU take steps to ban neonicotinoids, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has green-lighted another pesticide that is a close cousin to these toxic chemicals. The EPA has already been sued once by beekeepers and environmental groups for failing to protect bees from neonicotinoid pesticides.
Now several beekeeping organizations and beekeepers have filed a legal action against the EPA for approving sulfoxaflor, a similar pesticide to neonicotinoids, which is expected to similarly damage bees’ nervous systems. Sulfoxaflor is considered by many to be a “fourth-generation neonicotinoid.”9
The case, which was filed by The National Pollinator Defense Fund, American Honey Producers Association, National Honey Bee Advisory Board, the American Beekeeping Federation, and beekeepers, notes that bees could potentially be exposed numerous times to sulfoxaflor as they are moved across the country to pollinate crops – with potentially disastrous impacts on bee populations. Said beekeeper Jeff Anderson:10
“EPA’s approval of Sulfoxaflor with no enforceable label protections for bees will speed our industry’s demise. EPA is charged under FIFRA [Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act] with protecting non-target beneficial insects, not just honeybees. EPA’s Sulfoxaflor registration press release says, ‘… the final label includes robust terms for protecting pollinators…’ This is a bold-faced lie!
There is absolutely no mandatory language on the label that protects pollinators. Further, the label’s advisory language leads spray applicators to believe that notifying a beekeeper of a planned application, absolves them of their legal responsibility in FIFRA to not kill pollinators.”
I recently visited the Rodale Institute and got a tour of their brand new Honeybee Conservancy and research facility. As reported on their website11:
“The 2013 Conservancy has a new physical arrangement and a whole new set of beds that include nectar plants that bloom throughout the season and incorporate biodynamic principles… We’ll be looking at the impacts of compost, compost extracts and biodynamic preparations on the health and vitality of the plants.”
At the Rodale Institute they believe that one of the solutions to the declining honeybee populations lies with individual honeybee stewards, and they offer classes in sustainable beekeeping practices toward that end. They even host hives on their 333-acre farm so even beginners can get involved. Clearly, if we want to protect bees and other pollinators, we’ve got to stop poisoning them with the large-scale use of toxic chemicals. But we can each do our own part, too, and that is what the Rodale Institute is all about.
Vanishing of the Bees Gives a Compelling Glimpse Into the Worldwide Implications of Bee Die-Offs
If you would like to learn more about the economic, political and ecological implications of the worldwide disappearance of the honeybee, check out the documentary film Vanishing of the Bees. If you’d like to get involved, here are four actions you can take to help preserve and protect our honeybees:
- Support organic farmers and shop at local farmer’s markets as often as possible. You can “vote with your fork” three times a day. (When you buy organic, you are making a statement by saying “no” to GMOs and toxic pesticides.)
- Cut the use of toxic chemicals in your house and on your lawn, and use only organic, all-natural forms of pest control.
- Better yet, get rid of your lawn altogether and plant a garden or other natural habitat. Lawns offer very little benefit for the environment. Both flower and vegetable gardens provide excellent natural honeybee habitats.
- Become an amateur beekeeper. Having a hive in your garden requires only about an hour of your time per week, benefits your local ecosystem, and you can enjoy your own honey! Worldofbeekeeping.com and beekeeping.org are but two websites that can help you get started.
The Bee-Action Campaign: Help Stop the Use of Toxic Neonicotinoids
Neonicotinoid pesticides are widely used in large-scale agriculture, but that’s not the only place they’re found. They’re also widely sold in garden centers (including big-name stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s) and are even found in seeds and plants you may purchase from your local nurseries.
Friends of the Earth has launched the Bee-Action Campaign to tell stores to take bee-killing pesticides like noeonicotinoids off of their shelves, and you can help by signing their petition now.
Sunflower Photo by Lisa Reagan