A scientist with her feet on the ground, two commercial beekeepers, and for the first time ... Colony Collapse Disorder has caused a reduction in food production.
Maryann Frazier is a Senior Extension Associate at Penn State specializing in apiculture, and has been for over 20 years. She has a list of credentials as long as your arm making her uniquely qualified to be part of the CCD working group. She knows her stuff. And she has a lot to say about whats been going on, and whats been found.
Right off, she took the Subcommittee to task for their lack of action in securing funds to study CCD...
"However, I believe the magnitude and timeliness of the response (of this subcommittee to the CCD problem) has not matched the scale and urgency needed to save an industry valued at more than $14 Billion."
She next asked them, How would our government respond if one out of every three cows was dying? ... then continued ... While this committee held its first timely hearing in March of 2007, the funding that has been allocated to date falls far short of the time sensitive and potentially catastrophic nature of this problem. Go Maryann!
She then proposed five additional Action Items that could immediately move critical research forward and help beekeepers survive. They include...
Reducing the cost of pesticide analytical services provided by USDA AMS
Creating a new USDA critical issues program to develop alternative control methods for varroa mites
Providing additional funding aimed at understanding pollinator decline and improving pollinator health that includes native species of pollinators
Providing direct financial assistance to beekeepers suffering from high losses
Directing APHIS to immediately implement a national survey for honey bee diseases
A recent survey from 11 states has revealed that IAPV (Israeli acute paralysis virus, a probable indicator, but not cause of CCD) is more widely distributed than previously observed
Two long term studies following 260 colonies have collected nearly 4,000 samples to date to study, and to keep for additional analysis.
The study looking at the role of pesticides in pollinator decline and CCD is ongoing in PA apple orchards; plus pesticide build-up in wax combs and foundation studies are still ongoing; lab bioassays on the synergistic effects of multiple pesticide residues and the potential impacts of pesticide adjuvants are under study, too.
Maryann then talked more about the pesticide studies....
For example, pesticides at sublethal levels have been shown to impair the learning abilities of honey bees and to suppress their immune systems. For these reasons, we believe that pesticide exposure may be one of the factors contributing to pollinator decline and to CCD.
Note: not the cause of CCD, but contributing to it.
Of 108 pollen samples analyzed, 46 different pesticides including six of their metabolites were identified. Up to 17 different pesticides were found in a single sample. Samples contained an average of 5 different pesticide residues each. In a total of 88 beeswax samples analyzed, 20 different pesticides including two of their metabolites were identified. As was found in pollen, fluvalinate, coumaphos (these two chemicals are used by beekeepers to control varroa mites), chlorpyrifos, and the fungicide chlorthalonil were most common, with fluvalinate and coumaphos detected in 100% of the samples.
Her testimony went on to discuss the costs of analysis, the lack of research to date on controlling varroa by industry and researchers, leaving beekeepers to their own devices to solve the problem, and a request for financial assistance to beekeepers from congress to get through this problem.
Next, Steve Godlin, a commercial beekeeper from Visalia CA told about his experience with CCD, going from about 5,000 colonies in July last year to 2,500 weak colonies in October. He discussed the advances on finding the cause and cure, but that it wasnt there yet. And he, too, talked about pesticides. 60% - 70% of the forage his bees visit are crops that are treated with pesticides at some point. And his bees and those pesticides must coexist.
Following was Dave Mendes, a commercial beekeeper with 7,000+ colonies, who discussed a research project he is involved in, beginning with the statement that There is something in our environment that is making our bees sick. His project followed his bees from FL to MA to ME to CA. Higher than expected levels of imidacloprid and aldicarb were found in the pollen from Florida, and high levels of fungicide were detected while on cranberries in MA. 18 hives started the journey but after only 10 months only four finished, and only one was strong enough to travel to CA to pollinate almonds.
Dave discussed the cost of this research, and the fact that beekeepers were getting hit with the cost of dead hives. Who should pay? It would likely be appropriate for the manufacturers of pesticides, fungicides and herbicides share in the cost of monitoring the distribution of their products in the environment as a normal cost of selling ag chemicals, he proposed.
Next, Robert Edwards, in a single paragraph, summed up the situation better than most, I thought ...
For over 10 years, a vital and profitable part of our farm has been the 100 acres of cucumbers we plant each year. I am sorry to have to report to this committee, however, that due to the severe and sudden rise in the price of fuel, the ongoing and worsening problem of a lack of labor to harvest these cucumbers, and the recent and increasing problem of a lack of honey bees needed to pollinate these crops, we have been forced to reduce our acreage of cucumbers by 50%.
But we are here today to discuss a problem that is just as harmful as those previously mentioned: Pollinator availability, honey bees. The simple fact is no honey bees, no cucumbers.
Our decision to reduce our acreage of cucumber production is directly related to the declining availability of honey bees for pollination of these crops.
I did not reduce my acreage of cucumbers because of the cost of fuel, I was forced to reduce my acreage because I could not ensure that I would be able to rent enough bees to pollinate my crop.
What Mr. Edwards means, at least to me, is that the recent loss of honey bees now points directly to a reduction in food production. Scientists, beekeepers and headline writers have been saying that if we lose bees, we lose food ... well, heres the first documented case of fewer bees = less food.
Colony Collapse Disorder, it seems, does not have a single cause. Scientists seem to agree on that. But pesticides in the environment and pesticides in the hive, whether they play a role in CCD or not, are having an effect on honey bees, and if it takes the crushing disaster of CCD to bring this to light, then all this research will have had more than one positive effect on our bees, on our environment, and on the food we eat.
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