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Archive for May, 2009

By Richie Gerber

© Richie Gerber

© Richie Gerber

Can you guess the connection between Bees and Headaches? Most people can’t. Here is my first hint: aspirin. Can you now guess the connection? Probably not so here my second hint: Bayer. Still don’t know? Then here is the final giveaway hint which will make the connection obvious, neonicotinoids? Clothianidin aka Poncho® ? Imidacloprid aka Gaucho®? Humm…not as easy as I thought.

Give up? Here is what Bees and headaches have in common. Bayer, you heard me correctly. Bayer, the aspirin people with global sales of $45 billion, owns a subsidiary call Bayer CropScience AG that manufactures herbicides, fungicides, and insecticides (mentioned above) as well as treated seeds. CropScience alone does $8.8 billion in global sales that is about 20% of Bayer’s business. The EPA in a fact sheet issued 5/31/2003 has described Bayer’s Clothiantin, one of who’s trade names is Poncho® a pesticide from Bayer’s CropScience division, as follows: “ Poncho® is highly toxic to honey bees on an acute contact basis (LD50 > 0.0439 µg/bee). It has the potential for toxic chronic exposure to honey bees, as well as other nontarget pollinators, through the translocation of Poncho® residues in nectar and pollen. In honeybees, the effects of this toxic chronic exposure may include lethal and/or sub-lethal effects in the larvae and reproductive effects in the queen.” Is this starting to give YOU a headache? It sure is for me. It’s even worse for the bees.

In May 2008 Germany banned the use of Poncho® when German beekeepers reported loosing over 50% of their hives after a Poncho® application was linked to the deaths of millions of bees in the Baden-Württemberg region. Bayer responded that the toxic effect was an isolated incident caused by an “extremely rare” application error. So Poncho® is banned in Germany where Bayer was founded in 1863 and has its global headquarters. After the “extremely rare” application error people started to link Poncho®with Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). CCD has been ravaging bee populations and nobody knows its cause. Beekeepers thought they had the smoking gun.

So why does the EPA still allow the use of this insecticide in the US even though they described it in 2003 as “highly toxic to honeybees”? And why does the EPA still allow the use of this insecticide when its use has been banned in Germany where Bayer was founded 146 years ago, and has its global headquarters? Sure beats me. The EPA issued a Press Release on 7/1/08 stating its position on the subject. They state, “EPA believes this incident in Baden-Württemberg is not related to CCD. Although pesticide exposure is one of four theoretical factors associated with CCD that the United States Department of Agriculture is researching, the facts in this case are not consistent with what is known about CCD.” So for this specific incident the EPA does not see a connection between Poncho® and CCD. I am fine with their position that for this specific incident Poncho®, a “highly toxic” pesticide to bees, caused widespread bee deaths and that the Baden-Württemberg incident was not consistent with CCD. OK, I’ll buy that.

Then in August 2008 the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) filed a lawsuit in federal court to force the EPA to disclose studies of the effect of  Poncho®  on honey bees. They believe that the EPA has evidence of the link between CCD and pesticides, which it has not made public. So far the EPA has not responded to the NRDC’s request for information. This is quite strange indeed. It appears to me that “everybody’s got something to hide except for me and my monkey”.

Numerous theories have been floating around regarding the cause of CCD but none has been proven. Some of the challenges facing bee populations are: parasites such as Varroa mites, bacterial or fungal disease, commercialization and industrialization of beekeeping, pesticides, insecticides, fungicides, herbicides, climate and more. I believe that it may be a combination of several or all of these factors as well as others we do not even know about at this time.

I always told my Maine neighbors as well as my Bread of Life customers, I try not to eat food that has been treated with stuff whose instructions are: wear a long sleeve shirt and long pants, gloves, hat and respirator. Do not inhale or get in contact with skin or eyes. Then they dump this stuff on their food and EAT it. No way Jose!!! But those are pretty much the instructions for the application of Poncho®.

Epp-BEE-Log: I think the name Poncho® for an insecticide is cool. That is why I used it so much in this article. Great marketing! The EPA needs to redouble its efforts to analyze many of the substances on the market to see if they are part of the CCD problem. Maybe it might be a combination of chemicals. Maybe one farmer is applying chemicals while a nearby field is being pollinated. The EPA must also release any and all information on chemicals that are being applied to our food so we can see what is going on. All I can say to the EPA is, take two aspirin and call me in the morning!

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Migrant Bees: Show me the Honey

By Richie Gerber

News Flash: 10 Billion Bees descend on California’s Central Valley!

Bee on Richie's Mango Tree ©Richie Gerber
Bee on Richie’s Mango Tree ©Richie Gerber

This might sound like an alarm or call to action but in fact it is a yearly occurrence. It is the largest migration of “workers” in the US, actually in the world. Every February over 2,200 18-wheelers carrying more than 1.2 million hives from all parts of the US descend on California with their 10 billion bees. No, it is not Woodstock for the bees! The 10 billion bees descend on California in order to pollinate the almond crop.  It’s nuts, literally. That is equal to lining up 2,200 trucks end to end from Midtown Manhattan to Greenwich, Connecticut 30 miles away.

California’s Agricultural Industrial Almond Complex yields over 80% of the world’s almonds. This makes almonds the number one horticultural export crop in the US and generates over 2 billion dollars in income. It is also California’s #1 agricultural export. Over 1,100 square miles in central California are devoted to almonds. 700,000 acres with about two hives per acre dot this area every February.

For about three weeks in February ¾ of all the nations commercial honeybees are working in the almond groves of California. Just to put things into perspective next year the almond growers will need to increase the number of hives from 1.2 million to 2 million because of new trees maturing as well as increased acreage. This means that the need for honeybees to pollinate the almond crop will increase from 10 billion bees to over 16 billion bees in just one season for just one crop, for just three weeks. Astounding!!! Bee-yond Bee-lief.

After the three week almond bloom is over and the trees have passed flowering the beekeepers pack up the hives with their special forklifts and load them back onto their flatbed tractor-trailers. Than they deliver the hives to the next crop to bloom. After that, the next crop bloom and on and on; apples in Washington State, cranberry bogs in Cape Cod, blueberries in Maine, citrus in Florida, watermelons, cantaloupes, melons, cucumbers, squash, mangos, avocado, cherries, pears etc.… This is the life of the migrant bee, over worked, under paid and underappreciated. 

Bees have always been primarily prized for their honey, which has been a food staple since prehistoric times. Since the advent of modern agricultural industrial methods the relationship of bees and food production has changed dramatically. The role of the bee has grown from a producer of food to a pollinator service provider.

The commercial beekeeper harvests his honey but that has become a smaller percentage of his income compared to renting out his bees. The almond farmers pay about $165 per box (hive) for the three-week bloom. If a beekeeper ships his 30,000 hives for the almond bloom he or she can expect to receive $500,000. Yes, you heard me right, a half a million dollars for THREE WEEKS. Don’t get me wrong; I am not criticizing the beekeeper for making money. I think that is wonderful. It is hard work and with hive loss etc. it is a very risky business. The same goes for the farmer. It is a tough and risky business. 2008’s bumper crop produced 1.5 billion pounds of almonds. 2009 will probably be about 1/3 less because of weather conditions as well as weak pollination. So both the farmer and beekeeper must deal with the age-old feast or famine dilemma. I respect them both immensely.

Bees, you can live with them but you can’t live without them.

Bees have been around over 25 million years. In today’s world they have become an essential part of our agricultural food production industry. While they pollinate one third of the food we eat we have been oblivious to their buzz for help. They are exposed to all sorts of toxic herbicides, pesticides, insecticides and other toxic substances. Each different agricultural area and crop requires it’s own unique chemical cocktail. Although the crops are never sprayed during the pollination season they are certainly treated before the bees arrive. There must be some residue remaining on the plants, which may be toxic to the bees.

Epp-BEE-Log: Since modern woman/man has changed the job description of the noble bee from food producer and added on pollinator service provider we must be more conscious of how bees are treated. Trucking them tens of thousands of miles a year to various agricultural areas with diverse climates and crops must take some toll on them. They also are exposed to more toxic substances living this nomadic life.

Let’s heed their buzz. All we are saying is,” GIVE BEES A CHANCE’.

There is much more to this story that I will cover in future articles. 

* California Almond Board

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