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Fighting to save the bees and other pollinators

June 30th, 2008

Clothianidin And Dead Bees

Over the last two years, bee keepers have lost hives at levels never before seen. U.S. beekeepers have lost a startling 35 percent of their colonies due to various causes since September 2007, according to government surveys conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Apiary Inspectors of America. The surveys didn’t separate out the CCD losses from normal losses to diseases that affect bees. But all agree that CCD is responsible for the surge of bee deaths.

That current estimated 2007-2008 loss rate is up 10 percent compared to a similar survey conducted the year before, signaling a potential dire future.

“Not only is this an economic issue for beekeepers and farmers that depend on the bees for pollinations. This is an environmental problem,’’ Mendes said. “The bees are the canary in the mine.”

In May, Germany banned several neo-nicotinoid pesticides, including clothianidin, after the chemical drifted to canola fields from a corn-growing operation and apparently killed masses of bees. Officials attributed the problem to the misapplication of the pesticide-coated corn seed and the unusual timing of the corn being planted just as the canola was pollinating.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which approved the use of clothianidin in 2003, while also noting its toxicity to bees, is now researching the problem, a spokesman said.

As a result of the German incident, a leading bee expert is calling for a U.S. ban of clothianidin. Canadian geneticist Joe Cummins believes the pesticide needs further investigation and that farmers should start planting pesticide-free bee refuges now, and not wait for definitive answers on CCD, which might not come in time.

Mendes doesn’t go so far as to endorse a return organic farming, but he does say the German ban should perk up ears in the United States, because the Germans are known for making science-based decisions.

He believes U.S. government’s concept of safe thresholds are part of the problem because chemicals that are not “lethal” on contact to honeybees (or other pollinators) can obtain EPA approval, even though their longterm effect could be deadly.

Both sides of the debate over pesticides and whether they are to blame for CCD are deeply worried about food supplies. Cummins says the threat to food is too great to ignore.

Bayer CropScience, the global insecticide company and a maker of clothianidin and other neo-nicotinoids, cites the same concern, noting on its website that the German farmers using the pesticide were under state orders to take steps to fight the western corn rootworm which threatened corn crops.

The company maintains that that its pesticide is safe if applied correctly.

“We are saddened by the loss of the bees…” said Dr. Richard Schmuck, a Bayer scientist, in a news release. But now authorities should work together to “improve application technology” for clothianidin so the ban can be lifted and innovative seed-treatment technology for safeguarding harvests can be made available to farmers again as quickly as possible.”

More Birds and Bees

Food is where all sides converge in agreement and concern, and it’s where the Pollinator Partnership enters the picture. The consortium wants to explain, well, the birds and the bees, to the American public.

They want the public to understand that bees, and other pollinators, are the sous chefs in the great natural kitchen. Without them, plants don’t produce the bounty that we humans at the top of the food chain depend upon.

Take one for instance: Almonds and the bees that pollinate them (in fact, a certain variety of honey bee) have such a close symbiotic relationship that their survival is intertwined.

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