honeybees – why should we care that they are dying?

There is actually terminology for it – CCD Colony Collapse Disorder. Something is killing the honeybees around the world.  In the past, beekeepers annually lost between 5 and 10% of their colonies.  In 2007 that number rose to over 13% and last year to over 35%. Everybody immediately thinks of honey when they think of bees, and of course that is important.  However, the real effect is that honeybees are a major and primary pollinator of many food crops. A few of the crops affected are nuts especially almonds, fruits like apples, and many vegetables a full third of the entire us food supply counts on honeybees. No one is sure exactly what is causing this but many ideas make sense and its probably some combination of them that is actually at fault.

Certainly pesticides could do it and in fact it is well known that nicotine based products have an especially damaging effect. These products, Imidacloprid and Clothianidin (primarily from Bayer) are known to have fatal effects on honeybees and other pollinators. Imidacloprid and Clothianidin are bad chemicals all the way around and have a multitude of damaging effects to our environment. Also, this chemical is sold to farmers and to the general population for home use and also as the active ingredient in Advantage flea treatment for your pets. The danger of these chemicals may have been known and surpressed for your well being of course.  In a lawsuit by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) there states  “uncover critical information that the U. S. government is withholding about the risks posed by nicotine-based pesticides to honey bees. EPA should be evaluating the risks to bees before approving new pesticides, but now refuses to tell the public what it knows. Pesticide restrictions might be at the heart of the solution to this growing honey bee crisis, so why hide the information that EPA should be using to make those decisions?”  The EPA’s own fact sheet on Clothianidin says “Clothianidin has the potential for toxic chronic exposure to honey bees, as well as other nontarget pollinators, through the translocation of clothianidin residues in nectar and pollen … In honey bees, the effects of this toxic chronic exposure may include lethal and/or sub-lethal effects in the larvae and reproductive effects on the queen.”, “Assessments show that exposure to treated seeds through ingestion may result in chronic toxic risk to non-endangered and endangered small birds (e.g., songbirds) and acute/chronic toxicity risk to non-endangered and endangered mammals … The fate and disposition of clothianidin in the environment suggest a compound that is a systemic insecticide that is persistent and mobile, stable to hydrolysis, and has potential to leach to ground water, as well as runoff to surface waters.”  Enough said.  

Another possible causative factor could be the increased use of cell phones and other EMF generating devices. Some birds, bats, and insects have been known to lose their direction finding abilities when presented with normal strength electro-magnetic fields. They get lost and without knowing where to go they either starve or end up in an improper climate or without adequate shelter.

It took from 1984 to 2004 to reach the first billion cell phones and then only 18 months to get to the second billion, nine months to the third, and we will hit four billion cell phones by the end of this year. Wireless broadcasts are loaded with information containing packets, which resonate at various frequencies, and can cause biological effects when the frequency is the same, or similar to, the biological system of the insect or animal. In the case of the bees, it appears to disrupt intercellular communication and cause disorientation of the magnetite in their bodies that they use to orient themselves to the earth. Wireless technology is also being linked to the death of some migratory birds.

Genetically modified crops are another suspect, when bee colonies are released onto fields containing GM crops they do not thrive long, in fact one study using GM rapeseed showed the the bacteria in the gut of young honeybees to have the same traits as the genes implanted into the crop. This is far more disastrous then it first sounds, as it means that crop is fundamentally changed and it effects organisms differently than did the original crop.  

New hive infections and parasites could also be to blame but the fact is that they probably would not have such a damaging effect without the help of some of the above mentioned blights. We do know that parasites and bacteria are evolving due to the changes we are making to our ecosystem.  That effect only seems to get more pronounced as we move up the food chain. Honey bees account for way more than honey.  As mentioned before about one third of our US food supply or to put it another way about 15 billion dollars worth of crops are affected. Interestingly it is also some of our most healthy choice foods that are affected leaving the processed and dangerous products available.  This does not bode well for a nation that is just starting to embrace some better food choices and may now be asked to pay very heavy prices for those wonderful fresh foods. Honeybees are in fact a very big deal.