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WATCH: The Death Of Bees Explained

In 2015 the bees are still dying in masses. Which at first seems not very important until you realize that one third of all food humans consume would disappear with them. Millions could starve. The foes bees face are truly horrifying – some are a direct consequence of human greed. We need to help our small buzzing friends or we will face extremely unpleasant consequences.

Read full story · Posted in Yay Bees

READ: Stung By Dead Bees

By Glen Martin via

Commercial pollinators demand that regulators protect honeybees from potent insecticides. 

For about two weeks in the early spring, the San Joaquin Valley is a vast confection of pink and white, and the air is heavy with a magnolia-like scent. To some, the odor may seem overpowering, almost cloying. But to Jeff Anderson, a beekeeper in the small Stanislaus County town of Oakdale, it is the smell of money.

Oakdale is near the center of California’s almond belt, and the pastel froth across the valley floor consists of hundreds of millions – maybe billions – of almond tree blooms. Each little blossom can produce a highly valuable nut – the 2012 crop was worth $4.8 billion. But the blossoms can’t pollinate themselves.

That’s where Anderson’s bees come in. He sells honey, but he gets most of his income by providing pollination services to Central Valley growers. Some 35 percent of the world’s food crops – including almonds, plums, kidney beans, okra, coffee, and watermelons – must be pollinated by insects to produce edible fruits, vegetables, and nuts, not to mention the seeds to sustain ensuing generations. Among all the insect pollinators, honeybees do most of the work.

In early spring, the California almond industry requires approximately 1.4 million hives, or 60 percent of the nation’s managed colonies. With so much demand, you would think that Anderson’s migratory pollination business would be secure. But his bees are dying, and his income is shriveling in direct proportion to their decline.

On this day in March, Anderson sits at the dining room table in his home, a prefabricated structure in a large, well-stocked compound filled with heavy equipment and stacks of bee boxes. “I had 3,200 colonies last spring,” he says. “Now I’m at about 600 colonies, and they’re not in great shape. At the peak of the pollination season, a typical colony will have 50,000 [worker] bees. Now, we’re down to about 30,000 bees per colony.”

To show me the problem, Anderson drives to a nearby almond orchard where his sons – Jeremy, Kyle, and Mitchell – and daughter, Alyssa, manage a number of colonies in boxes tucked under the trees. The day is sunny and warm – perfect pollinating weather – and the bees are out and about. Except it doesn’t sound that busy. In a typical almond grove at the peak of bloom, the air positively vibrates with the susurrus of working bees everywhere. Here, you have to scan the tree canopy carefully to spot bees: one here, another over there. Most of the blossoms are vacant.

Anderson dons his beekeeper’s protective suit, helmet, and veil to take a closer look at the bee boxes. He fires up his smoker – a bellows-like device beekeepers use to puff smoke into colonies they are inspecting. The smoke dulls the bees’ receptors, preventing them from detecting pheromones that stimulate the hive occupants to attack an intruder.

After directing a couple of puffs to the bottom of a hive, Anderson pops off the lid and peers into a “super,” a box containing hanging frames of wax sheets where the bees build comb to brood larvae and store honey. Even to my untrained eye, the super seems deficient of bees.

“Weak,” mutters Anderson. “A really weak colony.” He points to a windrow of dead bees outside the hive. “Sick or dying bees are immediately removed [by worker bees],” he says. “You always see some dead bees outside a colony. But that’s a lot here. I’d say much more than normal. Unfortunately, that’s the new ‘normal.’ “

Moribund beehives aren’t confined to orchards in the San Joaquin Valley. Colony collapse disorder (CCD), as the phenomenon is known, has plagued honeybee populations across the developed world. The syndrome is defined by the USDA as a dead colony with neither adults nor dead bee bodies, but with a live queen and usually honey and immature bees still present. No cause has been scientifically proven.

Although colony losses directly attributable to CCD have declined, reports of honey bee colony losses are increasing. In an annual survey released in May by the Bee Informed Partnership, a consortium of universities and research laboratories, thousands of beekeepers reported losing 42 percent of their colonies in the past year. That is well above the 34 percent loss reported for the same period in 2013 and 2014, and it is the second-highest loss recorded since year-round surveys began in 2010.

A devout Seventh Day Adventist, Anderson puts great stock in scripture and in the Adventist ethos, which emphasizes a vegetarian diet and reverent stewardship of the natural world. He – and many other beekeepers in North America and Europe – are confident they’ve determined the cause of colony collapse: a new generation of pesticides known as neonicotinoids – “neonics” for short.

“We are losing huge numbers of bees where neonics are applied,” says Anderson. “And the only areas where there isn’t massive pollinator decline have little or no agriculture, like the remote parts of Montana. It is clear that neonicotinoids are driving this thing.”

Introduced in the 1990s, neonics are a class of neuroactive nicotine-analog insecticides that may be applied at the plant root, sprayed onto foliage, or used as seed coating. By the early 2000s they were in wide use in Europe, Canada, and the United States. These systemic insecticides have largely replaced organophospate and pyrethroid pesticides, which had supplanted organochlorine pesticides such as DDT and Aldrin. Chemical companies developed each group to counter the deficiencies of its predecessor. For instance, although the organochlorines themselves weren’t acutely toxic to mammals, they were highly stable, accumulating in the soil and in ecosystem food webs potentially for hundreds of years.

Enter the neonics, which act on the central nervous system of insects in ways similar to the natural insecticide nicotine. They cause paralysis that leads to death, often within a few hours. Although they do not appear to cause long-term harm to fish, mammals, or birds, they do persist in the environment and have been found as residues in many foods.

Unlike earlier families of pesticide, neonics are water soluble and enter a plant’s vascular tissue directly. This means a treated plant’s leaves, woody tissue, blooms, pollen, and nectar can become toxic to insects, and for long periods of time – good news for crops that must be defended against ravenous bugs, but devastating for bees.

“When bees forage on plants treated with neonicotinoids, they bring contaminated pollen and nectar back to the colony,” Anderson says. “With neonics, the exposure is constant, never ending.”

Usually the pesticide isn’t applied at levels high enough to kill foraging bees outright. But bees eat pollen, and over time the neonicotinoids can sicken and kill them. Worse, most of the nectar they collect is converted to honey and fed to the colony’s larvae – with potentially disastrous results.

In 2010 Bayer CropScience voluntarily changed its product labels to remove almonds from the list of uses for imidacloprid, the most widely used neonicotinoid, registered in more than 120 countries. Direct application of neonics on almond trees is now minimal. But bees – including those brought directly into the orchards at pollinating season – forage widely on surrounding weeds and wildflowers, picking up insecticide residues that accumulate in their bodies but aren’t immediately lethal.

“It can wipe out an entire colony, or it can just weaken it – slashing the number of working bees – as we’re seeing in these almond orchards,” Anderson says, fitting the lid back on the hive.

His conviction that neonics are a cause of declining colonies is shared by many other beekeepers. One longtime friend, Steve Ellis, brings his hives to the Central Valley each year from Minnesota, where Anderson, too, maintains a home. Ellis says incidences of colony collapse disorder accelerated dramatically when the application of neonicotinoids became widespread.

Neonicotinoids are now used on nearly all corn and canola crops, and about half of all soybeans. “They’re used in seed coatings and on nursery stock,” Ellis says. “It is not a coincidence that incidents of colony collapse have tracked the expansion of neonicotinoid use. They are directly correlated.”

Pesticide manufacturers insist that evidence suggests honeybee declines and incidences of colony collapse are caused by multiple factors, including mites and diseases that affect honeybees. By 2006, seven different neonicotinoid-active ingredients had been approved by federal and state regulators and were being widely marketed.

Despite data collected since then implicating neonics in colony decline, commercial beekeepers and honey producers say they got nowhere with administrative complaints to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and state regulators. “Unfortunately, everybody circles the wagons when you bring up the subject of agricultural chemical usage,” Ellis says. “That’s especially the case with neonics.”

“The problem is, [big agriculture] has gone from a pest-eradication policy to a pest-prevention policy,” Anderson says. “Unfortunately, these poisons are not selective, and they’re wiping out beneficial insects as well. The threat isn’t just to beekeepers. The entire food-production system is at risk.”

So Ellis and Anderson went to court.

The two migratory beekeepers first brought suit in Minnesota, where Ellis operates a honey farm. After pesticide overspray from neighboring land killed bees in their hives, they joined a third beekeeper to sue state regulators for negligence. The case was summarily dismissed by the trial court, but in 2005 the Minnesota Supreme Court reversed in part and remanded. (Anderson v. State Dept. of Nat. Res., 693 N.W. 2d 181 (Minn. 2005).)

Later, when their hives in California began to fail, Ellis became lead plaintiff in a case brought in 2013 by beekeepers and public interest groups against the EPA. The complaint alleges the agency lacked proper procedural frameworks and risk assessments when it authorized expanded use (2 million pounds applied annually on about 100 million acres) of clothianidin and thiamethoxam, two potent neonicotinoids.

The plaintiffs maintain that by permitting new uses for the chemicals without affording notice in the public register or allowing for sufficient public comment, the agency is violating the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) (7 U.S.C. §§ 136-136y), the Endangered Species Act (16 U.S.C. § 1531-1544), and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) (5 U.S.C. § 501-706). They seek to have the EPA vacate its registrations and conditional-use approvals of the two chemicals, and consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to insure that any agency action “is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered species or threatened species.” (See 16 U.S.C. § 1536(a)(2). (Ellis v. Bradbury, No. 13-CV-1266 (N.D. Cal. filed Mar. 21, 2013).)

The EPA and defendant – intervenors Bayer CropScience, Syngenta Crop Protection, CropLife America, and Valent U.S.A. challenged the suit based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction, failure to state a claim, ripeness, standing grounds, and failure to exhaust administrative remedies. Last year U.S. District Judge Maxine M. Chesney dismissed several of the plaintiffs’ claims, but granted leave to amend the complaint. She permitted claims against more than a dozen products under the Endangered Species Act to survive. (Ellis v. Bradbury, 2014 WL 1569271 (N.D. Cal.).) Plaintiffs filed a second amended complaint in May 2014.

“This is a national lawsuit on extremely serious misregistration [of chemicals], but the problem is that the legal system moves very slowly,” Ellis says. “While our case works its way through the courts, the injuries continue in the field.”

Around the same time Ellis was filed, Jeff Anderson joined a coalition of commercial beekeepers and honey producers to petition the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for review of the EPA’s registration of a new insecticide, sulfoxaflor, which is related to neonicotinoids. In 2013 the EPA approved three formulations produced by Dow AgroSciences, mitigated by reduced application rates, increased minimum application intervals, and product labels to protect pollinators. The agency acknowledged the potential risks to bees, but concluded the benefits of sulfoxaflor – including its unique mode of action and strong potential to replace older and more toxic pesticides – outweighed the risks. Petitioners allege the EPA skewed its analysis of sulfoxaflor’s risks and benefits by discounting its adverse effects on the beekeeping industry and on crops that depend on bees for pollination. (Pollinator Stewardship Council v. EPA, No. 13-72346 (9th Cir. petitioner’s opening brief filed Dec. 6, 2013).)

Greg C. Loarie is a staff attorney with Earthjustice in San Francisco and lead petitioners’ counsel in the case. “Ellis attempts to reopen the discussion on older neonics,” he explains. “Pollinator is perhaps more clear-cut, in that we contend the EPA did not follow its own guidelines when it registered sulfoxaflor under FIFRA.”

Loarie notes that the EPA typically requires acute-toxicity tests on adult bees to determine the safety of neonicotinoids. But he asserts, “Any attempts to look into sublethal effects of sulfoxaflor were halfhearted at best. And sublethal effects are really the critical issue: The bees are bringing back contaminated nectar and pollen to the colonies – they feed that to the brood, the brood dies, and the colony collapses.”

Robert G. Dreher, then an acting assistant attorney general, responded in the EPA’s answering brief that “petitioners’ argument is based on a flawed, overly restrictive view of how EPA evaluates risk to pollinators.” The agency noted, Dreher wrote, “that for migratory beekeepers, it is extremely difficult to characterize risk since free roaming bees cannot be confined and there is no way to quantify their exposure to all sources of risk.”

The petitioners in Pollinator hope to put the EPA on notice that it must evaluate all possible colony impacts – not just the effects on adult bees – before registering a pesticide. “Under FIFRA, a cost-benefit standard applies to pesticides,” Loarie says, “so you could have a risky pesticide approved if the benefits are considered substantial [as with sulfoxaflor]. We say, if you want to do that, you have to do a genuine assessment ofall the risks.”

In a third California suit, Earthjustice represents a coalition of public interest groups that allege that the state’s Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) is dragging its feet on a 2009 requirement to reevaluate pollinator impacts caused by four neonicotinoids. The plaintiffs say the department is simultaneously allowing the pesticides’ expanded use, in violation of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). (Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) v. Calif. Dep’t of Pesticide Regulation, No. RG14731906 (Alameda Super. Ct. filed Jul. 8, 2014).)

“The PANNA case is a little wonky,” Loarie says. “It really boils down to a fundamental disagreement over CEQA: DPR says CEQA doesn’t apply because there is a list of issues and activities – including pesticide regulation and timber harvesting – that is exempt from a mandated environmental impact report. But it’s clear the law does demand an impact analysis of these programs equivalent in scope to a formal EIR. DPR, however, is translating this list as a free ride – it’s claiming no meaningful review is required.”

Indeed, the DPR and manufacturers cite a recent appellate opinion stating, “The Legislature found certification warranted, in part, because the ‘preparation of environmental impact reports and negative declarations for pesticide permits would be an unreasonable and expensive burden on California agriculture and health protection agencies.’ ” (Californians for Alternatives to Toxics v. Calif. Dept. of Pesticide Regulation, 136 Cal. App. 4th 1049, 1059 (2006) (citing Cal. Code Regs., tit. 3, § 6100, sub. (a)(6).)

Although the DPR does conduct reevaluations of previously approved pesticides, Loarie contends the reviews are perfunctory and typically have no moderating effect on pesticide use. “Even though these [four] neonicotinoids are still being reevaluated, they’re still being applied because use can continue during the review process,” Loarie says. “[R]eevaluation is a black hole for pesticides – it can take years.”

In April, Judge George C. Hernandez Jr. issued a tentative ruling directing the DPR to set aside and vacate registration of two neonicotinoids – Venom and Dinotefuran 20SG – pending the agency’s reevaluation. Noting that the DPR hadn’t amended its regulatory certification program in 35 years, Hernandez held that the law requires the department to apply current CEQA analysis in deciding whether to register pesticides. He concluded, “By skipping the alternatives analysis and jumping straight to the implied finding that for economic reasons farmers need access to new compounds to address insect resistance management, the document provided inadequate public disclosure.” (Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) v. California Dep’t of Pesticide Regulation, No. RG14731906 (Alameda Super. Ct. order Apr. 10, 2015).)

Last year the Legislature passed AB 1789, which requires the DPR to complete its reevaluation of neonicotinoids by 2018, and to institute new review practices by 2020. (See Cal. Food and Agric. Code § 12838.) But Loarie isn’t mollified, noting that the statute permits the agency to extend that deadline if it needs more time. Even though DPR admits there may be a problem with neonics, he says, “it allows expanded use during the reevaluation period. That’s only incremental expansion, but the results are devastating.”

When oral argument in Pollinator was presented to a Ninth Circuit panel in April, Loarie’s concerns about neonicotinoids’ toxicity seemed to carry weight. The judges alluded to “significant limitations” in the EPA’s evaluation of toxicity studies prior to its approval of sulfoxaflor.

Judge N. Randy Smith said the agency seemed to be applying a flexible set of standards. “[The EPA studies] don’t meet OECD [Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development] guidelines, they don’t test the effect of the poison on brood development, [or] test long-term colony health,” Smith said. “And yet you are going to rely on [the studies]? That’s my problem.”

EPA attorney John T. Do responded that the agency’s mitigation measures for sulfoxaflor were “not necessarily reliant” on studies that tested its effects on hive health.

Judge Mary M. Schroeder quickly countered, “They’re not reliant on anything.”

“They’re reliant on common sense,” Do replied, eliciting smiles from the judges.

In response to requests for comment on the federal neonics litigation, the Department of Justice’s Environmental Defense Section referred to their court briefs. But in regard to the PANNA case, California Department of Pesticide Regulation spokesperson Charlotte Fadipe says the correlation between neonicotinoids and colony collapse disorder is not as clear-cut as the plaintiffs claim.

“DPR is at the forefront of examining the role [neonicotinoids] play and how to mitigate for them,” Fadipe says. “But the truth is, we’re facing a multifaceted agricultural problem.”

Fadipe cited research by the U.S. Department of Agriculture indicating that a parasite known as the Varroa mite is a primary culprit in U.S. incidents of colony collapse disorder. She also notes that research in Australia, where neonicotinoids are used, suggests malnutrition may play a major role in degrading the health of bee colonies.

Still, Fadipe says, DPR is considering all the possible impacts of neonicotinoids, including sublethal effects on hives. And she distinguishes between the department’s “conditional registration” status for pesticides and its reevaluation process.

Conditional registration means that DPR has received enough data to determine that no significant adverse effects to humans or the environment are expected, but additional data is still required. Reevaluation, Fadipe says, occurs when there is some indication that the pesticide “may have caused or is likely to cause an adverse effect to people or the environment.” The process “allows DPR to require [pesticide] companies to conduct tests and submit additional data.” Reevaluation of the four pesticides targeted in the PANNA case, for example, has been underway since 2009.

Fadipe says DPR is being thorough – not dilatory. “We are always worried if we are doing enough,” she says. “The science is getting sharper. We’re finding things we would have missed 20 years ago – and that sometimes leads to more restrictions than some people care to see.”

The manufacturers of neonicotinoids maintain that the entire class of pesticides has been unjustly demonized. Jean-Charles Bocquet is the director general of the European Crop Protection Association, a Brussels-based trade group for EU producers of agricultural chemicals. (BASF, Bayer CropScience, Syngenta, Dow AgroSciences, Monsanto Europe, and DuPont de Nemeurs are members.)

Bocquet contends opponents of neonics oversimplify a complex problem. “I’ve been in this business since the late 1970s, and beekeepers get nervous every time there’s a new pesticide,” he says.

“In the early 1980s, pyrethroids were accused of causing acute mortality in bee colonies, so we did a lot of research on this, including on over-wintering populations.” He says studies determined that the Varroa mite had been present in the hives with the highest mortality, and that a bacterial disease, Nosema, also played a role. He acknowledges that pesticides also are an area of concern, but denies they are the primary cause of colony collapse disorder. “It’s a multifaceted issue, and we’re working on all [fronts],” he says.

The industry’s position enjoys some support in academia. Dennis vanEngelsdorp, an assistant professor of entomology at the University of Maryland who directs its Honey Bee Lab, doubts that neonicotinoids alone account for the widespread and accelerating diminution of honeybees.

“On the whole,” vanEngelsdorp says, “my data suggests they are not a major driver. I think they’re a contributing factor, but not the sole or major factor.”

The Varroa mite, vanEngelsdorp says, probably is a bigger problem. Beekeepers have known about and managed the mites for decades, he says, “But the populations are different now, and the methods of controls typically used don’t work as well as they did 30 or 40 years ago.”

Commercial beekeepers and honey producers disparage that theory. “We’ve been controlling for the Varroa mite very successfully for a very long time,” Ellis says. “Now we’re supposed to believe that all the beekeepers in the nation suddenly forgot how to control for mites? And that it was just a coincidence that we started losing colonies just as neonics went into heavy use? It’s ridiculous.”

Furthermore, Ellis says, anecdotal evidence that neonicotinoids are the real culprit is coming from Europe, where the European Commission (EC) restricted the use of three neonics in May 2013 for a two-year period (Regulation (EU) No. 485/2013). Bayer CropScience and Syngenta later sued to overturn the proscription.

Ellis believes the EC ban has been effective. “We’re seeing upticks in pollinator populations in Italy, Slovenia, France, and Germany [where bans have been in place for longer],” he says. This shows “that the environment can detoxify once neonic applications are stopped, and that pollinators will recover.”

In April, the European Academies Science Advisory Council released a study linking the use of neonicotinoids to declining ecosystem health, including harm to pollinators. The report could influence the upcoming review of the European Commission’s neonics ban.

In the United States, President Obama created an interagency Pollinator Health Task Force last year, co-chaired by the EPA and the Department of Agriculture. In April, the EPA placed a moratorium on approval of any new use permits for neonicotinoids.

Anderson was not impressed. “In the last year, EPA has approved registration for two new neonics, and expanded uses of these pesticides to additional blooming crops,” he told PANNA. “Allowing increased toxic exposure to my bees and then announcing a moratorium? Very disingenuous.”

In May, Obama’s task force issued a National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and other Pollinators. It announced accelerated EPA review of neonics, to be completed by 2018. And it acknowledged the particular risk pesticides pose to contracted pollination services, proposing “to prohibit the foliar application of acutely toxic products during bloom for sites with bees on-site under contract, unless the application is made in accordance with a government-declared public health response.”

Earthjustice attorney Loarie lives in Sonoma County, where the EC-banned neonic imidacloprid, among other pesticides, is applied in the grape vineyards through drip irrigation systems. “So it affects everything in the vineyard, not just the vines. In the early spring, the vineyards are typically full of wild mustard – the whole county is blazing with bright yellow flowers,” he says. “And not long ago, they were always full of bees and other pollinating insects. Now they’re just empty and quiet.”

Back in Oakdale, 22-year-old Alyssa Anderson – who has always helped her dad out with the hives – contemplates her future. Not too long ago, she planned to go into the business full time.

“My family has been keeping bees for 75 years, and I always figured I’d be part of that,” she says. “But there’s just no security in it now. What’s happening to the bees is really tragic, and not just for us. People don’t realize that one-third of their food supply depends on bees. Even the farmers are in denial. It’s going to be a rude awakening for everybody when they finally understand the stakes.”

 [Read the original article via]

Glen Martin is a contributing environmental writer based in Santa Rosa.

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How the White House plans to help the humble bee maintain its buzz

By Juliet Eilperin via Washington Post

The humble bee — nuisance, threat, and linchpin of the American food supply — has won over the leader of the free world. And now President Obama is intervening on the bee’s behalf as its habitat dwindles.

On Tuesday, the Obama administration will announce the first National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators, a bureaucratic title for a plan to save the bee, other small winged animals and their breeding grounds. The initiative may feel like the kind of niche interest a second-term president devotes his time to, but scientists say his attention to the busy workforce that sustains many American crops is critical. While bee colonies regularly die off during winter because of stressful conditions, their sharp decline has been called a potential ecological disaster by some environmentalists and academic experts; conservative Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) described it in an interview as “an essential thing [that] we need to pay attention to.”

The strategy, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post, will seek to manage the way forests burned by wildfire are replanted, the way offices are landscaped and the way roadside habitats where bees feed are preserved.

It is also the culmination of a years-long fascination Obama has had with the bee and its worrisome fate.

“I have to say that it is mighty darn lovely having the White House acknowledge the indigenous, unpaid and invisible workforce that somehow has managed to sustain all terrestrial life without health-care subsidies, or a single COLA, for that past 250?million years,” said Sam Droege, a U.S. Geological Survey wildlife biologist and one of the country’s foremost experts on native bee identification…

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“Bees Under Stress” – Click To View Graphic

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Pollinator Politics: Environmentalists Criticize Obama Plan To Save Bees

The buzz around bees has been bad lately. As we’ve reported, beekeepers say they lost 42 percent of honeybee colonies last summer.

And it seems that fixing what ails bees is no simple task. Over the past few decades, they’ve been hit by diseases and habitat loss. There’s also increasing evidence that a type of pesticides called neonicotinoids are linked to bees’ decline, too.

This could be bad news for all of us, since bees and other pollinators are critical to our food supply.

Honeybees alone, according to an Obama administration estimate, add $15 billion in value to agricultural crops each year by pollinating everything from almonds and apples to blueberries and squash.

And now the administration has put forth a new action plan to reverse the declines in bees.

A key component is a strategy to restore 7 million acres of bee-friendly habitat that have been lost to urbanization, development and farming.

“It’s a big step in the right direction,” says Nigel Raine, a professor who studies pollinator conservation at the University of Guelph, in Canada.

The idea is to plant many types of wildflowers — in lots of different areas — so that bees have more places to forage and nest. “It’s making sure they have sufficient flowers to feed on,” says Raine — and places to live.

Many environmentalists say restoring bee habitat is a good place to start, but they’re critical that the Obama administration has not taken a harder line in limiting the use of neonicotinoids.

The Natural Resources Defense Council says more urgent action is needed to safeguard our food supply. “To truly save bees and other pollinators, we must drastically cut down on today’s pervasive use of neonicotinoids and other pesticides,” Peter Lehner, executive director of the NRDC, said in a press release.

And a similar message is coming from Friends of the Earth. The White House Pollinator Strategy won’t solve the bee crisis, the group says.

The Environmental Protection Agency announced in April that it is not likely to approve new uses of neonicotinoids, but the plan announced by the administration on Tuesday did not call for restrictions on current uses.

Lisa Archer, who leads the food and technology program at Friends of the Earth, said in a statement: “President Obama’s National Pollinator Health Strategy misses the mark by not adequately addressing the pesticides as a key driver of unsustainable losses of bees and other pollinators essential to our food system.”

The European Union has already moved to restrict the use of neonicotinoids. And as we’ve reported, there are proposals in Canada to limit use of the pesticides, too.

But a leading manufacturer of the pesticides says neonic restrictions are not necessary. “Neonicotinoids — when used according to labeled directions — can be used safely with pollinators,” Becky Langer of Bayer Crop Science told us.

She says the administration’s strategy to restore bee-friendly habitat is a good approach, and points out that Bayer is helping to address this issue with its Bee Care Center and efforts to encourage the expansion of habitat.

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Plan Bee: White House Unveils Strategy To Protect Pollinators

By Brian Naylor via

There is a buzz in the air in Washington, and it’s about honeybees. Concerned about an alarming decline in honeybee colonies, the Obama administration has released a National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators.

NPR’s Dan Charles says the strategy, despite its rather bureaucratic title, is pretty straightforward: “The government will provide money for more bee habitat and more research into ways to protect bees from disease and pesticides. The Environmental Protection Agency also will re-evaluate a class of insecticides called neonicotinoids … which are commonly used on some of the most widely planted crops in the country.”

As NPR’s Allison Aubrey has reported:

“Scientists have shown that a range of factors — from climate change to viruses to loss of habitat — are contributing to the global decline in bee health.

“And two new studies published in the journal Nature add to the evidence that overuse of neonicotinoid pesticides may also be contributing to the decline of bees.

“Neonics, as they’re known for short, have become among the most widely used insecticides in the world. The pesticide is coated onto the seeds that farmers plant to grow their crops. These pretreated seeds are used extensively in corn, soy and canola crops. In fact, it’s estimated that treated seeds are used in more than 95 percent of the U.S. corn crop.”

The White House strategy aims to reduce honeybee colony losses during the winter to no more than 15 percent within 10 years. It’s also concerned with the monarch butterfly, another species in decline. The government wants to increase the Eastern population of the monarch to 225 million butterflies occupying an area of approximately 15 acres in the insect’s Mexico wintering grounds. And it sets a goal of restoring or enhancing 7 million acres of land for pollinators over the next five years. The strategy is the work of the White House Pollinator Health Task Force, an Obama administration initiative launched last year. President Obama has taken a personal interest in the plight of the honeybees. There is a beehive in the White House garden, the honey from which is an ingredient in the White House beer recipe. (If you’re interested in a good buzz.) Critics, however, say the White House strategy doesn’t go far enough. Friends of the Earth issued a stinging rebuke to the administration’s plan, charging that it “failed to adequately address the impact of pesticides, including neonicotinoid insecticides on bees and other pollinators.” Puns aside, it’s a serious issue. According to The Washington Post:

“Over the past five years, winter losses of commercial honeybee colonies have averaged roughly 30 percent. A consortium of universities and research laboratories announced last week that beekeepers lost 42.1 percent of their colonies between April 2014 and 2015, an 8 percent spike from the previous year, and that the number of summer deaths exceeded winter deaths for the first time since the survey began in 2010.”

The Obama administration says honeybee pollination adds more than $15 billion in value to agricultural crops each year. [Read the original article via]

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READ: Brood diseases and lagging bees

by HoneyLover Susan Rudnicki

Spring is the time of year when bees go into high gear to get ready to do their instinctive reproductive act of procreation—swarming. A colony grows to fill its space, replacement queens are drawn and nurtured, and the final event is a leaving from the mother hive of about 50% of the workers and the old queen. These bees will attempt to found a new colony somewhere else and begin the cycle again. During this build up in Spring we urban beekeepers must watch carefully for the signs of swarm preparation and guide it so that a swarm is not the outcome—in the city such swarms are not appreciated by the general public living in close proximity to us.

I have now been keeping bees almost four years and am getting a better feel for the rhythm of the growth cycle in a colony. We have mild winters in Los Angeles, so the Spring brooding up period often begins in January. This means we will begin seeing drones and drone brood, new brood comb being drawn, and a general increase in the number of bees and activity of the queen.

However, early this year, two of my hives at the house were not showing these changes and I really began to notice by February. It seemed they were just staying in a holding pattern—no new comb was being drawn and, at first, this was the most noticeable issue. By the beginning of March, I was seeing sac brood, perforated cappings (small holes in the brood caps), lots of uncapped pupae in the purple eye stage, dried up “mummies” of brood in cells, and some cells of open brood with watery goop that may have been European Foul Brood.  There were also some adult bees with DWV, or deformed wing virus. The wings of the bee are twisted little stumps or thread-like and useless. The colonies had plenty of stored honey and many frames of bee bread. Together, these conditions and the different maladies of the larvae and pupae are sometimes lumped under the name “Bee Parasitic Mite Syndrome”  which describes diseases vectored by the activities of the varroa mite.

Here is a website entry detailing what I was seeing—

Information compiled by Beekeeper Lonnie E. Campbell of The Loudoun Beekeepers Association.

Bee Parasitic Mite Syndrome was first named by The Beltsville Bee Lab to explain why colonies infested with both varroa mites and tracheal mites were not thriving. BPMS was first reported by European beekeepers whose colonies were already stressed by varroa mites. Colonies that are apparently very healthy and productive suddenly experience a sudden decrease in adult population often resulting in the total loss of the colony. Plenty of food stores are often present, but very spotty and unhealthy brood are observed.

I began searching my readings and books to find out what I might do to help these two formerly thriving hives (one hive is 5 mediums, the other 2 deeps and 3 mediums). I wanted to support them before their population dropped too much that they would be weakened beyond recovery. I saw on inspection March 22 that very little open brood was present and no eggs. One queen was seen (in the biggest colony) but in the other I didn’t find the queen.

Michael Bush’s book offered the best information for this situation that I could find. A brood break, or a cessation of egg laying by the queen, is one of the best responses for breaking the cycle of the pests and diseases that may afflict a hive. By denying the pathogens a food source the disease cycle is automatically broken. One way of doing this is to find and kill the queen and then introduce a new queen. Another way is to dispatch the queen and let them raise another one. By the time the new queen is laying, the brood break will have cleansed the disease cycle.

But the method I thought I would settle on was the use of a push in cage. This is a small confinement cage made out of eighth inch hardware cloth that holds the queen on the face of a frame for a period of time to prevent her laying eggs in the normal pattern. It is just a shallow 3 sided box of wire, 5 X 10 inches, pushed into the face of the wax comb. You try to place it in a zone with some honey cells, some emerging brood, and some open cells—all of these to serve the needs of the confined queen.

On March 28, after preparing two cages and getting my mind clear about what I was going to do, I opened up the first hive to start my search for the queen. I had at hand a  good tool for safely catching a queen— a “hair clip” catcher.

However, I soon saw that something better than my plan had already occurred. The frames that had lacked any eggs or open brood were now completely filled with eggs! The queens had stopped laying eggs by their own accord and interrupted the brood cycle of the diseases and varroa that had been afflicting them. I was very excited that the queens and their workers seemed to have a inborn strategy to get over their problems. My notes to Michael Bush to report this were confirmed in his answer here:

         Yes, the bees often do a brood break to resolve the issues.  Sometimes it’s done by dispatching the old queen and sometimes she just shuts down. EFB usually clears up on it’s own when whatever stress was the cause is relieved.  Usually by a flow in a dearth.

And this one:

It doesn’t always work out well, but then interfering doesn’t always work out well either.

“Our attentions may be useful to them but are oftener noxious to them; thus far goes our interference.” –Francis Huber (in a letter to Elisa)

“…without the foresight, or rather the astonishing presence of mind of the bees, who always do at the proper time what needs to be done…” –Francis Huber (in a letter to Elisa)

So, there we have it. Another beek lesson learned!

Read full story · Posted in Newsletter Articles

READ: Urban beekeeping becomes therapy for at-risk communities

By North By Northwest, CBC News

Julia and Sarah Common started their urban beekeeping non-profit organization in 2012

Bees play an important role in the ecosystem, as they pollinate plants and produce honey, but it turns out they can also play a therapeutic role for humans.

Since 2012, Julia Common and her daughter Sarah have been engaging at-risk communities in urban beekeeping through their non-profit organization, Hives for Humanity.

Mother and daughter started by placing a colony of bees at a community garden on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

“The community really quickly took ownership of that hive and responsibility for the protection and care of this living, breathing colony of working insects that are just this inspiration to everyone who sees them,” Sarah told North By Northwest‘s Sheryl MacKay.

The Commons say beekeeping is therapeutic because it brings people together and the responsibility gives them a sense of self worth and community pride.

“At the beginning, we thought it was the beekeeping, but then from beekeeping, other things come,” said Julia.

“The bees have wax, someone needs to [process] the wax. Other people come forward who want to help with equipment maintenance.”

Hives for Humanity now has almost a hundred hives placed in community gardens, the rooftops of single room occupancy hotels and people’s backyards.

“No matter where you are, people take great pride in taking care of the bees, keeping them safe,” said Julia.

“Everyone from kindergarten right up to somebody who is 92 realizes bees are threatened and they just feel wonderful that they’re playing their [part].”

To hear the full interview, listen to the audio labelled: Vancouver beekeeping program engages at-risk communities

Read full story · Posted in News

READ: Bees prefer the buzz of a town

Bees prefer the buzz of a town: Urban sites found to have more species than rural areas

By Fiona Macrae via

  • Agriculture and mass crops blamed for decline of bee numbers 
  • Towns and cities have wider variety of plants and flowers in autumn
  • Pesticides, climate change and disease causing bee numbers to fall 

We think of them as thriving in wildflower meadows and rolling fields. But new research suggests Britain’s bees are happier near towns and cities.

A study of wildlife sites across four English counties has found that most are home to fewer species of bee today than they were in the past.

It found that the expansion of farmland has actually been more damaging to Britain’s bee population than the concreting over of the countryside for housing.

Reading University researcher Deepa Senapathi believes intensive agriculture is to blame.

While the gardens, parks and churchyards of towns and cities provide bees with a variety of plants to forage on and an extended flowering season, popular crops such as oilseed rape only bloom for a few weeks.

She said: ‘While concreting over the countryside may appear to be bad news for nature, we’ve found that progressive urbanisation may be much less damaging than intensive agriculture.

‘Urban areas may benefit bees more than farmland by providing a wide variety of flowering plants, providing a cosmopolitan menu for insects from spring through to autumn.

‘Over the past century rural landscapes in Britain have become increasingly dominated by large expanses of monoculture – the growing of a single type of plant, which has helped boost crop production.

‘But without a mixture of habitat and food sources, rural areas can sometimes be little better than green deserts for biodiversity.

Scientists around the country are trying to work out why populations of bees and other insects are plummeting.

Pesticides, climate change and disease may, like intensive farming, be playing a role.

[view full article here:]

Read full story · Posted in News, Yay Bees

READ: Scientists discover what’s killing the bees and it’s worse than you thought

Outlawing a type of insecticides is not a panacea. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

via Todd Woody |

As we’ve written before, the mysterious mass die-off of honey bees that pollinate $30 billion worth of crops in the US has so decimated America’s apis mellifera population that one bad winter could leave fields fallow. Now, a new study has pinpointed some of the probable causes of bee deaths and the rather scary results show that averting beemageddon will be much more difficult than previously thought.

Scientists had struggled to find the trigger for so-called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) that has wiped out an estimated 10 million beehives, worth $2 billion, over the past six years. Suspects have included pesticides, disease-bearing parasites and poor nutrition. But in a first-of-its-kind study published today in the journal PLOS ONE, scientists at the University of Maryland and the US Department of Agriculture have identified a witch’s brew of pesticides and fungicides contaminating pollen that bees collect to feed their hives. The findings break new ground on why large numbers of bees are dying though they do not identify the specific cause of CCD, where an entire beehive dies at once.

When researchers collected pollen from hives on the east coast pollinating cranberry, watermelon and other crops and fed it to healthy bees, those bees showed a significant decline in their ability to resist infection by a parasite called Nosema ceranae. The parasite has been implicated in Colony Collapse Disorder though scientists took pains to point out that their findings do not directly link the pesticides to CCD. The pollen was contaminated on average with nine different pesticides and fungicides though scientists discovered 21 agricultural chemicals in one sample. Scientists identified eight ag chemicals associated with increased risk of infection by the parasite.

Most disturbing, bees that ate pollen contaminated with fungicides were three times as likely to be infected by the parasite. Widely used, fungicides had been thought to be harmless for bees as they’re designed to kill fungus, not insects, on crops like apples.

“There’s growing evidence that fungicides may be affecting the bees on their own and I think what it highlights is a need to reassess how we label these agricultural chemicals,” Dennis vanEngelsdorp, the study’s lead author, told Quartz.

Labels on pesticides warn farmers not to spray when pollinating bees are in the vicinity but such precautions have not applied to fungicides.

Bee populations are so low in the US that it now takes 60% of the country’s surviving colonies just to pollinate one California crop, almonds. And that’s not just a west coast problem—California supplies 80% of the world’s almonds, a market worth $4 billion.

In recent years, a class of chemicals called neonicotinoids has been linked to bee deaths and in April regulators banned the use of the pesticide for two years in Europe where bee populations have also plummeted. But vanEngelsdorp, an assistant research scientist at the University of Maryland, says the new study shows that the interaction of multiple pesticides is affecting bee health.

“The pesticide issue in itself is much more complex than we have led to be believe,” he says. “It’s a lot more complicated than just one product, which means of course the solution does not lie in just banning one class of product.”

The study found another complication in efforts to save the bees: US honey bees, which are descendants of European bees, do not bring home pollen from native North American crops but collect bee chow from nearby weeds and wildflowers. That pollen, however, was also contaminated with pesticides even though those plants were not the target of spraying.

“It’s not clear whether the pesticides are drifting over to those plants but we need take a new look at agricultural spraying practices,” says vanEngelsdorp.

[read original article via]

Read full story · Posted in Uncategorized

Neonicotinoids a Disaster in the making?

Podcast via kiwimana

This week we are talking to Dr. Henk Tennekes from the Netherlands. This is Episode fifty two of our beekeeping podcast.

You can download the podcast directly HERE, or click on the play button above. Feel free to share it with your friends.

“Knowing what I do, there would be no future peace for me if I kept silent…” - Rachel Carson



Dr Henk Tennekes is a esteemed toxicologist and author.

Dr Tennekes has been working in cancer research for most of his career. He has been studying neonicotinoids in relation to decline of insects and bird life.

He discovered that this family of pesticides are not only effecting bees but other insects and birds.

In 2010 he publish his findings the in the book “A Disaster in the Making“. We encourage you to support Henk’s work and buy a copy of his fantastic book.

We encourage you to copy this recording and please give it to any friends or family that may buy pesticides for their home garden. Let’s all vote against these products with our dollars.

Buy Henk’s Book Here

Here’s What You’ll Learn

  • How Henk came up with the idea for his book
  • Clothianidin can remain in the soil for nineteen years.
  • Neonicotinoids are water soluble and threaten fish and water dependent insects
  • Insects are the main food source for many mammals and fish.
  • Neonicotinoids destroy insects immune system and help infections in beehives to spread.
  • Chytrid Fungus is wiping out frogs in California
  • Bats are being wiped out by White Nose Syndrome
  • Everything is connected, you can’t destroy insects without it effecting all species (including humans).
  • Acute toxicity tests are not effective enough to demonstrate the long effect on Honey Bees
  • Neonicotinoids are legal because of the failure of our government regulators
  • There is a break in the food chain happening before our eyes
  • Autism in children has increased since Neonicotinoids were introduced
  • Neonicotinoids are used in Pet Flea products such as “Advantage”
  • Bayer is not releasing its own studies on Neonicotinoids
  • Austrian agriculture is 40% organic :)

Neonicotinoids available now at your Garden Centre

What Was Mentioned

  • Henk’s book Disaster in the making can be purchased here HERE
  • Dutch Parliament votes to ban all Neonicotinoids pesticide use in the Netherlands, you can read more HERE
  • Sue Kedgleys work on bee health
  • Dr Alex Lu Harvard study, read more HERE
  • Syngenta and Bayer go to court against the European Commission, find out more HERE

View original post via kiwimana

Read full story · Posted in Buzz, Yay Bees