Pesticides dont kill bees. People kill bees.
Its the eye of the CCD Storm and things are quiet at the moment, again. The rush to the colony collapse disorder research deadline was last week, so now those who submitted grant proposals sit and wait for USDA to make its Solomon decision on who gets the $4 million. Unlike Solomon, USDA initially said that only one proposal will be good enough and the rest can starve. Were not sure how only one can be good before all have been read. But were not in the deciders seat then, are we? The decision comes in February.
And late last week the Senate finally cut loose their version of the Farm Bill which, like the version in the house, has $86 million for "bee stuff," as one reporter put it. But there the two bills diverge. One, the less traveled, has changes afoot for commodity spending and less for bees, were told. The other, more traveled, keeps commodities alive and well for the time being but were not sure how much for bees. Itll be a couple of weeks before those two paths emerge from the woods as one.
But even this bee stuff has some overhead it has to pay for. Theres all those USDA Bee Labs out there that need to keep the lights on and the scientists paid. And some amount of money needs to go to other bee research just for balance. So how much for CCD? Time, congress and good lobbyists will tell.
So in the mean time another little problem comes our way. This one though isnt new, isnt exciting, and isnt nearly as glamorous as CCD. It has however been implicated as part of the CCD problem, and some beekeepers seem to think its all of the CCD problem. Researchers are reluctant to agree, but then if CCD were simply a Pesticide problem, what would there be for them to do?
Insecticide (n.) A Chemical That Kills Insects
Pesticides. The insect control agents pest control managers routinely use to protect their crops from munching beetles, aphids, root worms and other nasties. Honey bees are insects and when insecticides and honey bees come in contact ... honey bees lose. Every time. Over the many years that insecticides have been used from pre-DDT days to today beekeepers and applicators (whether the farmers who own the land and the crop or those they hire to apply these chemicals) have bumped heads on misapplication, careless application, or flagrant abuse of these poisons. Legislators have, usually with some reluctance, regulated the use of these chemicals over these same years in an effort to offer protection to honey bees, other pollinators and, incidentally you.
These same legislators, with even more reluctance, have been responsible for oversight of these chemicals, their application and the people who apply them. Over time labels have been written that have the force of law behind them that, when followed, should protect honey bees, wild pollinators and other non-target organisms ... and you. And, when not followed, should have the force of law behind them to punish law-breakers for killing things not meant to be killed.
You may think this somewhat overblown, but consider this: In one unlawful spray event on sweet corn in Wisconsin several years ago, one beekeepers entire outfit was killed. All 474 colonies died in a single afternoon. That beekeeper was out of business, his equipment contaminated with poison so he could not use it again, and the applicator ... the applicator wan never apprehended, never punished, never had to answer for his sins, was not, in fact, even pursued. This is not unique by any stretch of the imagination. Applicators spray, bees die and those in charge ... the state departments of agriculture, and ultimately the federal EPA ... move too slowly or not at all to enforce these laws with any teeth. Corporate America holds as much sway in the pasture and bean field as anywhere else. And the little guy pays again.
A recent proposal may rectify that. The nuts and bolts of it are that these same chemical companies pay some amount of money, based on the amount of toxic chemicals they sell, into a fund. The money is used to compensate beekeepers and others who have been harmed by careless, illegal or stupid agricultural spray incidents. No one is punished, no one is blamed, and no one is at fault. Of course the chemical companies deny responsibility ... its the applicators ... and say they shouldnt be shouldered with this cost, which in turn will slide down hill to the farmer, who is responsible in the first place. In the end, those who spray, pay. The goal is, be careful and these chemicals wont cost as much. Be careless and youll pay through the nose.
And while scientists go back and forth on whether CCD is a virus, a nutritional problem, a new and exotic pesticide problem, or a new and dangerous disease, perhaps we can finally take this other age-old problem off the stress table and study whats really going on.
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