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Helping Honeybees: Pesticides make it a tough time for pollinators

Josh Mogerman

Posted March 26, 2010

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Bee life ain’t easy. And lately, its been getting a lot harder.

Recent press reports show that an array of stressors are taking a significant toll on America’s bees. Pesticides are at the top of the list, but you and I can probably identify with some. It seems that poor diet and a heavy workload are really making things a drag for the typical honeybee. No doubt, those are things that impact a lot of us---but for bees, they are deadly.

The toxic environmental stew of pesticides, fungicides, and invasive species that seems to be the root of the perfect storm that spawned Colony Collapse Disorder have not abated. Add to that an array of new and highly bee toxic pesticides and you’ve got trouble. But there is more.

Miller-McCune recently had an article noting significant problems that have arisen from beekeepers using corn syrup as food in the absence of pollen, the insect’s proper food which is getting harder and harder to find on the road.

And Washington Post detailed a dangerous cycle that has started as commercial bee hive numbers have dropped---the remaining beekeepers are trying to pick up the slack with fewer bees. And the results aren’t pretty. Nationally, commercial beekeepers are reporting 30-50% bee losses over the winter. And in some cases, CCD has struck and taken out over 80% of some beekeepers’ bees. And that means fewer bees to pollinate crops this year.

But last week, pesticides stepped back into the spotlight. The scientific journal PLOS One published a study showing just how pervasive these chemicals have become in the environment, with three out of five pollen and wax samples from nearly two dozen states had at least one pesticide present. Further, their samples showed more than 120 different types of pesticide in various wax, bees, and hives that were tested.

But thanks to strong work from NRDC’s litigation team, there will be one less thing stressing bees : spirotetramat. After rounds of legal wrangling in federal court, the bee-toxic pesticide may no longer be sold or distributed because it entered the marketplace illegally. Known as Movento, Ultor, and Kontos, Bayer CropScience’s new pesticide is now illegal to buy, sell, or transport in the United States after NRDC and Xerces Society successfully argued that it was approved through a flawed registration process.

Bayer has asserted that spirotetramat is a “greener” pesticide and safe for beneficial insects. However the suit partly in response to concerns from beekeepers that systemic insecticides – like spirotetramat – cause delayed or chronic harmful effects on bee broods, and that Bayer did not conduct sufficient studies to determine spirotetramat’s impacts on bees. EPA itself observed that existing studies showed “increased mortality in adults and pupae, massive perturbation of brood development, early brood termination, and decreased larval abundance.” Now, we are not asserting that this chemical has anything to do with CCD, but there are lingering concerns that it is incredibly damaging to bees. In a year when bee losses are so high, it seems quite appropriate that this stuff will not be out there until it is proven to be safe.

Why does all this matter? Bees are incredibly important. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, bees pollinate $15 billion worth of crops grown in America. USDA also claims that one out of every three mouthfuls of food in the typical American diet has a connection to bee pollination. Beyond that, they are incredibly cool. Who couldn’t identify with a critter that dances to blow off steam after a tough day at work? NRDC will continue to do what we can to make those workdays just a bit safer.


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a_readerMar 27 2010 02:03 AM

I would like to know who's idea it was to stop feeding everything from bugs to animals their natural food and force feed them corn?
Why is everything from plastic to beef corn? Sigh....

Thomas DeanMar 27 2010 03:06 PM

Its scarey to think that the whole biological process that creates food on this planet could just suddenly stop.

Wendy DanisonMar 27 2010 09:11 PM

Why is there never any mention of the chemtrail activity going on in the sky everyday ( weather modification?) and how it is affecting all species?

Lamont CranstonMar 27 2010 10:09 PM


The reason that corn syrup is fed is that it increases the yield per hive of honey to follow the business model of getting the most dollars out of the hive in "honey" (if that's what you want to call it) in sales. It is also used just before the cold weather sets in for the hives to have a supply of sugars for their stores to get them through the winter. What it all boils down to is that it's economically cheaper and more productive for "honey" production than following the way nature wants to have these important creatures do their job. We do not have any pesticides on our property and do not follow conventional Honey Production Models, and use sugar for replenishing their stores just before winter. To date, we have not experienced any Colony Collapse. Grant you that our yield is not the best like some other bee keepers who use corn syrup all of the time to feed their hives and “robbing” them of the honey to follow the business model, but our bees and hives are healthy, and strong, and have an abundant supply of natural flowers and fruit trees that we planted on the property to get their nectar source from. Remember, Mother Nature always gets to bat last in the game of life.

BestBeekeepingMar 29 2010 10:00 AM

It is not clear yet if the use of pesticides is responsible for CCD, but common sense tells us that their excessive use will have detrimental consequences. Despite their chequered history, the chemical companies still claim to be whiter than white, when it is obvious that their only aim is to make profits - at any environmental cost.

Mike CantwellMar 30 2010 11:20 AM

Honey Bee hives transported to agricultural production areas to augment pollination often do not produce sufficient reserves of honey to last through winter and the use of supplements such as sugar water or corn syrup are needed. This practice has nothing to do with increased production; its survival of the hive. The PLOS ONE article showed 3 in 5 pollen samples containing a pesticide residual. The article did not present a causal relationship. Pesticide exposure has been suspected as a contributing factor in CCD, however, there are no data that actually prove this. Don't forget that CCD is not a new phenomena; it may reemerges sometimes after decades.

Lamont CranstonApr 3 2010 06:55 PM

Mike Cantwell:

I beg to differ as we do raise bees for honey production and we know of the practice of the constant feeding of Corn Syrup for increase production for profit. This is nothing new, as we know of several who do it regularly, and that is the only reason why as they feed this way during the entire year.

Interesting that you make the claim that hives that are transported do not make enough honey over the course of their producing year: Why is that, and where did you get that information? So far, we have only fed sugar water in late fall after we pull the last honey in August. This has worked well for us over the 10 years we have had hives and have raised bees for the sale of both hives, and honey. In addition, we also do not follow the model of the two year cycle of re-queening, and have not had swarms like we did in the past when we did practice this.

My opinion is based upon our experience with bee keeping, and also knowing what others in the area who also have hives and produce honey for resale.

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