Honeybee Colony Collapse Disorder: Brought You By Bayer CropScience
It has recently been reported that due to the rise of colony collapse disorder in honeybees that within a few years this insect may be extinct in England.
“Insecticides banned in bee emergency, by Jo Immig, National Toxics Campaigner
The mass death of hundreds of thousands bees in Baden-Wurttemburg, one of Germany’s prime agricultural states, and subsequent finding of insecticide residues in 99% of the dead bees, has prompted the German government to suspend the registration of eight seed treatment products used on canola and corn.
The suspended products contain the insecticides clothianidin, imidacloprid (sold to Australian gardeners by Yates as Confidor), thiamethoxam and methiocarb. These insecticides are all currently registered for use in Australia on a range of pests and crops by farmers, growers and home gardeners.
While methiocarb is a carbamate insecticide, the other chemicals all belong to a new class called neonicotinoids, which are based on the nicotine molecule. Neonicotinoids are systemic nerve poisons and kill insects on contact or ingestion. Exposure to sub-lethal doses causes behavioural disturbances and disorientation, which is ultimately fatal for beehives.
Recent research shows, somewhat ironically, that bees become addicted to plants that have been poisoned by neonicotinoids. Just as humans become addicted to nicotine, bees become addicted to synthetic nicotine substitutes. Once addicted, bees keep coming back to poisoned flowers, becoming locked into chemical dependency.
Beekeepers have long suspected insecticides played a role in the mass death of bees and their concerns are vindicated. “It’s a real bee emergency,” according to Manfred Hederer president of the German Professional Beekeepers’ Association. “50-60% of the bees have died on average and some beekeepers have lost all their hives”.
This latest occurrence in Germany follows the worsening situation in North America, Asia and other parts of Europe, where mass bee deaths have been occurring for several years.
Unlike the North American experience where bees mysteriously disappear from the hives without trace, German beekeepers found dead bees enabling researchers to investigate them.
Initial tests by the German Research Centre for Cultivated Plants found dead bees were killed by contact with the insecticide clothianidin, a Bayer Crop Science product.
The US Environment Protection Agency’s fact sheet on clothianidin, says the pesticide is highly toxic to foraging honeybees and other pollinators, and there is a risk from chronic exposure because the systemic poison finds its way into the nectar and pollen of treated plants.
Dr Simon Cubit, Public Affairs spokesman for the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA), confirmed there are two clothianidin products registered in Australia which are likely to come into contact with bees, but they carry warning labels advising users not to spray any plants in flower while bees are foraging. Clothianidin is registered for use on cotton, bananas, apples, pears, peaches and nectarines to treat a range of pests.
So where is the federal government’s crisis response? According to Dr Cubit, “a seed treatment is unlikely to come into contact with bees” but added the APVMA is “interested in having a look at data that suggests a link between the application of a chemical as a seed treatment and its translocation (transfer) to flowers some weeks or months later”.
Poison translocation, a well researched phenomenon of systemic poisons, might finally interest Australia’s federal regulator whose job it is to regulate poisons in our diet and environment.
It’s not the first time neonicotinoids have been in the spotlight. The French government banned imidacloprid, Bayer CropScience’s top selling insecticide as a seed treatment for sunflowers in 1999, and for corn in 2004, because of its clear link with mass bee deaths.
French regulators recently rejected an application to register clothianidin and have also banned fipronil for its role in killing bees. Fipronil is currently under review in Australia.
Scientists and beekeepers are scrambling to find out what’s causing mass bee deaths or, ‘colony collapse disorder’ as the phenomenon is called in North America. A number of theories have been proposed. Along with pesticides, other factors include climate change, genetically engineered crops, overworked hives, poor nutrition and pathogens, or, possibly a combination of all these stress factors. But whatever the combination, Britain is facing a food security catastrophe, and Europe is not much further behind.
Australian regulators must do whatever they can to protect bees as they provide an irreplaceable pollination role in our food production. Without bees we would likely not survive ourselves”.
Jo Immig is right to be concerned. Forty percent of crops grown in Australia are dependent on honeybee pollination.
But the situation is likely to worsen in Australia. Currently Australia is the only continent free of varroa mite, a major pest of honeybees. Varroa mite weakens bees and hives and apart from quarantine, control involves the use of pesticides, which means organic honey production is likely to be doomed.
Equally doomed are Australia’s feral honeybees, which are major crop pollinators. Once varroa mite is introduced into Australia, the feral honeybee population will crash. Conservationists might be happy that in future native bees are likely to be winners when feral honeybees cease competing, but what will the price be?
In every country infested by varroa mite, control measures increase the cost of honey production. Rising costs are driving many small to medium scale apiarists, and organic honey producers, out of business.
Tomorrow’s famine comes courtesy of profits for Yates’ and Bayer Crop Science today.
4th June 2009
Revised 27th April 2015