Honey Bees and Pesticides

by updated 2012/04/02

Finally some much needed attention is being paid to the role of certain pesticides in the Honey Bee disaster known as Colony Collapse Disorder.  This definitely falls into the category of “are any of us really surprised”?  I know I am not surprised, having long thought the evidence of pesticide playing a part in the disorder was plain to see.  But studies must be done and now the results of those studies are starting to be publicized.  The real question is will regulating authorities listen and stand up to the monster corporations that make millions on the sale and use of these pesticides?

Beekeepers and environmental organizations are paying attention of course, and have filed an emergency request to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to get some additional control and limitations on the use of the pesticides known as neonicotinoids Four years ago (!) a video on the dangers of pesticides to bees plainly stated the concerns everyone had at the time. Everyone at least it seems other than EPA officials and the pesticide manufacturers  Studies are now being completed that support the fears beekeepers and others had years ago.  Will these studies result in action now being taken to limit these pesticides?  It is just my old uneducated opinion, but here is what I think.

The neonicotinoid pesticides, like so many other chemicals were approved for use based in part on studies funded by the pesticide manufacturers.  Conflict of interest maybe?  Definitively.  This is a common procedure though because the regulators do not have the money to finance enough independent research to make sure products like this are safe before being approved.  Certainly the chemical manufacturers and even some of the regulators would claim that the industry studies are controlled and reviewed to the point where they can be relied on.  My common sense, however, tells me otherwise.

Now that enough time has passed so that independent studies are showing the long Honey Bee Collecting Nectarsuspected link between these pesticides and colony collapse, will action to limit the use of neonicotinoids be taken?  Don’t hold your collective breaths.  The pesticides are now not only very popular with farmers and big commercial food growers, they have made their way into hundreds of products used by homeowners and gardeners.  This is a multimillion, (maybe multibillion?), dollar industry now and companies like Bayer and others will not allow tighter regulation to occur without a big, expensive, fight.

Just as one example of agricultural use of these pesticides; 90% or more of all corn seed is coated with the chemicals.  When the corn grows, the chemical is then found in all parts of the corn plant, including the nectar and pollen that bees collect.  Now the manufacturers, and even some federal regulators, say the levels found in corn plants are not great enough to harm bees.  Recent studies, however, are starting to show otherwise.  Additionally, my pesky common sense is telling me that if the levels are high enough to control the insect pests of the corn, how could they not be high enough to have a harmful effect on the bees?

But how arrogant am I paying any attention at all to my common sense on this issue?  Maybe, just maybe, a whole lot less arrogant and less self-interested than these pesticide manufacturers are when they pay attention only to their bottom line.

Will Sig
1 Anthony Samsel

All systemic pesticides should be banned as they affect honeybees, other insects, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Please read my letter which was sent to Tom Vilsac at the USDA, and Lisa Jackson at the EPA conveying my concerns as a scientist and bee keeper.
http://www.ibrattleboro.com/article.php/20120327180107290
and at:
http://forumhome.org/save-our-bees-and-hummingbirds-an-open-letter-to-tom-vilsac-usda-and-li-p16646-78.htm

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2 Will

Thanks Anthony – I can always count on you to be on top of these sorts of issues and to add a lot of good information to my discoveries.

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3 Anthony Samsel

I am always glad to help your community. Here is another International site that is carrying my letter and a lot more scientists on the Bee subject now available in German, French, Spanish and other languages:
http://www.farmlandbirds.net/en/taxonomy/term/3

Best regards,

Anthony Samsel

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4 Steve

hi Will,
I’m not sure if all your readers will know the significance of the humble honey bee. From wikipedia:
“It is estimated that one third of the human food supply depends on insect pollination, most of which is accomplished by bees, especially the domesticated European honey bee…”
The bee is really a “big deal”.
Good post. Steve
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5 Will

It sure is Steve. I have seen claims that if the honey bee was to disappear quickly, mass chaos world wide would soon reign as a result of the ensuing food shortages. There are other similar pollinators like mason bees but they are all solitary insects, so we would be without honey. Now that would be tragic.

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6 Faythe

great article Will & including posts from replys. I am deathly allergic to any stinging or biting insect, but a few years ago I almost fell into a huge hole in the yard right out my bedroom, that ground wasps had made a comfy home. But before we took any action I had hubby snap some pictures for identification, so if they were honeybees I could call someone to move the nest. they turned out to be ground wasps & attacked hubby fiercely just by walking up to the hole! we found 3 more small holes around the yard. the county extension board gave us the remedy to kill the nests, which we had too because of the danger to me & their ferocity. it took several tries esp for the big nest closest to the house. I hated to do it, but it was them or me. otherwise I have naturalized my yard & left it tame & full of flowers, grasses & trees for all wildlife & ourselves to enjoy.
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7 Will

Yes we often have yellow jacket nests in the ground around here. If they make their home too close for safety then there is nothing you can do but get rid of them. Last summer some bald faced hornets made a nest in a shrub right outside our door. After the second time in a day someone got stung just walking out the door, I investigated and found the paper hive. As soon as it got dark they were history. On the other hand, a neighbor noticed bee going in and out of a crack in the wall of his barn. After looking in the unused tack room inside he found a hive between the walls. They were honey bees and a beekeeper came and moved them somehow.

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8 Binky

Four years ago they had some indications that this was a problem, yet everyone conveniently ignored it? It seems so typical that those in power to protect us and regulate things do not do their jobs. And the consequences of losing bees, or most of them, could be a real disaster.

The companies that want to bring a pesticide to market should be the ones that fund the necessary studies, but it should be through some sort of government agency which simply takes the money and then farms out the research so that it’s all at arm’s length.

The conflict of interest problem is the same with the drug industry doing the studies to get a new drug passed. How many drugs have been recalled lately due to “unforeseen” side effects? The drugs were obviously not tested well enough in the first place.
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9 Will

err, Binky… I think your brain is a little too full of good logic and common sense today. Better cut back on the vegetables!

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10 Tony McGurk

Excellent article Will. I am always amazed at the lack of common sense that authorities have in such matters. Common sense is one thing that authorities seem to lack especially when big dollars & big companies are involved.

The real question is will regulating authorities listen and stand up to the monster corporations that make millions on the sale and use of these pesticides?

With so much money at stake for the big companies I seriously doubt it. They will wait till things are at disastrous levels then simply look for someone else to blame. When will these authorities ever learn???Probably never!!!

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