By Deirdre Imus
Published February 07, 2011
Most people don’t realize that the beekeeping industry is responsible for one-third of the food we eat.
In the past six years however, the annual die-off of those little pollinating insects responsible for fertilizing plants – a process essential for maintaining our food supply – has become increasingly dramatic. It is a phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder (CCD).
The consequence of colony collapse can be economically significant as well. Without a thriving bee population produce prices would skyrocket and the food industry could lose billions of dollars. It is for this reason that mounting reports of CCD has beekeepers, naturalists and government scientists concerned.
There have been a number of possible explanations for CCD including urbanization, disease, water pollution and parasitic mites.
Many researchers and beekeepers however, now suspect the introduction of systemic neonicotinoid pesticides as a possible catalyst for the vanishing bees.
Initially introduced to food production in 1994, naonicotinoid pesticides are absorbed into every part of a plant, including the roots, stems, leaves and pollen. When bees pollinate, they carry the pesticide chemicals back to their hives.
Although there has always be concerns about the possible harmful effects and residues left by these chemicals, clothianidin, manufactured and marketed by chemical giant Bayer CropScience in 2003, is considered highly toxic and now suspected as the agent responsible for the demise of honey bee hives around the world.
Prior to its registration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) expressed concerns about clothianidin’s effect on bee populations and suggested the chemical include a label warning that “this compound is toxic to honey bees. ”
In spite of the agency’s reservations, the EPA agreed to a conditional registration of clothianidin.
Last December, the Pesticide Action Network of North America (PANNA) joined other environmentalists and beekeepers in calling on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to issue a stop-use order for the neonicotinoid pesticide clothianidin.
This action was in response to the disclosure of an internal memo describing a two-year-old study by researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Bee Research Laboratory and Penn State University. The yet to be published study found that extremely low “microscopic” concentrations of clothianidin, capable of weakening honey bees and thus making them vulnerable to death.
In the letter to EPA administrator Lisa Jackson, the groups cited the memo in which the agency’s own scientists questioned the validity of a scientific support study used to justify the registration of the pesticide and asked Jackson to “exercise the Agency’s emergency powers to take the pesticide off the market.”
Pesticides are meant to kill pests. So it should come as no great surprise that they would kill bees.
Who knows what effect these supposedly “harmless” small amounts have when consumed every day for 20, 30, 40, 50 years? The facts are still clear that if bees become extinct we will have a severe collapse in our food chain.