Back to the beginning....
A couple of years ago it was Dave Hackenburg who got the world to pay attention to what was happening to his bees and that it was unlike anything hed seen before. He woke up a few folks at Penn State, who woke up a few folk at the USDA Honey Bee Lab in Beltsville, Maryland, who woke up more folks out at Missoula, Montana (who coined the name Colony Collapse Disorder), who woke up ... well, you know the rest.
Dave stayed in the thick of things for quite awhile, supplying a lot of samples for the researchers, helping them get oriented to what was going on in the world of commercial and migratory beekeeping, and giving interview after interview after interview to magazines, newspapers, radio and television shows, and blog pages like this one.
But lately, as media attention has turned more to the actions of others ... researchers, bureaucrats, regulatory agencies and other beekeepers ... Daves been busy trying to keep his bees alive.
Keeping bees alive is a seven day a week job now, he said this week when I called.
Used to be, I had time for a bit of fishing and riding my motorcycle, but not anymore. The bees need attention.
Lately he has been involved with some conversations with the EPA and the USDA folks, looking at problems with honey bees and insecticides. Theyve found some incredible numbers taken from samples taken last year - one bee, a single, solitary bee, had 25 different insecticides hidden within her tiny body. And she wasnt even dead. The cleanest bee they found had only five insecticides. Only.
And these are all from the early samples take from just three outfits last fall. Other samples wait for examination, and they wait for money to pay for the exams. Who knows what theyll find, if they ever find the money?
Dave said that beekeepers he knows are still experiencing colony losses, but with symptoms different than the classic symptoms he first reported ... but then, those were fall bees, not summer bees like now.
Now, these bees, he said, were in Florida this winter on citrus, which have been treated to control the bug that transmits citrus greening. When they leave Florida they begin to show signs of something interestingly called snot brood, which looks like a whole class of other diseases, but isnt. Scientists dont know what it is, but theres a pattern. Heres the pattern ... bees come out of Florida after being on citrus (treated with a pesticide called Bravado), go to gallberry for more honey, and within a few weeks, once they finish blueberries in Maine and dont have fresh food, they break down. The queen quits laying or dies, brood goes to that snotty condition and about half the colonies die. However, if they get fed fresh food ... protein ... they dont. Its when they start to eat their stored food in the colony that came from the treated citrus trees ... that they die.
Heres another pattern Dave and other beekeepers from Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida and other states have found. Theyve noticed that land that last season had sweet corn planted on it that was treated with Poncho insecticide, and this season is fallow and produces weeds ... specifically a certain kind of weed that usually follows sweet corn called mustard or yellow rocket ... the following year, has the best mustard theyve seen ... bigger, more blossoms, more plants, more attractive to bees. And bees love mustard. Its a great honey plant for early spring build up of overwintered colonies.
What they guess, and it is a guess, is that the chemical that is still in the soil from last year is protecting the mustard plants this year because it lasts that long in the soil. And since these chemicals are systemic, thus protecting the mustard plants ... it is getting into the pollen and nectar produced by the fragrant and bountiful mustard blossoms that the bees are visiting on this now very attractive plant?
Theres more anecdotal evidence to support this second season killer. When pumpkins are grown on land that the previous year had sweet corn treated with Poncho are seeing untreated pumpkin tissue with three to four times the amount of insecticide in pumpkin plant tissue than new pumpkins that were simply treated during the second year. There seems to be a buildup the second, and even third year of these chemicals in the soil, that the plants are picking up.
Are these nicotine insecticides helping to release additional chemicals that were bound in the soil, plus building up in the soil after repeated applications?
Wait, theres another story...
An apple grower in New York used Assail on his apples three years ago ... Two years later he was told that the arsenic levels in his ground water were increasing ... Interesting, since no arsenic had been applied to that orchard in over 70 years. The third year after application? Yup ... arsenic levels too high to use for drinking water. Whats going on?
These chemicals Ive mentioned are all in the neonicotinoid family of insecticides. They came along after the government, several years ago, decided that the long lived pesticides had to go and better, shorter, less troublesome chemicals and integrated pest management programs had to replace them (this was called the FQPA ... food quality protection act ... you can sound out the letters any way you want).
Well, those long lasting chemicals were the bread and butter of the agrochemical companies and the government essentially took them away. But the government wants cheap food and theres only one way to do that, and thats to have good management practices, including good insect control. Very good insect control.
Long story short, budget cuts forced the EPA to cut corners and one of those corners was testing new products. Why not let the chemical companies test them, and well evaluate the results, went the EPA thinking. Better: why not let the fox in the chicken house, went the thinking, and well see if the chickens die.
So now the only major chemicals used to control insects on crops are in the neonic family. They are all the same, and they are all over. And all the chemicals listed here are in that family.
Do they accumulate from one year to the next in the soil, building to levels three to four times what they should be? When, after three or four years they are ingested by honey bees in nectar or pollen do they cause behavior or health problems?
There seems to be evidence that they do, but its only anecdotal, and science doesnt deal with this sort of data, does it....
Dave Hackenburg has brought up a boatload of questions about pesticides. Whether they have anything to do with CCD or not is less important than if these chemicals, and their multi-season accumulations are causing significant risks for bees, or people, remains to be seen.
And what about this agrochemical complex Dave describes? What do Bayer, Syngenta, Monsanto, and others have in store for us?
Daves comment? We still dont know whats going on, or why. But bees are dying, and we better figure it out ... quick.
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