Sunday, February 22, 2009

Pesticides and Bees

Many beekeepers have experienced horrifying losses of bees in the past two years due to a mysterious malady dubbed "Colony Collapse Disorder". This year, one beekeeper in Florida reports his 1,000 hives in December have dropped to only 50 colonies in just a month's time. Here in Connecticut there has been little if any reporting of CCD thus far. While there is no confirmed explanation for CCD, many beekeepers are starting to question some of the newer classes of pesticides being produced and used on the nation's food supply. A class of pesticides derived from tobacco, known as 'Neonicitinoids' are being used as a replacement for 'hard' pesticides used on cherries and apples, for instance. Neonicitinoids are used in seed treatments (soybean and corn) and as foliar sprays and are systemic, meaning they are absorbed by the plant. The German chemical company, Bayer, is a leading producer.

Could these substances be making their way into the nectar or pollen that bees feed on? Low levels of exposure could become toxic as these materials are brought into a hive on an ongoing basis and absorbed into the beeswax. Believe it or not, toxicology studies are submitted to the EPA by the producer, rather than an independent third party. If the company presents data showing the substance is safe and effective, the government apparently can accept and approve the use of the chemical. Ironically, Germany last year banned the use of neonicitinoids for agricultural use.

Meanwhile, I found this press release interesting:

NRDC Sues to Get Public Records on Pesticides
WASHINGTON - August 18 - The Natural Resources Defense Council filed a lawsuit today to uncover critical information that the US government is withholding about the risks posed by pesticides to honey bees. NRDC legal experts and a leading bee researcher are convinced that the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has evidence of connections between pesticides and the mysterious honey bee die-offs reported across the country. The phenomenon has come to be called “colony collapse disorder,” or CCD, and it is already proving to have disastrous consequences for American agriculture and the $15 billion worth of crops pollinated by bees every year.

EPA has failed to respond to NRDC’s Freedom of Information Act request for agency records concerning the toxicity of pesticides to bees, forcing the legal action.

“Recently approved pesticides have been implicated in massive bee die-offs and are the focus of increasing scientific scrutiny,” said NRDC Senior Attorney Aaron Colangelo. “EPA should be evaluating the risks to bees before approving new pesticides, but now refuses to tell the public what it knows. Pesticide restrictions might be at the heart of the solution to this growing crisis, so why hide the information they should be using to make those decisions?”

In 2003, EPA granted a registration to a new pesticide manufactured by Bayer CropScience under the condition that Bayer submit studies about its product’s impact on bees. EPA has refused to disclose the results of these studies, or if the studies have even been submitted. The pesticide in question, clothianidin, recently was banned in Germany due to concerns about its impact on bees. A similar insecticide was banned in France for the same reason a couple of years before. In the United States, these chemicals still are in use despite a growing consensus among bee specialists that pesticides, including clothianidin and its chemical cousins, may contribute to CCD.

In the past two years, some American beekeepers have reported unexplained losses of 30-90% of the bees in their hives. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), bees pollinate $15 billion worth of crops grown in America. USDA also claims that one out of every three mouthfuls of food in the typical American diet has a connection to bee pollination. As the die-offs worsen, Americans will see their food costs increase.

Despite bees’ critical role for farmers, consumers, and the environment, the federal government has been slow to address the die-off since the alarm bells started in 2006. In recent Congressional hearings, USDA was unable to account for the $20 million that Congress has allocated to the department for fighting CCD in the last two years.

“This is a real mystery right now,” said Dr. Gabriela Chavarria, director of NRDC’s Science Center. “EPA needs to help shed some light so that researchers can get to work on this problem. This isn’t just an issue for farmers -- this is an issue that concerns us all. Just try to imagine a pizza without the contribution of bees! No tomatoes. No cheese. No peppers. If you eat apples, cucumbers, broccoli, onions, squash, carrots, avocados, or cherries, you need to be concerned.”

Chavarria has spent more than 20 years studying bees, and has published a number of academic papers on the taxonomy, behavior and distribution of native bees.

NRDC filed the lawsuit today in federal court in Washington DC. In documents to be filed next month, NRDC will ask for a court order directing EPA to disclose its information about pesticides and bee toxicity.

The Message brought to you by Bee Culture, The Magazine Of American Beekeeping

Our bees have little exposure to farm chemicals in part because there's not much farming in our area and because we purposely place our bees away from agricultural areas. We do not use our bees as crop pollinators for the same reasons. Still, I hope Bayer will open up its testing data to outsiders and beekeepers--our nation's food supply demands it.

Our Next Litter: Puppies in June 2009

We're hoping our black lab, Mingus, is pregnant and if so we'll have a yellow-black litter ready to go in mid June. We have three requests thus far. If you're interested in a puppy, please be sure to contact us.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Snowflake heads West!

Last but not least, Snowflake left us Friday for her new home in Ridgefield, CT. Now known as "Chloe", she has a "big" brother pug named Bailey who will be showing her the rounds now. Whew! Our 1-year old lab, Bryce, will be a little lost without Snowflake as a constant playmate, but our loss is Chloe's gain: she joins a family with two children and of course Bailey who, as you can see, will soon be 'little brother'!

We're looking forward to our next litter in late spring. In the meantime, check back here for updates on our bees, labs, and whatever else we think of to fill these pages!