First, let me tell you about myself and why I have a particularly strong interest in bees, and why their welfare is personal to me. And then I'll tell a little about one of the worst of the perils that threatens bees, and what you can do about it.
Bees and beekeeping have long been a part of my family. I grew up around bees. When I was just a knee-high boy, I had already begun to help my father in his beekeeping business by performing the technical skill of grafting tiny bee larvae from natural bee comb to man-made queen cell cups, as part of the process of raising new queens for commercial use by my father's beekeeper clients in the United States. This first task was my introduction to beekeeping.
My father learned beekeeping as a youth, growing up on a Wyoming farm during the depression years, taking care of his father's 100 bee colonies. My father went on to become Wyoming's State Bee Inspector, a job which mostly entails inspecting apiaries (groups of bee hives in a single location) to identify and contain diseases. He also had his own commercial operation with several thousand bee colonies spread out over several states, including Wyoming, Nebraska, and California.
In later years, due to heart disease, he had to convert his business to a lighter form of work, which led him to move to Puerto Rico, where he founded a queen-raising business and where he produced royal jelly, a product of the hive used by bees to feed larvae. When the substance is fed to ordinary worker bee larvae, the larvae matures into a queen, instead, hence the origin of the term. I was three years old when we moved to the island.
And I, in turn, learned beekeeping from my father, which makes me the third generation of my family to become immersed in apiculture.
Bees shaped my life, and formed a part of my world view. As a boy, I accompanied my father, beginning at age four, to the apiaries located in the mountainous region of Puerto Rico. Bees were an integral part of my life, and signs of their presence were everywhere, with bees crawling on the windows of my father's workshops, frequent visits to my father's various apiaries, and on the breakfast table in the form of honey for our cereal. We would head up to the mountains in my father's old pickup or his jeep, driving on dirt country roads, passing by ox-carts, old farm houses, in the back country that is now largely non-existent today. On the way back, we would stop at a private home and have a traditional Puerto Rican soup, served by a motherly Puerto Rican lady who smiled warmly at my older brother and I. This was our life.
Bees were a factor woven into the fabric of my everyday world. I grew up conceiving of bees as a source of food, of economic sustenance, as precious friends of the family. My father's respect for them rubbed off on me, and later in life, I acquired 300 colonies of my own. The experience of beekeeping in the mountains of Puerto Rico as a child where I watched my father tend the bees, seeing the interrelationship between the tropical mountain flora, the bees, and humankind, helped form my intense respect and love for not only bees, but also for the lush green environment of the natural world.
Thus, it should come as no surprise that the continued existence of bees matters to me. I cannot imagine the absence of the wondrous and productive insect that has comprised a major part of my own existence. The loss would be staggering. And yet now the existence of bees is threatened.
But never mind that. Never mind why this crisis concerning bees is personal to me. Why should my personal anecdotes matter to you?
Few people will have experienced this direct, close relationship with bees. However, bees and their survival directly affect all of us for other reasons which are of far more critical importance.
These remarkable little insects should matter to you, as well. They should matter to us all. This isn't a matter of personal fondness for an insect due to nostalgia, but rather a matter of global environmental survival.
Okay, by now most of us have become familiar with the huge bounty of diverse crops of foods that exist only because of insect pollination, which we all love to eat, and which have enormous nutritional value and are thus of vast importance to preserve as a highly necessary and valued part of the human diet. I don't see the need to repeat that here. And most of us have likely read about how honeybee pollination services alone account for some 15 billion dollars in our economy, not to mention how much we all benefit from the increased yields to farmers from pollination by bees.
Well, what the hell. I'll repeat it again just to remind you:
The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) released a report this week focused on the recent global phenomenon of honey bee deaths, indicating that colony disorders put pressure on an already taxed food system, and urging a shift towards more ecological farming.
Pollination is the key ecosystem service. In the U.S. alone, honey bee pollination services are estimated at $15 billion per year, and the crop acreage requiring these services stands at an all-time high Ã¢ÂÂ even as bee populations are declining here more precipitously than in most of the rest of the world. Each year since 2006, U.S. honey bee losses have ranged between 29% and 36%.
We often say that bees are responsible for a third of everything we eat. Achim Steiner, head of UNEP, cites an even more sobering statistic: "Of the 100 crop species that provide 90 percent of the world's food, over 70 are pollinated by bees."Here's the link to the original UN report:
This is all true and worth mentioning. But another aspect which is alarming to ecologists about the decline in honeybees is the status of bees as a keystone indicator species.
Some species are known to have a disproportionately large role in determining the overall community structure within an ecosystem. These species are called keystone species. Removal, addition, or changes in local populations of keystone species can have significant impacts on the functioning of ecosystem processes, predatory relationships, and overall long-term stability. http://web.ead.anl.gov/...If the bees disappear, the gaping hole they will leave in ecosystems could result in catastrophic consequences. In other words, as has by now so often been repeated, bees may be the equivalent of the canary in the coal mine. If bees can't be sustained in our global environment, it doesn't bode well for the environment as a whole.
This being the case, wouldn't it seem wise and prudent, then, that our government leaders, especially those charged with actually protecting the environment, come to high alert and do all that is possible to address this problem? Shouldn't they be the very first to be sounding the alarm? Isn't that the proper, sane and expected role of a functioning government?
After all, if we want good food to eat, if we want the economy to remain strong, and we care about agriculture and view it as an important industry that insures our survival as a species; if we care about the environment and global ecosystems, and if we care about mass extinction and the biodiversity crisis...
Seven out of ten biologists believe that we are in the midst of a mass extinction of living things, and that this dramatic loss of species poses a major threat to human existence in the next century.Yes, if we care about all of these issues, then we should care about bees.
Scientists rate biodiversity loss as a more serious environmental problem than the depletion of the ozone layer, global warming, or pollution and contamination.
And we would fully expect that good people in office would take action to avert this alarming crisis that is occurring with our little friends, the bees, considering all that they do for us, and all that we have unfortunately done to them.
But there is a problem. Our government is not taking action, but is actually aiding and abetting the perpetrators.
Bees are, of course, under assault. Not only are bees being attacked in unprecedented degrees by disease, parasites, and various stressors that are putting their survival in grave jeopardy, of which any one of these major factors, even as a single cause, kills bees, but one of the the worst of these threats, the insidious, deleterious pesticides which are poisoning the bees, and have been linked by numerous controlled studies to be a major factor in Colony Collapse Disorder, among other affects, is being waged by a pesticide-peddling corporation with the help of the very government body that is supposed to be protecting the bees: The Environmental Protection Agency. (EPA).
A leaked memo within the agency reveals that the EPA's own scientists warned of the toxicity of the neonicotinoids to honeybees. (Note: Clothianidin is a form of neonicotinoid marketed by Bayer).
This compound is toxic to honey bees. The persistence of residues and potential residual toxicity of Clothianidin in nectar and pollen suggests the possibility of chronic toxic risk to honey bee larvae and the eventual instability of the hive.And yet the EPA went forward with permitting the use of the pesticides, despite the warnings.
To make the case even clearer, here's an excerpt from the EMERGENCY CITIZEN PETITION TO THE UNITED STATES ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY:
In the face of the evidence that neonicotinoid pesticides are a contributing factor in the ongoing, huge economic and environmental losses stemming from mass bee die-offs and compromised pollinator health, EPA should have adopted a more protective, more rigorous stance toward the data necessary for registration. Instead, EPA loosened its oversight, allowing farmers to inundate fields with toxic chemicals before EPA has confirmed their safety. In particular, the agency continues to maintain the registration status for clothianidin despite the fact that the registrant, Bayer AG, has failed to conduct a required study satisfying EPA's standards after having more than nine years to gather the needed data. EPA has definitively stated that Bayer's belated attempt to conduct a field study of clothianidin's effects on pollinators did not satisfy the condition on registration.The environmental blog, the Grist, put it this way:
Yet, the agency has never identified any alternative study that supports a finding that clothianidin does not have any unreasonable adverse effects on the environment including pollinators. Such a finding was, and remains, a prerequisite to conditional registration. Continuing to allow clothianidin to be marketed, sold and used when not one study meets EPA's condition for its registration is, as a matter of law, arbitrary, capricious and contrary to the mandates of FIFRA and the APA.
The EPA asked Bayer â the manufacturer of clothianidin â to conduct a study looking at its effects on bees and other pollinators back in 2003, but allowed Bayer to sell the pesticide under âconditional registrationâ in the meantime. Bayer didnât produce a field study until 2007, and in spring 2010, clothianidin was quietly granted full registration. But later that year a leaked document revealed that EPA scientists had found Bayerâs study inadequate. âBy that time, the pesticide was all over the country,â said Peter Jenkins, an attorney with the Center for Food Safety, the lead legal group on the petition. âWe felt that what EPA did was illegal.âOther countries have not been so cavalier. Germany, the home country of Bayer, the maker of the pesticides, has gone against Bayer and has banned the chemicals. And Italy and France, as well, have banned them. And there are others who have joined in the ban.
The corporate profiteering of pesticide makers and their government enablers who are complicit are waging this chemical warfare. One could consider the bees to be "collateral damage" in the onward thrust for turning a profit. They just don't give a fuck if it stands in the way of increasing their wealth and insuring their continued longevity as members of the corrupt ruling class, which has come to be known in recent times as the 1%, that tiny fraction of society which has managed to bend the world's most powerful nation to serve its insatiable, rapacious interests, to put it short and sweet and to the point.
What I can't understand is why people put up with this bullshit. One reason might be because industry scientists step into the fray, diverting attention from the pesticides to other pathogens and confusing the public with an admittedly complex subject. You see, there are, indeed, a complex array of causes which combine together to kill bees. But lets not forget that our agency's own scientists were on the side of the bees in the leaked memo. And that memo? We can thank, yet again, Wikileaks for that.
Without doubt, that leak was a source of real pain and embarrassment to not only the EPA enablers, but also to at least a few of these sociopathic captains of industry, staring down from their lofty perches in penthouses at the rest of us mere mortals, scurrying around on planet earth worrying about insignificant pests. After all, it's survival of the fittest, and the bees are losing, and never mind the fact that we'll be pulled over the brink along with them. Somewhere, Ayn Rand is smiling, and Atlas is shrugging. Her boys are making her proud.
A couple of years ago, after a long hiatus, I returned to beekeeping, and now have 35 colonies. And the chief difference I see in the world of apiculture, between now and years ago, is the difficulty in keeping the bees alive and well, capable of producing a good honey crop.
When I was a kid, you could throw a swarm of bees in a hive, put that hive in corner of your yard, leave it alone and it would usually thrive for years without any aid or intervention from its human keepers. Now, bees require constant attention to deal with all manner of parasites and infections, but there is one factor that stands out as entirely preventable; something that has been proven to harm bees, contribute to Colony Collapse Disorder, weaken their immune systems, cause queen loss, and which has been linked to bees becoming prey to several other deleterious pathogens. That factor is the use of neonicotinoids by farmers on crops.
This pesticide must be banned. Now. Please go to the link provided in the following excerpt and sign the petition to the FDA now! Sign the petition to the EPA before it's too late.
The Pesticide Action Network (PAN) along with CREDO other environmental and concerned groups, have filed a petition with the EPA to get these harmful pesticides removed from use. A decision by the EPA is imminent in the next two weeks, and they need to hear from us, the citizens, of our demand that action be taken to save the bees. The window of opportunity is now, and reportedly won't come again for review until 2018.
Please go the link, read the statement, inform yourselves, and then PLEASE sign the petition to the EPA asking it to act now to remove this pesticide from use by farmers.
In March, PAN joined partners and beekeepers from around the country in filing a legal petition with EPA, calling on the agency to make use of its emergency powers to protect bees from Bayer's pesticide clothianidin. Sources tell us that in the next two weeks, EPA will decide whether or not bees dying off at unprecedented rates constitutes an "imminent hazard".You can also sign the petition at CREDO's web page here:
Since the wholesale decline of bees and other pollinators is most certainly an imminent hazard requiring emergency intervention, we want to be sure that EPA knows what's at stake and knows we are watching.
Tell EPA to take immediate action to protect bees from a pesticide that clearly poses an imminent threat.
Tell the EPA: Ban the pesticide that's killing bees!
In the next week, the EPA is expected to issue a decision on the pesticide Clothianidin -- which scientists believe is a major factor in the alarming decline in U.S honey bee populations, known as Colony Collapse Disorder.
Since 2006, one third of U.S honey bee populations have been dying off. One third. Every year. That's a terrible rate of species destruction on its own, but it's also a serious threat to our food supply. Honey bees play a crucial role by pollinating 71 of the 100 most common crops, which account for 90% of the world's food supply.1
More than 125,000 CREDO Activists joined the Pesticide Action Network and other groups this March in urging the EPA to suspend its approval of Clothianidin.
The EPA will be issuing a decision soon. If the agency doesn't act, it won't review Clothianidin again until 2018 -- and by then it could be too late for the bees.
Tell the EPA: Bee die-offs are an emergency. Ban the pesticide that's killing bees. Click here to automatically sign the petition.
While the causes of Colony Collapse disorder are complex, studies are increasingly pointing to the role played by pesticides like Clothianidin.
Produced by the German corporation Bayer CropScience, it is used as a treatment on crop seeds, including corn and canola, and works by expressing itself in the plants' pollen and nectar. Not coincidentally, these are some of honey bees' favorite sources of food.
Shockingly, Clothianidin was approved without any independent study verifying its safety. The Pesticide was conditionally approved for use on corn -- the largest crop in the U.S. - in 2003, and then fully approved by the EPA in 2010, on the basis of only one test conducted by Bayer, which EPA scientists later said was unsound and not sufficient to be the basis of an unconditional approval of the pesticide.2
Tell the EPA: Ban the pesticide that's killing bees. Click here to automatically sign the petition.
Clothianidin has already been banned in France, Italy, Slovenia, and Germany -- the home of Bayer -- but it continues to be applied to over 100 million acres here in the U.S., at the peril of bees and our ability to produce foods like apples, blueberries, almonds, pumpkins and dozens of other vital crops.
For the EPA to take action and suspend the use of Clothianidin it must declare bee die-offs to be an "imminent hazard." With massive continuing die-offs of the species that is a cornerstone of our crop production, it's clear that is the case.
Tell the EPA to protect honey bees and our food, not pesticide makers. It's time to ban Clothianidin and save the bees.