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Photo credit: Anne Sherrod
CONTRIBUTION · 3rd April 2012
Miranda Holmes
When the final tally is done on humanity’s many post-Industrial Revolution screw ups, it is likely that the top of the list will be: They let the bees die.

Consider this: According to a 2010 UN Environmental Programme report, some 100 crop species provide 90% of food worldwide. Nearly three quarters of these crops depend for their existence on pollination by bees.

This process, which has succeeded for millennia, is now under serious threat.

Every winter since 2006 when the term colony collapse disorder (CCD) was coined, commercial bee keepers in Canada have been losing an average of 30% of their bees. (Last winter, south and central Vancouver Island bee keepers lost 80% of their colonies.) To stay in business they are now importing bees from New Zealand.

There is as yet no definitive scientific explanation for why the bees are dying – or simply disappearing – but there is a great body of evidence to suggest the culprit is a family of insecticides called neonicotinoids, which are now widely used in agriculture worldwide.

It’s been known since these chemicals came onto the market in 1995 that they were extremely toxic to bees. Tragically, as with so many of the highly toxic chemicals regulators have allowed to be chucked into our environment since the 1950s, it was only after the fact that independent scientific research began indicating quite how bad the problem is.

Long story short: It now seems likely that exposing bees to this family of insecticides compromises their immune systems and is roughly the equivalent of deliberately giving them AIDS.

How did Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) and other regulatory agencies around the world allow this to happen?

Simple: The primary information considered by the PMRA is provided by the manufacturers who make millions of dollars from their patented chemical compounds. As if this process wasn’t suspect enough, even when the studies provided are deemed insufficient, PMRA may provide temporary or conditional registrations.

Research by Anne Sherrod of the Valhalla Wilderness Society reveals that increasing commercial use of products based on imidacloprid (a particularly worrying neonicotinoid) has been based, since 2001, on registrations deemed “temporary pending further studies”.

According to the PMRA, imidacloprid has been actively under re-evaluation since 2009. However, Access to Information Act requests to the agency have produced no evidence to support this claim. Meanwhile, imidacloprid and other neonicotinoid products continue to be widely used on vegetables, fruit, nuts and grain.

The PMRA points out that these lethal products must come with labels warning farmers not to apply the insecticide when plants are in flower or bees are nearby. This vacuous mitigation ignores the fact that these systemic insecticides are absorbed into every part of the plant, including the pollen and nectar. Despite their well-documented threat to bees, the PMRA justifies approving these products because of their “value” to human food production.

In the U.S. more than a million people have signed a petition demanding a neonicotinoid insecticide ban. Similar action is being demanded in New Zealand.

Canada needs to catch up. Yes, we can all email our MPs, demanding immediate action to protect bees. We can also voice our concerns about the threats to bees posed by the PMRA to Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq.


And while we’re waiting for the politicians, we can each do our bit by thinking about bees when we are planting our gardens. Even apartment window boxes can help. (Helpful hint for those of us who need to be bee-friendly and deer-proof when we plant: Catmint, coneflower, foxglove, sunflower, lavender, sage, thyme and yarrow all fit the bill.)

These little yellow and black creatures are perhaps nature’s greatest gift to humanity and yet we’re allowing corporate greed and what amounts to regulatory malfeasance to threaten them with extinction. Seriously, are we out of our minds?


Miranda Holmes is an associate editor of Watershed Sentinel magazine. For more information on this topic, go to www.watershedsentinel.ca/content/disappearance-bees-and-pesticide-link.
Current Research Points to Monsanto
Comment by terry on 3rd April 2012
Bees Harmed By Neonicotinoid Pesticides, Studies Show
By Occupy Monsanto March 30, 2012 - 9:10 am Pesticides, Sustainability


By Kate Kelland

LONDON, March 29 (Reuters) – Scientists have discovered ways in which even low doses of widely used pesticides can harm bumblebees and honeybees, interfering with their homing abilities and making them lose their way.

In two studies published in the journal Science on Thursday, British and French researchers looked at bees and neonicotinoid insecticides – a class introduced in the 1990s now among the most commonly used crop pesticides in the world.

In recent years, bee populations have been dropping rapidly, partly due to a phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder. Scientists also fear pesticides are destroying bee populations, but it is not clear how they are causing damage.

Dave Goulson of Stirling University in Scotland, who led the British study, said some bumblebee species have declined hugely.

“In North America, several bumblebee species which used to be common have more or less disappeared from the entire continent,” while in Britain, three species have become extinct, he said in a statement.

The threat to bee populations also extends to Asia, South America and the Middle East, experts say.

Bees are important pollinators of flowering plants, including many fruit and vegetable crops. A 2011 United Nations report estimated that bees and other pollinators such as butterflies, beetles or birds do work worth 153 billion euros ($203 bln) a year to the human economy.

In the first of the Science studies, a University of Stirling team exposed developing colonies of bumblebees to low levels of a neonicotinoid called imidacloprid, and then placed the colonies in an enclosed field site where the bees could fly around collecting pollen under natural conditions for six weeks.

At the beginning and end of the experiment, the researchers weighed each of the bumblebee nests – which included the bees, wax, honey, bee grubs and pollen – to see how much the colony had grown.

Compared to control colonies not exposed to imidacloprid, the researchers found the treated colonies gained less weight, suggesting less food was coming in.

The treated colonies were on average eight to 12 percent smaller than the control colonies at the end of the experiment, and also produced about 85 percent fewer queens – a finding that is key because queens produce the next generation of bees.

In the separate study, a team led by Mickael Henry of the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) in Avignon tagged free-ranging honeybees with tiny radio-frequency identification microchips glued to each bee’s back. This allowed them to track the bees as they came and went from hives.

The researchers gave some of the bees a low dose of the neonicotinoid pesticide thiamethoxam which they knew would not kill them and compared them to a control group of bees that was not exposed to the pesticide.

The treated bees were about two to three times more likely to die while away from their nests, and the researchers said this was probably because the pesticide interfered with the bees’ homing systems, so they couldn’t find their way home.

Henry said the findings raised important issues about pesticide authorisation procedures.

“So far, they (the procedures) mostly require manufacturers to ensure that doses encountered on the field do not kill bees, but they basically ignore the consequences of doses that do not kill them but may cause behavioral difficulties,” he said in a statement. (Reporting by Kate Kelland; Editing by Karolina Tagaris)