Saturday, October 16, 2010

Bayer Link to Colony Collapse Disorder Reversed in Italy

I posted two years ago on the finding that CCD or colony collapse disorder had been traced directly to the application of a pesticide formula marketed by Bayer.

Since then, Italy slapped on a temporary ban and was immediately rewarded by a full recovery of the bee population and no collapses.  You cannot ask for a better confirmation of the disease vector.  The second story here is about Italy.

Bayer will be outed on this and they will be forced to pay for all the losses incurred which is now in the billions and is likely worse that the BP disaster.

Even a blind, dumb and stupid class action lawyer can win this one.

In the meantime, Bayer is conducting the usual campaign of misinformation and denial to protect their business and we will find Monsanto in the middle of it all and also due for a good kick.

Recall this is also damaging the wild stocks also of every other type of insect likely to be exposed.

The really good news however is that ending the application is rewarded immediately by a full rebound the next growing season.  This particular pesticide disappears almost immediately allowing a full recovery and of course, insect populations are highly responsive to this.

Sorry, New York Times: The bee die-off case is not closed

14 OCT 2010 8:48 AM

The New York Times made a long-awaited (and much emailed) announcement on its front page last week: The mystery of the ongoing and agriculturally devastating bee die-off (aka Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD) has been cracked!

I'm not trying to hype the news. Here's the headline and lede:
Scientists and Soldiers Solve a Bee Mystery

It has been one of the great murder mysteries of the garden: what is killing off the honeybees?
Since 2006, 20 to 40 percent of the bee colonies in the United States alone have suffered "colony collapse." Suspected culprits ranged from pesticides to genetically modified food.
Now, a unique partnership -- of military scientists and entomologists -- appears to have achieved a major breakthrough: identifying a new suspect, or two.
A fungus tag-teaming with a virus have apparently interacted to cause the problem, according to a paper by Army scientists in Maryland and bee experts in Montana in the online science journal PLoS One.

It's easy to miss, but in that last sentence, reporter Kirk Johnson takes a wrong turn. In essence, he confuses proximate and efficient causes (i.e. what bees ultimately succumb to vs. what makes hives susceptible to collapse) and from that logical error, a whole series of cascading failures ensue. But don't take my word for it. Go read Katherine Eban's crack piece of reporting for Fortune that dissects the problematic nature of the Times article; the underlying study; its lead author, Jerry Bromenshenk; and the role in the whole debate of the pesticide company Bayer CropScience.

The enigma wrapped in a mystery coated with pesticide

Let's be clear: The study itself makes no conclusive claims about the causes of colony collapse disorder. Eban quotes from the paper that the research does not "clearly define" that the virus/fungus combination is "a marker, a cause, or a consequence of CCD." A scientist interviewed by Eban very helpfully offers the metaphor of HIV to describe what's going on with bees. HIV doesn't kill you -- it's the opportunistic infections and diseases that follow HIV's dismantling of a sufferer's immune system that do. In the case of bees, the virus/fungus combo are most likely the follow-on infections that kill off an already weakened hive.
The Times blunder goes beyond whether Johnson or his editor misinterpreted the results of new research. Unfortunately, as Eban details -- in part drawing on an unpublished piece she wrote for the now-defunctPortfolio magazine --  the Times left out key pieces of the real story of the fight over research into what's killing the bees.

As I wrote last January, many scientists believe that a novel class of pesticides called neonicotinoids -- which are insect neurotoxins -- has played a major role in CCD worldwide. An Italian entomologist at the University of Padua, Vincenzo Girolami, has research currently undergoing peer review showing that bees can be exposed to lethal levels of these pesticides through the use of seeding machines that sow neonicotinoid-coated seeds. These devices throw up a toxic cloud of pesticide as they work: bees fly through the cloud and either die or take the pesticide back to the hive. Once inside, even at low doses, it can cause disorientation or, as Girolami calls it, "intoxication" of whole hives.

The maker of this pesticide is Bayer CropScience. What does a corporation do when it discovers it may have developed and marketed a dangerous and potentially devastating product? Here in America, you confuse, you obfuscate, and you buy off scientists.
And as Eban skillfully details, that's exactly what Bayer has been doing for the last decade or so.
Beeing clear

Which brings us back to Bromenshenk. He was an expert witness for a group of beekeepers that in 2003 sued Bayer over the pesticide Imidacloprid. Bromenshenk later backed out of the lawsuit and, soon after, Bayer gave Bromenshenk a "research grant." But it gets worse. Eban reports something the Times piece doesn't: that Bromenshenk's consulting company, Bee Alert Technology, is developing diagnostic tools for "various bee ailments." The company stands to profit from curing bee diseases -- and thus it's rather convenient that Bromenshenk has published research that points the finger towards "treatable" conditions, rather than pesticides, as the primary culprit in bee deaths. Indeed, he had admitted as much to Eban while she was researching her Portfolio piece.

While this tremendous potential conflict doesn't necessarily invalidate Bromenshenk's findings, it certainly warrants a mention.
So where does this leave us? In an email exchange with me, the Italian scientist Girolami said he agrees with many of the experts Eban interviewed: The virus/fungus combination is secondary. In Girolami's opinion, the underlying causes of CCD -- the factors that are weakening the hives and making them susceptible to infection and die-offs -- are most likely neonicotinoids along with the Varroa mite, a parasite that can infect and destroy hives all on its own.

In fact, last year Italy banned neonicotinoid-coated corn seeds and, according to this report, after the first non-neonicotinoid sowing, nary a hive was lost, although neonicotinoid spraying is still allowed in some areas -- and still linked with bee deaths. France has also banned coated seeds -- though there, as in Germany, the pesticide lobby has fended off total bans for now. As for the U.S., Bayer successfully convinced a judge to throw out crucial evidence in the beekeeper lawsuit and has, to date, prevented the EPA from releasing the data the agency used to approve neonicotinoids in the first place.

Eban concludes with the observation that little neonicotinoid research is going on in the U.S .at the moment, thanks in large part to Bayer's efforts to "support" scientists who work in other, shall we say, less-sensitive areas. It seems it is up to scientists outside the U.S., in countries less beholden to corporate interests, to do the scientific heavy lifting.
Ah, America. Fighting hard for the freedom to spray toxic chemicals everywhere.
Bees “restored to health” in Italy after this spring’s neonicotinoid-free maize sowing

During this year’s neonicotinoid-free maize sowing in Italy hardly a bee colony has been lost, bar a suspicious case where some leftover seed from last year may have been used.(Jun '09)
It does look like a resounding, spectacular success. During this year’s neonicotinoid-free maize sowing in Italy hardly a bee colony has been lost, bar a suspicious case where some leftover seed from last year may have been used. 

The ban on the insecticide-soaked seed coating enforced by the Italian government last year seems to have worked wonders, judging from the freshest data collected on the ground by researchers, beekeepers and regional authorities alike.

Giacomo Michelatti, expert of the Piedmont Region in Italy, considers: “At this point of corn sowing this year you can more than reasonably say that there were no cases of widespread bee mortality in the apiaries surrounding maize crops, as we had seen again and again, worryingly, back in 2008. Yet, the honey producers’organisation “Aspromiele” has reported only one case of disappearance of an entire bee colony at Luserna San Giovanni in the province of Turin to the authorities in charge. In this instance it was not possible for us to analyze the bees, because they have not been found, either dead or alive. Suspicions remain on the maize crops in the immediate vicinity, where neonicotinoid-coated leftover maize seed from last year may have been used”.

Moreno Greatti, from the University of Udine, states :“Over here in Friuli Venezia Giulia (Italy’s North-East, Ed.) and in the other maize-growing areas in Northern Italy bee hives have not suffered depopulation and mortality coinciding with maize sowing this year. To this day, bee colonies are well populated by these precious insects. Beekeepers from Northern Italy and all over the country are unanimous in recognizing that the suspension of neonicotinoid- and fipronil-coated maize seeds needs to be thanked and praised for this. Even in Germany and France, in a similar context, bees have been “restored to health”. In our region during March and April 2009 no cases of bee mortality were reported at all to the Regional Bee Laboratory. This had not been happening since 1999!  This year, in 10 beehives located here and there in our region, the same Laboratory has been monitoring for dead bees by putting them into special containers. This has been carried out between March and the beginning of May, to cover the period of maize sowing. They have not found out any differences between the hives located near maize fields, before, during and after sowing."

Although varroasis and other pathologies are found at other times of the year, the suspension of neurotoxic insecticides in seed coating has made the situation patently better.

Francesco Panella, President of the Italian Association of Beekepers, says: “On behalf of beegrowers working in a countryside dominated by maize crops, I wrote to the Minister of Agriculture to confirm the great news, for once: thanks to the suspension of the bee-killing seed coating, the hives in the Po Valley are flourishing again. We cannot underestimate that there are over one million hectares of maize crops, predominantly in Northern Italy, which means one crop out of every seven which are grown every year in our country. This year’s magnificent and unusual spring growth of bee colonies means a very good production of acacia honey in Northern Italy. We are now anxious to ensure that the temporary ban of neonicotinoid seed coating becomes definitive. Over the past few days we got news of devastating cases of bee mortality in some citrus groves of Southern Italy, which had been sprayed with one neonicotinoid."
(26 June 2009

No comments: