Is Modern Agriculture Killing Bees?

Now and again, the press has reported on the disappearance of large numbers of bees, and the potentially dire implications, since a large proportion of US agricultural pollination depends on the efforts of bees brought in by beekeepers. Nattering Naybob gave us a disheartening reminder as well as a bit of useful background, which inspired us to do our own digging. Consistent with the Naybob’s mutterings, the most likely culprits for the so-called colony collapse syndrome are pesticides and genetically modified crops.

First, Nattering Naybob:

One quarter of all mammal species face extinction in 30 years. (United Nations)

90% of all large fishes have disappeared from the world’s oceans in the past half century. (Nature Magazine)

If current trends continue, one half of all species of life on Earth will be extinct in 100 years.

Albert Einstein: “If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.”

Alarmist you say?? Only 2% of feral bee populations remain and since October 2006, at least 35% of the US domesticated Honeybee population have disappeared.

Guess what? Apis mellifera pedigreed from a 35 million year old ancestor in Northern Africa – the feral and domesticated Western honey bee populations are now facing possible extinction.

North America is the bread basket of the world, and bees are the only known source of pollination of one third of our crops. (Estimated at $14 Billion annually in fruits, nuts and vegetables).

Varroa destructor is an external parasitic mite that attacks honey bees. Varroa can only replicate in a honey bee colony. A significant mite infestation will lead to the death of a honey bee colony.

Varroa mites were accidentally introduced into the United States in the mid 1980s. Before this time, honey bees were found coast to coast across the United States.

Varroa have led to the virtual elimination of feral bee colonies in many areas and is a major problem for kept bees in apiaries.

Now only an estimated 2% of the feral honey bee population remains, and even this derives annually from honey bee swarms from beekeeping operations….

As if the virtual extinction of feral bees was not bad enough and the fact that Queen bees are only living about half as long as they once did….domesticated or apiarie bees are now disappearing at an alarming rate.

Since last October, the US has seen a decline in bee populations so dramatic that it eclipses all previous incidences of mass mortality.

The ferroa mite may be a contributing factor to what is being called Colony Collapse Disorder, which is threatening hives throughout North America and Europe.

Without explanation and virtually overnight… 30% to 90% of the populations in North American bee husbandry hives have disappeared. East coast colonies are down 70%, west coast are down 60%.

In the past unexplained disappearance disorders have been localized events, and it would be bad enough if this was just a localized phenomenon… however…

The CCD phenomenon (with similar mortality rates), has since spread to Europe. Wiping out bee populations in Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece and has been reported in the UK.

Since most of the world’s crops depend on bees for cross-pollination, CCD could have a huge impact on global food supplies.

Various theories for the disappearances have been bandied about such as varroa mites, mobile phone electro magnetic radiation, pesticides, mercury contamination, global warming and the farming of GM (genetically modified) crops….Much in the same way that prolonged exposure to ACE inhibitors causes immuno deficiency, anemia and nutritional malabsorption in humans.

Read here on how BEES were used to prove that altered genes can jump species…

A more conventional discussion from InvestorsInsight:

Recently, there’s been a great media buzz about the mysterious disappearance of hundreds of millions of honey bees in the United States. Beekeepers have helplessly stood by while up to 95% of their bees vanished into thin air. One Midwestern beekeeper lost 11,000 of his 13,000 hives, others in 24 states face losses of 60% to 80% on average. Internationally, the same phenomenon–to a lesser degree–has surfaced in Canada, Poland, Spain, Germany, and other European countries.

What’s the cause of the “colony collapse syndrome,” as it is now called? No one knows for sure, though there are plenty of theories.

Award-winning TV producer, investigative reporter and editor of Linda Moulton-Howe talked to various scientists about the bee bane. “Penn State entomologist Diana Cox-Foster, Ph.D., analyzed some bees found in deserted hives,” reports Moulton-Howe. “Dr. Cox-Foster has seen as many as five different viruses and unidentified fungi in the bees. She says that is two times more pathogens than she’s ever seen before in honey bees.”

Something is compromising the bees’ immune systems, other scientists agree; among the suspected culprits are modern pesticides and GM crops. And while no one agent might be solely responsible for the bees’ disease, Moulton-Howe wonders “what happens when farmers spray herbicides, fungicides, insecticides and rodenticides on land that has also genetically modified crops with pesticides built in?”

As an example, Monsanto’s “Round-up Ready” crops, which are modified to withstand the spraying of herbicides, are widely used in the U.S. Recently, though, weeds have developed a Round-up resistance–resulting in frustrated farmers spraying more and more of the weed killer, in combination with others, on their fields.

Eric Mussen, an entomologist and Extension Apiculturist at UC-Davis, also found that some fungicides approved by the EPA for bee safety, while not killing adult bees, are fatal for bee larvae and young bees.

How did the EPA react to his warnings?

“Well, they said they wanted to see some evidence or some data,” Mussen told “So, I sent them the evidence. And I cannot see that anything has changed since then and that was a couple of years ago.”

Another hypothesis is that nicotine-based pesticides, which have emerged in the last six years, might be messing with the memory of the honey bees, rendering them incapable of finding their way back to the hive.

“The interesting thing […] is that bees are leaving the colony and not coming back,” states Jerry Hayes, chief of the Apiary section at Florida’s Department of Agriculture, “which is highly unusual for a social insect to leave a queen and its brood or young behind. They are seemingly going out and can’t find their way back home.

“Imidachloprid [the most common nicotine-based pesticide], when it is used to control termites, does exactly the same thing. One of the methods it uses to kill termites is that the termites feed on this material and then go out to feed and can’t remember how to get home.”

It also causes their immune systems to collapse, says Hayes, adding that imidachloprid has recently evolved from a mere seed treatment to a foliage spray, often combined with fungicides to increase its efficacy.

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  1. Anonymous

    The BBC reported that some scientists studying the phenom believed that the root-cause was cellphones, whereby the certain frequency transmissions were somehow interfering and confusing the bees navigational abilities.

    Indeed the “bee problem” is potentially concerning, though many bee doomsayers also are concerned about “com trails” “Area 51” and the apparent fincl mkt manipulation by the “Plunge Protection Team”, making for potentially uncomfortable company.

  2. Mr. Naybob

    “Buck” Naked,

    A tip o the hat for the link, I have “Blogrolled” back to you.

    Keep fightin the good fight…

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