IT was the day a Hampshire town was invaded – by a massive swarm of 20,000 bees.
Stunned onlookers described how the air turned black over parts of Romsey when the honeybees flew around residential areas on the lookout for a new home.
Even the police were called as the giant swarm moved south where some settled on homes and the corner of a garage in Anderson Road.
Resident Ian Little, of Footner Close, first spotted them as he drove into his road.
He said: “The air was literally black and it wasn’t until I came to a stop that I realised what it was.”
Shocked Mr Little got out of the car and heard an “intense buzz and the slamming of windows”. Volunteer beekeeper Peter Grimes was called out to deal with the bees, estimated to be between 15,000 and 20,000 in number. He said they could have come from a hollow tree in woodland, outbuildings or someone’s chimney.
Mr Grimes, a member of the Romsey and District Beekeepers Association, was contacted by police to remove them and he used a protective veil over his face and gloves to move many into a temporary swarm box on the roof. He was watched at a distance by local residents. …
Bees are making headlines these days, and not in a positive way. Colony collapse disorder has cut through honeybee populations, with some beekeepers reportedly losing up to 90 percent of their stock in recent years. European bee populations are also declining, and so are some species of North American bumblebee. That data is often interpreted to mean that all of the world’s 20,000 bee species are in danger, and that we may be in the midst of a “global pollinator crisis.” …
An environmental advocacy group released a report Tuesday finding a common pesticide is contributing to the collapse of honeybee colonies. Bee losses have averaged 30 percent annually for the last four years, double what’s normal. …
Scientists believe a combination of factors contributes to Colony Collapse Disorder, including habitat loss, parasites and viruses. But recent studies point to a common group of pesticides called neonicotinoids…
Paul Towers is with the Pesticide Action Network North America. He says current science suggests even low levels of pesticides can cause serious damage to bee colonies:
TOWERS: “While they may not kill the bees outright they suppress or depress their immune system, and make them vulnerable to a whole host of other factors, these other pathogens, the varroa mite, chief among them, and poor nutrition. It’s this combination of factors that puts the honeybees at greatest risk.”
Studies of corn grown from seeds treated with these pesticides show that the chemical does work its way into the pollen, as well as the soil and nearby untreated plants.
Several European Union countries have already limited use because of the risk to honeybees. A resolution introduced into the state Assembly asks the California Department of Pesticide Regulation to review the science.
Many California crops rely on bees. The almond industry alone rents about 1.5 million honeybee colonies each year. …
Neonicotinoids are a class of neuro-active insecticides chemically related to nicotine. The development of this class of insecticides began with work in the 1980s by Shell and the 1990s by Bayer. The neonicotinoids were developed in large part because they show reduced toxicity compared to previously used organophosphate and carbamate insecticides. Most neonicotinoids show much lower toxicity in mammals than insects, but some breakdown products are toxic. Neonicotinoids are the first new class of insecticides introduced in the last 50 years, and the neonicotinoid imidacloprid is currently the most widely used insecticide in the world. Recently, the use of some members of this class has been restricted in some countries due to evidence of a connection to honey-bee colony collapse disorder.
… imidacloprid breaks down rapidly in water in the presence of light (half-life = 1–4 hours) but is persistent in water in the absence of light. It has a water solubility of .61 g/L. which is relatively high. In the dark, at pH between 5 and 7, it breaks down very slowly, and at pH 9, the half-life is about 1 year. In soil under aerobic conditions, imidacloprid is persistent with half-lives on the order of 1–3 years. …
Imidacloprid is one of the most toxic insecticides to bees. The acute oral LD50 ranges from 0.005 µg a.i./bee to 0.07 µg a.i./bee, which makes imidacloprid more toxic to bees than the organophosphate dimethoate (oral LD50 0.152 µg/bee) or the pyrethroid cypermethrin (oral LD50 0.160 µg/bee). The toxicity of imidacloprid to bees differs from most insecticides in that it is more toxic orally than by contact. The contact acute LD50 is 0.024 µg a.i./bee (micrograms of active ingredient per bee).
Imidacloprid was first widely used in the United States in 1996 as it replaced 3 broad classes of insecticides. In 2006, U.S. commercial migratory beekeepers reported sharp declines in their honey bee colonies. This has happened in the past, however unlike previous losses, adult bees were abandoning their hives. Scientists named this phenomenon colony collapse disorder (CCD).
Neonicotinoids are what’s known as “systemic,” meaning they suffuse and “express” themselves in the whole plant when it germinates, including nectar and pollen. That’s precisely what makes them so effective at attacking pests—and, unfortunately, “nontarget” species like honeybees and other beneficial insects too.A reader recently alerted me to the fact that Bayer isn’t just marketing its product to industrial-scale farmers. It’s also marketing neonics to consumers and landscapers—meaning that they’re much more ubiquitous than even I thought.
Walk into the garden section of any Home Depot or Lowe’s, and you’re likely to find a product called Bayer 2-1 Systemic Rose and Flower Care, which offers broad-spectrum pest control (i.e., it kills a wide range of insects) and synthetic fertilizer in one convenient product. Take a close look at the label (PDF; see page 2), and you’ll find that its one active pesticide ingredient is imidacloprid, a neonicotinoid. “Apply granules to soil around base of plant, sprinkling evenlyin the area under branches,” the instructions state. How does the product work? Bayer provides a helpful explanation right on the label:
This product is absorbed by roots and moves through the entire plant. Even new growth is fed and protected against insects for up to 8 weeks. Rain or watering cannot wash off this internal protection!
That’s great news for your flower garden—and bad news for honeybees and other benign insects that your flowers might be beckoning with pollen and nectar.
In the past months, three separate studies—two of them just out in the prestigious journal Science—have added to a substantial body of literature linking widespread use of neonicotinoids to CCD. The latest research will renew pressure on the EPA to reconsider its registration of Bayer’s products. The EPA green-lighted Bayer’s products based largely on a study funded by the chemical giant itself—which was later discredited by the EPA’s own scientists, as this leaked memo shows.
When seeds are treated with neonics, the pesticides get absorbed by the plant’s vascular system and then “expressed” in the pollen and nectar, where they attack the nervous systems of insects. Bayer targeted its treatments at the most prolific US crop—corn—and since the late 1990s, corn farmers have been blanketing millions of acres of farmland with neonic-treated seeds.
And it’s not just corn. In addition to the vast corn crop mentioned above, Bayer’s neonics have worked their way into substantial portions of the soy, wheat, cotton, sorghum, and peanut seed markets.
The EPA under Obama may be stronger than it was during the frightening Bush years, at least on some issues. But there’s one mess that started back in 2003 that continues to make the agency look more like an industry protection agency than anything related to the environment.
Grist has the story of a leaked memo that has nothing to do with Wikileaks, and instead has everything to do with the nation’s food supply. The EPA has essentially allowed agrichemical giant Bayer to monitor itself on the safety and use of its own pesticide, clothianidin.
The pesticide has been used widely on corn, the largest crop in the U.S., and Bayer is currently trying to get it registered for use on cotton and mustard seed. Those crops don’t make up the country’s entire food supply, of course, but corn is a huge attraction for bees, which if you haven’t heard by now, are in serious trouble. And because they’re in trouble, so is a lot of the food we eat. … Clothianidin …is of the neonicotinoid family of pesticides. They are designed as systemics, to be taken up by a plant’s vascular system and expressed through pollen, nectar and guttation droplets from which bees then forage and drink …
Bayer CropScience LP has agreed to pay a $37,790 civil penalty to the U.S. to settle allegations that it failed to adequately implement a risk management program aimed at preventing and responding to chemical accidents and releases at its pesticide-manufacturing facility in Kansas City, Mo.Bayer CropScience LP has also agreed to spend $100,000 on a supplemental environmental project to install a series of air monitors around its facility, located at 8400 Hawthorn Road in Kansas City, Mo., to aid in the detection of any future chemical releases from the plant. The company produces more than 35 million pounds of pesticides at the facility annually.
Quarterly earnings at Germany’s largest drugmaker Bayer surpassed expectations as strong strong sales of farming pesticides offset margin pressure at its engineering plastics unit. … First-quarter adjusted earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) … for the group rose 9.4 percent to 2.44 billion euros ($3.22 billion), above the average estimate of 2.23 billion in a Reuters poll. … Sales at Bayer’s CropScience unit, the world’s second-largest crop chemicals maker after Switzerland’s Syngenta, jumped 15.6 percent.
“The season got off to an early and promising start in the northern hemisphere,” Chief Executive Marijn Dekkers s aid in a statement. The unit generates the bulk of its annual revenues in the first half of the year, when farmers in the northern hemisphere typically spray their fields.
“Very good start into 2012 especially of CropScience. We have to increase our earnings projections,” said DZ Bank analyst Peter Spengler.
Clothianidin was given a ‘conditional registration’ in 2003. EPA is supposed to license (“register”) pesticides only if they meet standards for protection of environment and human health. But pesticide law allows EPA to waive these requirements and grant a “conditional” registration when health and safety data are lacking in the case of a new pesticide, allowing companies to sell the pesticide before EPA gets safety data. The company is supposed to submit the data by the end of the conditional registration period. Conditional registrations account for 2/3 of current pesticide product registrations.
Unfortunately, it is a common practice for the EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs, to afford rapid market access for products that remain in use for many years before they are tested. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, of the 16,000 current product registrations: 11,000 (68%) have been conditionally registered.
“The environment has become the experiment and all of us – not just bees and beekeepers – have become the experimental subjects,” said Tom Theobald, a 35-year beekeeper who began beekeeping after working with IBM. “In an apparent rush to get products to the market, chemicals have been routinely granted “conditional” registrations. Of 94 pesticide active ingredients released since 1997, 70% have been given conditional registrations, with unanswered questions of unknown magnitude. In the case of clothianidin those questions were huge. The EPA’s basic charge is “the prevention of unreasonable risk to man and the environment” and these practices hardly satisfy that obligation. We must do better, there is too much at stake.”
A pamphlet distributed by the National Union of French Apiculture quoted Albert Einstein. “If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live,” Einstein was quoted as saying. “No more bees, no more pollination … no more men!”
“FAO estimates that of the slightly more than 100 crop species that provide 90 percent of food supplies for 146 countries, 71 are bee-pollinated (mainly by wild bees) …”