Will pesticides destroy one-third of the human diet by killing the bees?

By | March 29, 2010

Bees are an important part of our environment and they are in danger. Without bee pollination, food production in the US would suffer greatly. Luckily, we have the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA site says this:

The honeybee is essential for crop production, particularly for specialty crops such as nuts, berries, fruits and vegetables.  Honeybees pollinate over 90 commercial crops, so that the plants can reproduce and provide the abundance and variety of foods we enjoy.  According to USDA, honeybees pollinate about one-third of the human diet, and pollination is responsible for $15 billion in added crop value.

The EPA site lists four possible causes, including “pesticide poisoning through exposure to pesticides applied to crops or for in-hive insect or mite control”.  They seem to me to be hiding the fact that pesticides are the main cause by saying that “potential immune-suppressing stress on bees caused by one or a combination of factors” is the most likely explanation. Yeah, pesticides would suppress bee immune systems.

Clothianidin is still used in the US, but it was banned in Germany. Are American bees stronger than German Bees? Why can they survive clothianidin which kills German bees?

In June 2008, the Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection (Germany) suspended the registration of eight neonicotinoid pesticide seed treatment products used in oilseed rape and sweetcorn, a few weeks after honey bee keepers in the southern state of Baden Württemberg reported a wave of honey bee deaths linked to one of the pesticides, clothianidin.[33]

EPA response here.

Azinphos-methyl ( toxic to bees for 2.5 days)  is still used in the US but has been banned in the European Union since 2006. Endosulfan ( toxic to bees for 8 hours ), and there are many more pesticides in use.

Are politics to blame?

Lax regulations expose children in the U.S. to toxic chemicals that are “setting the stage for an overwhelming wave of disease and disability…in the coming decades,” testified Pesticide Action Network board member Dr. Ted Schettler to a Senate committee Wednesday. Dr. Schettler is also the science director for the Science and Environmental Health Network and a previous advisor to the National Academy of Sciences and the EPA. According to CNN, Schettler cited evidence of childhood pesticide exposures increasing the risk of Parkinsons Disease, and called for a fundamental overhaul of the national laws governing chemicals. “Compared to adults, developing children are uniquely susceptible to hazardous environmental exposures,†Schettler told the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Dr. Gina Solomon, Senior Scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council, told the committee that EPA has failed to adequately consider the effects of pesticide exposure on children. “Current regulation may be leaving potentially dangerous chemical residues on food, where they could harm infants and children,” reports Solomon in her blog on the committee hearings. In testimony before the same Senate committee, an official from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), John Stephenson, told lawmakers that efforts to protect children from environmental threats “waned during the last decade.” USA Today reports GAO’s recent findings that the Bush-era EPA consistently failed in its duty to protect kids’ health, with “top officials routinely ignor[ing] scores of recommendations by the agency’s own children’s health advisory committee.” During the committee hearing, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) was more pointed. He said efforts to protect children from environmental hazards “ground to a halt during the Bush administration” and the EPA office for children’s health “withered on the vine.”

Does the EPA protect the environment, or corporate interests? How much does the EPA answer to the pesticide lobby such as CropLife America (CLA)? If the answer is “both” and you have a case where the two are in conflict, which one wins?  They are still disappearing.

The best thing to help bees survive, say scientists is to try to limit habitat destructionThe decline in the US bee population, first observed in 2006, is continuing, a phenomenon that still baffles researchers and beekeepers.

Data from the US Department of Agriculture show a 29 percent drop in beehives in 2009, following a 36 percent decline in 2008 and a 32 percent fall in 2007.

This affects not only honey production but around 15 billion dollars worth of crops that depend on bees for pollination.

Scientists call the phenomenon “colony collapse disorder” that has led to the disappearance of millions of adult bees and beehives and occurred elsewhere in the world including in Europe.

Researchers have looked at viruses, parasites, insecticides, malnutrition and other environmental factors but have been unable to pinpoint a specific cause for the population decline.

The rough winter in many parts of the United States will likely accentuate the problem, says Jeff Pettis, lead researcher at Department of Agriculture’s Bee Research Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland.

Winter figures will be published in April. But preliminary estimates already indicate losses of 30 to 50 percent, said David Mendes, president of the American Beekeeping Federation.

“There are a lot of beekeepers who are in trouble” he said.

“Under normal condition you have 10 percent winter losses.. this year there are 30, 40 to 50 percent losses.”

He said the phenomenon probably results from a combination of factors but that the increased use of pesticides appears to be a major cause.

“I don’t put my bees in Florida because the last couple of years there has been tremendous increase in pesticide use in the orange crop to fight a disease,” he said.

“It’s a bacterium and the only way to control this disease is to use pesticide… a few years ago they did not use any pesticide at all.”

He said that pesticide use “has changed dramatically” and has made beekeeping “more challenging.” …

via Scientists stumped as bee population declines further.

In August 2008, the National Resources Defense Council, a New York environmental advocacy group, filed a lawsuit against the federal Environmental Protection Agency accusing the agency of withholding information about the risks pesticides pose to honeybees. [35]wikipedia

It looks like there may be even more to this story. How can you know if an ingredient is toxic to bees if it is not even disclosed?  It could be that some “non-active” ingredient is actively killing the bees? Things may be changing for the better:

After 11 years of secrecy, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has decided to reverse a prior decision that allowed pesticide manufacturers to conceal the inert ingredients from their product labels. Since many of these ingredients are toxic, the agency now believes that consumers should know what ingredients are hiding in pesticide products.

As opposed to active ingredients, inert ingredients in pesticides do not kill or control pests. A typical pesticide product is composed of over 99 percent inerts while the remaining 1 percent or less are the actual active ingredients.

Prior to the EPA’s announcement, manufacturers were not required to disclose any of the inert ingredients contained in their products, even though federal law classifies many of them as hazardous. Some of these include formaldehyde, bisphenol A (BPA), toluene, sulfuric acid, styrene, and benzene, all of which are known carcinogens that are implicated in causing everything from breathing problems to sexual dysfunction. – prisonplanet

Nearly 4,000 inerts – including several hundred that are considered hazardous under other federal rules – are used in agricultural and residential pesticides.  … Some scientists have been concerned about the toxic effects of inert ingredients. A recent study found that one, called polyethoxylated tallowamine, or POEA, used in the popular herbicide Roundup is more deadly to human embryonic, placental and umbilical cord cells than the herbicide itself. – envhealthnews

If pesticides are to blame, this would be good news in one sense, because it should be reversible. Stop using them and the bees would return, right?

CropLife America (CLA), a national trade association which represents virtually all the leading U.S. crop protection companies, has encountered a remarkable mosaic of twists and turns during its 75-year history. The challenges and changes which CLA has managed include a constantly evolving landscape of industry companies and products, coupled with a mind-boggling array of public policy and communications issues attendant to modern crop protection tools.

… CLA officially evolved from the Agricultural Insecticide and Fungicide (AIF) Association which was formed by the Insecticide Committee of the Agricultural Insecticides and Manufacturers Association (AIFMA) in 1933. …

… Although the use of some major products has been severely restricted, and a few products have been withdrawn from the marketplace, the participation of ACPA in the scientific evaluations of FQPA implementation helped save innumerable crop protection products from cancellation.

… Litigation has become an increasingly valuable tool for the association. “During our most challenging days of FQPA implementation, we brought legal action against EPA to challenge certain stages of the agency’s process–we ultimately resolved these issues out of court, but we got the correct end-policy result,” says CLA Exec VP and General Counsel Doug Nelson. “Since then, we’ve turned to the courts to seek proactive solutions on a number of issues, and, of course, take strong defensive positions when our industry and/or the EPA are under attack.” – thefreelibrary

CLA takes their case all the way to the Supreme Court when fighting to use pesticides:

On February 22, 2010: … CropLife America (CLA) expressed its disappointment with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision not to review a recent ruling from the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals regarding National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits. CLA had filed a cert petition asking the Supreme Court to review and reconsider the three-judge panel’s decision which struck down the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) regulation that NPDES permits are not required when applying pesticides to or near water sources. – ptech

I believe this all stems from trying to produce too much food with too little land, along with some good old fashioned corporate greed.

3 thoughts on “Will pesticides destroy one-third of the human diet by killing the bees?

  1. Priscilla

    In 2006 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ National Toxicology Program determined styrene to be of “negligible concern” for effects on human development and reproduction, including endocrine effects. Further, no authoritative or regulatory body anywhere in the world classifies styrene to be a known cause of human cancer. Moreover, a study conducted by a “blue ribbon” panel of epidemiologists and published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (November 2009) reports: “The evidence of human carcinogenicity of styrene is inconsistent and weak. On the basis of the available evidence, one cannot conclude that there is a causal relationship between styrene and any type of human cancer.”

    Priscilla Briones for the Styrene Information and Research Center (SIRC), Arlington, Virginia. SIRC (www.styrene.org) is a trade association that represents interests of the North American styrene industry with its mission being the collection, development, analysis and communication of pertinent information on styrene.

    1. Ann

      Priscilla, your comment made me laugh!

      It’s like the alcoholic beverage industry consortium saying alcoholic beverages aren’t necessarily harmful.

      Or, as the chemical industry trade associations once said, why there’s nothing wrong with DDT.

      Or, the clinical control studies and meta-analysis reviews of the medical researchers who publish in the New England Journal of Medicine, JAMA and other prestigious medical journals that nearly always seem to find that the products of their funding pharmaceutical company are significantly beneficial.

      Odd isn’t it – how money sways objectivity?

  2. Brian

    I try to keep all my beehive in areas far away from where any pesticides are used. However; I am lucky, in that, I am many acres of land myself for my honey bees to roam. Others may not be as lucky. It is a shame, I know many beekeepers who lose over half of their hives each year.

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