Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Continuing Expose on Colony Collapse Disorder

This is more on the issue of Colony Collapse Disorder through the work of Tom Philpott.  I also copied the comments to give us a taste of the ongoing debate before we all make up our minds on the issue.

Without question though, whatever we may think of the husbandry, the    neo-nicotinoids appear to be the tipping point. We are seeing shoddy research put in place to hustle the regulator and now we are seeing denial and obfuscation as the effects become obvious.

Since it has been already banned in Germany and elsewhere, we will soon have statistics telling us of the effects of the ban on the colonies.

The argument that other insecticides are also found in the pollen is a bit of a red herring.  The particular class appears to have a cumulative effect even at low concentrations and thus far more lethal.

Most telling though is the experiment in which dead bees known to be exposed tested clean.  We simply cannot tell from the dead bees themselves with any confidence.

On top of that, exposed bees are sealing off affected pollen in their hives which tells us that the bees know the source of their problems.

Matt Ridley’s optimistic, but not so rational, take on bee collapse 

31 JAN 2011 5:33 PM

This beekeeper isn't alone in worrying about Bayer's pesticide.Photo: David GoehringMy problem with Matt Ridley's recent Wall Street Journal piece on bee collapse starts -- and more or less ends -- with his first sentence:

Some beekeepers, worried by the collapse of their bee colonies in recent years, are pointing a finger this month at a class of insecticide (neo-nicotinoids) that they think is responsible for lowering the insects' resistance to disease.

Ridley, a veteran science journalist who calls himself the "rational optimist," goes on to argue that it could be a virus, and not Bayer CropScience's highly profitable neonicotinoid pesticides, that's behind the severe trouble now haunting honeybee populations. His argument seems plausible enough; I am not an entomologist, so I cannot critique it.

I suppose, to use Ridley's framework, listening to mere beekeepers on the state of the honeybee would be irrational. But it isn't just "some beekeepers" who think that Bayer's neonicotinoids might be harming the bees. As I've reported, EPA scientists and the USDA's top bee specialist have independently raised serious concerns about what this class of pesticides is doing to the bees.

And in both cases, these concerns came to light not through the free dissemination of information on a key ecological issue with direct bearing on the public interest. Rather, they were raised because of a leaked document and an interview in a documentary film that has been shown in Europe but not in the United States.

In the case of the EPA, as I wrote, the agency has chosen to retain its registration of a Bayer neonicotinoid pesticide even after two of its own scientists rejected the scientific validity of a Bayer-funded lifecycle analysis that purported to show that applying the poison to farm fields was safe for bees. We only know of their concerns about the study because an EPA employee leaked a document [PDF] to Colorado beekeeper Tom Theobald. The now-discredited Bayer-funded study was central to the process of the EPA's registration of the pesticide.

As for the USDA scientist, the lead researcher at the USDA's Bee Research Laboratory, Jeffery Pettis, appeared in the 2010 documentary The Strange Disappearance of the Honeybees and described his own research showing that a Bayer neonicotinoid makes bees significantly more vulnerable to a harmful pathogen -- even when the pesticide is present at extremely low levels.

I haven't seen the documentary myself yet, but here is a transcript [PDF] of Pettis' remarks in the film. I wrote about this after Mike McCarthy, environment editor of the U.K.-based Independent, broke the story in the English-speaking press. Pettis told McCarthy that he completed his research on neonicotinoids two years ago and has still not published his findings. Why Pettis' research has not come to light remains unclear; I am looking into it.

Now, it's quite possible that Ridley is simply unaware that beekeepers' concerns about neonicotinoids are backed by hard evidence from U.S. government scientists. After all, the government has not seen fit to broadcast these concerns to the public, and to my knowledge, mainstream U.S. media have completely ignored my and other accounts of these stories.

But there is a thing called Google search, and it is rational to use it before opining on a topic. Ridley may be right that neonicotinoids have nothing to do with the plight of the honeybees. But to credibly enter the debate, he has to engage with not just unnamed beekeepers, but also with the government scientists who have raised concerns.

Tom Philpott is Grist’s senior food and agriculture writer. You can follow his Twitter feed attwitter.com/tomphilpott.

Should some pesticides be banned to protect bees? A USDA scientist dances around the question

6 APR 2011 7:52 PM

Maury McCownAs I reported in January, the USDA's top bee researcher, Jeffrey Pettis, has publicly revealed that he has completed research showing that Bayer's blockbuster neonicotinoid pesticides, used on million of acres of crops across the country, harm honeybees even at extremely low doses.

The revelation was significant because a growing number of U.S. beekeepers are worried that Bayer's pesticides might be the key culprit in colony collapse disorder -- the strange annual die-off of significant portions of the U.S. honeybee population. In December, a leaked document showed that EPA scientists had declared insufficient a previously accepted Bayer-funded study purporting to show that neonicotinoids don't harm honeybees in farmfields.

News of Pettis' as-yet-unpublished study has generated very little press in the United States beyond my coverage. In the United Kingdom, though, it's made quite a splash -- so much so that the USDA scientist got an invitation to address Parliament on the question of pesticides and bees. Pettis addressed Parliament on Monday, and the results were ... odd. He distanced himself from calls to ban neonicotinoids. In an account of his testimony before Parliament, The Guardian quotes Pettis like this: "Pesticide is an issue but it is not the driving issue."

On the other hand, though, he pointed to yet more evidence linking poor bee health to pesticides. According to The Guardian, in his testimony before Parliament, Pettis discussed a new phenomenon being observed by beekeepers: Bees are "entombing" or sealing off some pollen-filled cells in a hive. And when scientists test the sealed cells, they turn out to contain significantly higher levels of pesticides and other toxins than unblocked cells in the same hive.

Here's how Pettis described the phenomenon, according to The Guardian's account:

This is a novel finding, and very striking. The implication is that the bees are sensing [pesticides] and actually sealing it off. They are recognizing that something is wrong with the pollen and encapsulating it ... Bees would not normally seal off pollen.

And this novel strategy for dealing with pesticides is evidently not working, as The Guardian reports:

But the bees' last-ditch efforts to save themselves appear to be unsuccessful -- the entombing behaviour is found in many hives that subsequently die off, according to Pettis. "The presence of entombing is the biggest single predictor of colony loss. It's a defence mechanism that has failed." These colonies were likely to already be in trouble, and their death could be attributed to a mix of factors in addition to pesticides, he added.
This bit of testimony shines a harsh spotlight on pesticides among the "mix of factors" that appears to be killing honeybees. If the entombing phenomenon is "the biggest single predictor of colony loss," then the presence of pesticides, if that is indeed what's driving bees to entomb cells, appears to be the factor that tips troubled hives into collapse.

According to The Independent's account of Pettis's testimony, the scientist stressed what he called the "3-P principle -- poor nutrition, pesticides, and pathogens." (By pathogens, he's referring to the Nosema fungus and a virus called Iridoviridae, both of which appear to be present in collapsed hives.) Pettis bluntly stated that interaction between the three factors is what drives colony collapse disorder, The Independent reports. "It's the interaction of these three [that matters]," Pettis told Parliament. "You get three of them lined up and surely you'll have bees in poor health. Even the combination of any two could be problematic."

Now, to me, Pettis' testimony is a ringing endorsement for a ban on neonicotinoids. Think about his three factors. "Poor nutrition" stems mainly from lack of access to diverse fields consisting of a wide variety of flowering plants -- for example, bees don't eat very well in the vast areas of the country characterized by monocrop industrial-scale agriculture. But U.S. agriculture has been highly industrialized for decades, and hasn't changed dramatically since the early 2000s, when the U.S. bee population began to experience trouble. (Much as I'd like to see it, I doubt that the honeybee crisis will inspire U.S. regulators to demand the deindustrialization of agriculture.) Also, many commercial beekeepers feed their hives high-fructose corn syrup in the winter months. Again, that probably qualifies as "poor nutrition," but the practice predates the rise of colony collapse disorder. As for fungal and viral pathogens found in the environment, we can't ban them; they are a natural phenomenon, and honeybees can't survive if their immune systems can't ward them off.

That leaves pesticides. No, we can't ban all pesticides. But we can ban ones that have been shown, in microscopic doses, to compromise bees' immune systems, and that are expressed in the pollen of plants grown on tens of millions of acres across the country. Neonicotinoids fit both of those conditions. Pettis' own research, which he announced will be published in a peer-reviewed journal as soon as next month, found that neonicotinoids can kill bees at doses "below the level of detection." And virtually the entire U.S. corn crop, which covers about 25 percent of all cropland in the country, is treated with them.

Pettis hedged on the question of banning neonicotinoids before Parliament. Here is The Indendent:

Asked if he thought a precautionary approach -- meaning perhaps a ban [of neonicotinoids] -- should be taken with some of the new pesticides, he said: "I'm not a regulatory person so I hate to speak to 'what should be done'. My own view is that pesticides are one of the issues confronting pollinators, but not the driving issue."
It's true; Pettis is a scientist, not a regulator. I hope decision-makers at the EPA -- the regulators who oversee the pesticide industry -- are listening carefully to Pettis' analysis of pesticides and bee collapse.

Tom Philpott is Grist’s senior food and agriculture writer. You can follow his Twitter feed at twitter.com/tomphilpott.


31 JAN 2011 7:11PM

Something that seems to be getting lost in this discussion of the Bayer registration of Clothianidin, the specific neo-nicotinoid under fire, is that in the registration, Bayer specifically says that Clothianidin is very harmful, indeed lethal to bees if they are introduced to it by contact or ingestion.

The argument from the Bayer defenders is that "in the field" they contend that bees cannot come into contact with enough of the chemical to have the described effects since the chemical is applied as a seed coating.

The studies have all shown that neo-nicotinoids are systemic, meaning that the pesticide is present throughout the entire plant, including the nectar and pollen.

Because bees don't "typically" forage on field corn, which is the primary crop listed as intended by the Bayer registration (Canola is also listed, but not a major crop in the U.S.) the Bayer defenders contend that not many bees will come into contact with the pesticide.

However, the pesticide is beginning to be used on other crops beyond field corn that bees do visit as major forage sources like cotton, sunflowers and others.

Also, the Bayer study did not research adequately the long term effects on residual and cumulative amounts of the pesticide in the hive as pertains to larvae and brood.

Despite having so much information lacking, both the EPA and Bayer are faulted for having rushed yet another pesticide through the steps for registration without proper and required research  ...read more

31 JAN 2011 7:18PM

Where is the bee collapse? Can anyone show me a lifelong beekeeper where the dead bees are? All these sorta doomsday articles on honeybee collapse stories assume that we have an ongoing collapse. 

Utter nonsense. Right now the almond pollination is set to begin in CA and the 1.2 million colonies are their waiting in the FEEDLOTS. As I keep having to point out there is no ongoing random pathogen sweeping across the continent causing hives to collapse left and right. Instead there are Industrial beekeepers who maintain huge honeybee feedlots, with unnatural concentrations of beehives, where GMO soy flour and Corn Syrup are fed to ramp up the bees population in the winter to collect the pollination fees for an Asian Nut tree blooming in North American in the midst of winter.

To stimulate colonies and prepare them for almond pollination, beekeepers now use patties made of corn syrup, soy flour and brewer's yeast

Tom is missing the point and is more or less unwittingly supporting the BS theories floated by the Industrial Beekeepers who created the Bayer Smokescrean to hide their own mistreatment of honeybees.

31 JAN 2011 10:20PM

@Bud Dingler I personally spoke with a half dozen bee keepers who experienced CCD. Not just having spans of colonies not return but also at least one case where piles of dead bees were actually found a good distance from the original hives.

31 JAN 2011 7:27PM

BigBear is getting close, here's some interesting FACTS about canola and Bayer clothianidin

from http://www.napavalleybeecompany.com/2010/12/randy-olivers-reply-to-the-wiki-bee-leak.html

"Here is a funny fact: Bayer CropScience is the world's largest grower of hybrid canola seed (grown in Canada). They treat all the seed in their fields with clothianidin, and depend upon local beekeepers to pollinate the crop (it is the beekeepers' main honey flow, and sole source of nectar and pollen for the majority of the season). Yet those beekeepers do not generally report significant problems, and are able to supply bees year after year. If Bayer's chemical was seriously hurting the colonies used to pollinate the crops, then Bayer would be unable to get beekeepers to return, and would suffer the loss of tens of millions of dollars."

one other HUGE fact. there is actually a shit load of studies that are university driven, corporate driven and independent beekeeper driven done in the EU and USA and Canada that show that these chemicals are not a concern for honeybees. we keep seeing bomb throwing trolls here who make wild claims as if this is some new concern in the bee world and that no science exists that gave these materials the green light. its simply not true.

go to google scholar and search for honeybeea and neonictinoids and Bayer or systemic and do your homework first.

31 JAN 2011 9:23PM
@Bud Dingler

I would like to add this link to a very well documented report that summarizes several independent studies of neonics pre and post registration.

see the revised report at top of list

31 JAN 2011 8:03PM

While doing research for an article on CCD I found that neonicotinoids are not found in all CCD-affected hives. The number of CCD hives with no traces of neonicotinoids is not insignificant which means that it's not the single smoking gun that people seem to hope for. Is it a significant factor? Yes. Is it a single variable solution? No. There isn't one and there rarely is.

31 JAN 2011 8:28PM

@davesaunders Note that the USDA researcher found that neonics do harm even at levels below the rate of detection.

3 FEB 2011 6:55AM

Dave, the recent research by Dr Cedric Alaux in France and by Jeff Pettis' team in America casts a new light on the field studies carried out by Maryann Frazier at Penn State. She found neonics in less than 10% of CCD affected hives - but she found 31 different insecticides, herbicides and fungicides in one single bee-load of pollen - and an AVERAGE of 4 different pesticides in any single load of bee-pollen. She noted that when bees are exposed to ONE pesticide at a toxicity of say 'x' the mere addition of one ADDITIONAL pesticide produced a combined toxicity of more than '100x'. The reality in the field is that bees are being exposed to DOZENS of insecticides simultaneously.

The second part of the puzzle is the work of Alaux and - indpendently - Pettis. They found that when they fed bees a neonicotinoid at a minute doseage - and then exposed them to a disease called Nosema - ALL the bees died of Nosema, whereas a similarly exposed control colonies did NOT die of the infection. When they analysed the dead bees, which they KNEW for a fact had been dosed with the neonicotinoid - they could find NO TRACE of the insecticide. They concluded that bees fed a known dose of neonicotinoids at - died as a result of the insecticide weakening the immune system. but any traces of the neonic left behind in the pathology 'below the limit of detection'.

So we have a poison (Clothianidin) being applied to 88 million acres of American corn, every year  ...read more

31 JAN 2011 8:32PM

@Tom Philpott Thanks for the reminder. I did speak to some CCD people at the USDA and one did mention that. He's also the one who stressed that there is no single variable issue with CCD. They believe that multiple factors are involved.

31 JAN 2011 9:59PM

@davesaunders Obviously multiple factors are involved. We can't control naturally occurring fungi or viruses. We can control widespread use of pesticides that seem quite likely to be one of those factors.

31 JAN 2011 10:17PM

@Tom Philpott Yeah, that's all I was saying. I think there's a natural desire to find a single-variable smoking gun and there rarely is one. Especially when dealing with biology, things can get really complicated.

1 FEB 2011 12:53AM
@Dave Saunders

I have kept bees since I was 6 years old and am now in my 70's my dad and his dad kept bees too for their whole lives. So beekeeping is in my blood. I know most of the larger beekeepers in the USA and have maintained as many as 5000 colonies myself.

Beekeeping has changed and Industrial FEEDLOT beekeeping where hugely unnatural concentrations of bees are kept in FEEDLOTS waiting for almond bloom to occur are fed corn syrup and soy flour all of it GMO based. This feeding is done to get the bees to raise brood in mid winter. Dave mid winter is when the colonies would normally be at a low point in population. The fact that colonies are trucked from all over the USA co mingled and then dispersed also adds to faster dispersal of viruses and parasites.

In the wild honeybees space themselves 1/2 mile from each hive. Now we have 450 on a semi and dozens of semi loads staged in FEEDLOTS in Cali waiting for the Asian Nut tree to bloom in mid winter so they can collect their pollination fees and then wonder why their bees are all jacked up or turn out to be loaded with mites etc. 

THe same problems of preventative antibiotic usage in confined livestock is practiced in FEEDLOT beekeeping. Google Tylan for the antibiotic of choice used by FEEDLOT beekeepers and fed in corn syrup. 

I have posted frequently here about the rampant use of Fluvalinate, Comaphous ( a Bayer product Checkmite) and Amitraz being used by FEEDLOT beekeepers to treat for  ...read more

1 FEB 2011 1:06AM

I wish he had stuck to science writing. Now we have a British version of George Will on our hands.

4 FEB 2011 10:52AM
It could be a combination of things. I do believe the virus from the Royal Jelly imported from China to the factory farming bee keepers is part of the problem.

Read this about different bee viruses.

Or you can read it in PDF form.

4 FEB 2011 11:00AM

P.S. And here is another link from the USDA.

In one valley in China, overuse of pesticides decimated the bee population. Now, the pear trees are all pollinated by hand. Pears were the main crop in the valley. Each blossom must me hand pollinated in every tree, and they do it. Can you all imagine having to hand pollinated every bloom in an apple orchard?

If the bees keep dying, we are in a world of trouble. 

6 MAR 2011 12:27PM
Does anyone have any info regarding use of neonicotinoids in Europe?


sharonsj said...

It's pretty obvious that in the U.S. the only thing that matters is making money no matter who or what dies. It's been know for years that chemicals and pesticides are poisoning us, killing us, mutating our genes, and affecting our unborn children's health. You'll never get this crap banned in America as long as the corporations run the country.

arclein said...

I am not uncomfortable with pesticide use per se. however i am extremely uncomfortable with our regulatory regime which is apparently easily gamed. The process of clearing new pesticides has become compromised even though the individuals may have good intentions.

Certain pesticides - think soap - obviously degrade nicely and are at least modestly effective.

Others are persistent and that becomes the problem that is extremely difficult to research. Here we have good reason to suspect that low levels of the environmentally persuasive pesticide has caused CCD.

Any research program to solve this can take years and that is why the balking. The solution of course is to outright ban persistent protocols of any type to prevent research efforts in that direction.

There are plenty of other methods and we can accept lower yields if that becomes necessary.

Masher1 said...

Why does everyone fail to see the effect of Chernobyl? In a few years the Fukushima mess is going t seriously up the stress on all life not just bees.

CCD is a product of T.M.I.,Chernobyl and Fukushima beating the crap out of a stressed out system.

I have not seen any investigations done on collapsed colony looking at radioactive contaminants. I know why.

We know they must be there.

Now is the time to get on looking at this.