Tag Archives: bees

UN Report Warns of Low Numbers of Bees and Pollinators

Last Friday, a new examination of several studies on the decline of pollinators was approved by a congress of 124 nations meeting in Kuala Lumpur. The report was conducted by a team of scientists from around the world who worked with the United Nations for more than two years to assess the Earth’s biodiversity.

The study will help provide world leaders with an idea of what is happening to the Earth’s biodiversity and what can be done to prevent a loss of diversity. The researchers found that many species of wild bees, butterflies and other pollinators are quickly moving towards extinction.

“We are in a period of decline and there are going to be increasing consequences,” said report lead author Simon Potts, the director of the Centre for Agri-Environmental Research at the University of Reading in England.

One of the consequences would be a loss of food that is dependent on pollinators including fruits, vegetables, coffee, and chocolate. The report states that 2 out of 5 species of invertebrate pollinators, such as bees and butterflies, are on the path toward extinction. Vertebrate pollinators, such as hummingbirds and bats, are facing extinction at a rate of 1 out of 6 species.

The report pointed out a handful of sources for the decline in biodiversity, including pesticide use, habitat loss to cities, disease, parasites and pathogens, and global warming.

“The variety and multiplicity of threats to pollinators and pollination generate risks to people and livelihoods,” the report stated. “These risks are largely driven by changes in land cover and agricultural management systems, including pesticide use. Pesticides, particularly insecticides, have been demonstrated to have a broad range of lethal and sub-lethal effects on pollinators in controlled experimental conditions.”

One of the more controversial class of pesticides are known as neonicotinoids. The “neonics” are a class of pesticide that has previously been linked to declines in bee populations. Neonics were developed in 1991 and commercial use began in the mid-1990s. Several studies have indicated that neonics may cause harm to local pollinators.

Commercial beekeepers began reporting around 2006 what is now known as colony collapse disorder, where entire colonies of bees die off with no obvious cause. The disorder has been reported in commercial colonies all over the world.

Potts did state that the number of managed hives has risen slightly from 2.5 million in 2012 to 2.7 million in 2016. Between 1961 and 2012, the United States saw an estimated loss of 3 millions hives due to colony collapse disorder.

Although pesticides are only one of several possible sources responsible for the threat to pollinators, it should be noted that the United States has experienced controversy over neonicotinoid research.

In May 2015, Truth In Media reported that 25 organizations representing farm workers, food safety organizations, and the environment sent a letter to officials with the USDA and Environmental Protection Agency. They called for an investigation into claims that scientists are facing pressure and retaliation for research that presents the controversial neonicotinoid insecticide in a negative light.

The groups said they were concerned about a report from Reuters that detailed threats to scientists who spoke out about the dangers of the pesticide. These threats included suspension without pay and threats of damage to careers. The scientists filed a petition in March 2015 seeking more protection.

Will the United Nations report affect the United States’ use of pesticides? What steps can individuals take to remedy the situation? These are important questions for each of us to ponder. The loss of biodiversity and subsequent loss of food diversity is a reality that all humanity will soon have to face. The more prepared and educated we are the more likely we will be able to care for and protect our families well into the future.

EPA Assessment Finds Mixed Results on Neonicotinoid Pesticides

The Environmental Protection Agency has found that the controversial class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids harm honeybees when used on cotton and citrus, but not on other crops like corn, berries and tobacco.

The “neonics” are a class of pesticide that has previously been linked to declines in bee populations. Neonics were developed in 1991 and commercial use began in the mid-1990s. Around 2006, commercial beekeepers began reporting what is now known as colony collapse disorder— where entire colonies of bees die off with no obvious cause. The disorder has been reported in commercial colonies all over the world. Several studies have implicated neonics, which are used to kill insects harmful to crops.

Due to the controversy around these studies, the EPA decided to conduct four scientific risk assessments to examine the neonics and how they affect bees on a chronic long-term basis. The first report, released on Wednesday, was conducted by the EPA and California’s environmental agency and only studied the effects on the honeybee population. Nearly one-third of the human diet depends on insect-pollinated plants, with honeybees pollinating 80% of those crops.

The EPA analysis found a “clear line of harm or no harm” when examining the effects of the pesticide imidacloprid, the most popular neonicotinoid. When bees bring nectar back to the hive with levels of concentration of imidacloprid that are above 5 parts per billion there are fewer bees, less honey, and according to Jim Jones, EPA’s assistant administrator for chemical safety and pollution prevention, “a less robust hive.” However, if the nectar concentration level was under 25 parts per billion there were no negative effects.

Jones told the AP that the levels of harm depended on the crop. While cotton and citrus fruits were found to be above the harmful concentrations, the levels were not harmful for corn and other vegetables, berries, and tobacco plants. Jones also said the first assessment found that treating seeds with the pesticides did not seem to harm the honeybees.

“I am not convinced that neonics are a major driver of colony loss,” Dennis vanEngelsdorp, University of Maryland entomologist, told the AP.  vanEngelsdorp did tell the AP he believes farmers are relying too heavily on the pesticides “against pests that are simply very scarce or not found in the landscape. There are studies (including EPA’s) that show no benefit to production when these products are used.”

However, Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director of the advocacy group Center for Biological Diversity, called the report “weak” and said the EPA ignored wild bees, such as bumblebees, which studies have indicated are more sensitive to neonicotinoids.

Once the EPA conducts the four assessments and accepts public comment, the agency may decide to act on the findings.

Neonicotinoids have also been the subject of a recent whistleblower complaint filed by a researcher with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

United States Department of Agriculture researcher Dr. Jonathan Lundgren filed an internal complaint in September 2014 accusing the USDA of retaliating against him in response to his neonicotinoids research. The complaint was dismissed by the USDA and Lundgren was suspended in October 2014. The West Field Times reports that the USDA said Lungren was suspended for three days after USDA investigators found emails among his research staff that included indecent jokes.

On October 28 2015, Lundgren filed a complaint with the federal Merit Systems Protection Board after his supervisors allegedly began to “impede or deter his research and resultant publications.” Lundgren’s complaint alleges that his supervisors suspended him in retaliation for his research on neonicotinoid pesticides and also calls for an investigation of both the USDA and the EPA.

This is the not the first time the USDA has been called out for putting politics before science. In early May of this year, Truth In Media reported that 25 organizations representing farm workers, food safety organizations, and the environment sent a letter to officials with the USDA and Environmental Protection Agency. They called for an investigation into claims that scientists are facing pressure and retaliation for research that presents the controversial neonicotinoid insecticide in a negative light.

The groups said they were concerned about a report from Reuters that detailed threats to scientists who speak out about the dangers of the pesticide. These threats included suspension without pay and threats of damage to careers. The scientists filed a petition in March asking for more protection.

PEER executive director Jeff Ruch told Common Dreams the petition was “based on the experiences of 10 USDA scientists.” The scientists allegedly faced backlash for research on neonicotinoid insecticides and glyphosate — an ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup Herbicide — as well as their investigation of other topics, including genetically modified crops.

Obama Administration Launches New Strategy to Combat Declining Bee Population

On May 19th, the federal Pollinator Health Task Force released a new plan to reverse the rapidly declining honeybee and monarch butterfly populations. The “National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators” calls for making millions of acres of federal land more suitable for bee colonies, as well as spending millions on research and possibly using fewer pesticides which have been linked to cancer.

Around 2006, commercial beekeepers began reporting what has become known as colony collapse disorder— entire colonies of bees died off with no obvious cause. The disorder has been reported in commercial colonies all over the world.

The Associated Press reports:

“While putting different type of landscapes along highways, federal housing projects and elsewhere may not sound like much in terms of action, several bee scientists told The Associated Press that this a huge move. They say it may help pollinators that are starving because so much of the American landscape has been converted to lawns and corn that don’t provide foraging areas for bees.

“This is the first time I’ve seen addressed the issue that there’s nothing for pollinators to eat,” said University of Illinois entomologist May Berenbaum, who buttonholed President Barack Obama about bees when she received her National Medal of Science award last November. “I think it’s brilliant.”‘

White House science adviser John Holdren discussed declining bee populations and monarch butterflies, stating that “pollinators are struggling.”

Under the plan 7 million acres of bee habitats would be restored over the next five years. This will require a move from monocropping (growing a single crop at a time) to more diverse planting for the pollinators. The changes will affect the Department of Interior, Housing and Urban Development, and the Department of Transportation.

Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency will increase studies into the safety of controversial neonicotinoid pesticides. The “Neonics” are a class of pesticides which have previously been linked to declines in bee populations. They were developed in 1991 and commercial use began in the mid-1990s. Several studies have implicated Neonics, which are used to kill insects harmful to crops, as a possible cause for colony collapse disorder.

Recently researchers with Lund University in Sweden found that wild bee populations exposed to the nicotine-based systemic insecticides had a reduction in density, less reproduction and colonies that did not experience growth.

The Swedish scientists conducted the study in the wild, the first of its kind. They examined 16 patches of land with canola seeds, half of which were sprayed with the pesticide and the other half which were not sprayed. The researchers found that wild bees displayed negative health effects while honeybee populations, which pollinate crops with assistance from humans, did not display the illness.

A second study found that in laboratory tests bees are not deterred by the pesticide but may in fact prefer crops sprayed with the chemicals. This could indicate an addiction to the nicotine in the pesticides. Both studies were published in the journal Nature.

 Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director for the advocacy group Center for Biological Diversity, told the AP that the plan was still not enough. Friends of the Earth food program director Lisa Archer expressed similar sentiments, stating, “Failure to address this growing crisis with a unified and meaningful federal plan will put these essential pollinators and our food supply in jeopardy.”

Another Study Finds Common Pesticide Causing Harm to Bees

Researchers with Lund University in Sweden found that wild bee populations exposed to a class of neuro-active, nicotine-based systemic insecticides known as Neonicotinoids had a reduction in density, less reproduction and colonies that did not experience growth.

The “Neonics” are a class of pesticides which have previously been linked to declines in bee populations. They were developed in 1991 and commercial use began in the mid-1990s. Around 2006 commercial beekeepers began reporting what has become known as colony collapse disorder— entire colonies of bees died off with no obvious cause. The disorder has been reported in commercial colonies all over the world. Several studies have implicated Neonics, which are used to kill insects harmful to crops.

The Swedish scientists conducted the study in the wild, the first of its kind. They examined 16 patches of land with canola seeds, half of which were sprayed with the pesticide and the other half which were not sprayed. The researchers found that wild bees displayed negative health effects while honeybee populations, which pollinate crops with assistance from humans, did not display the illness. A second study found that in laboratory tests bees are not deterred by the pesticide but may in fact prefer crops sprayed with the chemicals. This could indicate an addiction to the nicotine in the pesticides. Both studies were published in the journal Nature.

The study’s lead author Maj Rundlof  said the reduction in bee health was  “more dramatic than I ever expected. Rundlof  told Reuters that the bees sprayed with the pesticide also had not gained any significant weight when compared to the normal colonies.

David Fischer, director of pollinator safety for neonicotinoid manufacturer Bayer CropScience, said the study was faulty, accusing Rundlof and her team of using “an overdose” of the pesticide. However, Rundlof said the dosages used came from recommendations in Bayer CropScience documents.

Although Rundlof’s study marks the first time the effects of Neonics on bees in the wild were analyzed, the pesticides have previously been linked to a number of health issues for the bee population.

In July 2014 Dutch researchers published a study in the journal Nature which found a strong correlation between pesticides measured in surface freshwater and lower population growth rates of 14 species of birds in the Netherlands. The study suggests the bird population may be drinking infected water or feeding their offspring infected insects.

Twenty nine scientists from four continents spent five years researching eight hundred published studies that examined the effect of Neonics on ecosystems that support food production and wildlife. Their research was published in the journal Environment Science and Pollution Research. The Worldwide Integrated Assessment of the Impact of Systemic Pesticides on Biodiversity and  Ecosystems (WIA) was produced by Task Force on Systemic Pesticides. The Task Force was formed in response to concerns about the impact of systemic pesticides on biodiversity and ecosystems. ”

The team said their study was, “the single most comprehensive study of Neonics ever undertaken”. The scientists research found that the Neonics are as great a risk to the environment as the previously banned DDT. In some cases the effects were found to be 5,000 to 10,000 times more toxic to bees than DDT.