Bee-ware Of The Disappearing Honey Bees

We have previously explored the honeybee disappearance and the role that pesticides in general, and systemic pesticides in particular, could play in the colony collapse disorder. We also explored the possible connection between honeybee disappearance and genetically engineered crops or GMOs. Below are our concluding thoughts on the subject.

Honeybee landing on a milk thistle flower.  Photo by Fir0002/Flagstaffotos.

Honeybee landing on a milk thistle flower. Photo by Fir0002/Flagstaffotos.

Currently, at least three European countries (France, Germany, and Italy) have either banned or imposed strict restrictions on systemic pesticides. Disturbingly for U.S. beekeepers and ultimately all consumers, if we are to think of bees as the canary in the coal mine, is that despite the threat posed by colony collapse disorder and the link to pesticides, to date, there has been no well designed systematic survey of honey bee colonies performed in the United States. Nor do we currently have an accurate and complete picture of what pesticides are used, where and in what amounts, or the accurate measures of just what the maximum exposure is in agricultural or urban settings on blooming plants. This, despite the fact that the number of pesticides registered for use in the U.S. is over 1200 active ingredients distributed among some 18,000 products. In fact, in this day and age of pesticide addiction, it is astonishing that California is the only state requiring agricultural pesticide users to report to the government their chemical use on a monthly basis, detailing where, when, how much, and on what crop a pesticide was used. And even California’s reporting requirement exempts home and garden use and most industrial and institutional uses.

Professor Frazier warned that “the underestimation of systemic pesticide hazards to bees in the registration process may well have contributed to widespread pesticide contamination of pollen, the primary food source of our major pollinator,” and beekeepers like Tom Theobald strongly advise us to listen to the bees as they are “telling us something” before it is too late.

It’s not just the bees that may be telling us something.

Billions of dollars are annually spent on pesticides and insecticides. We fight epic battles with nature by pumping an ever increasing number of chemicals to destroy, it seems, all forms of life that we currently view as “pests” without much regard to the collateral impact such as the destruction of important insects (nature’s biocontrol agents), not just pollinators, birds, aquatic life, or the degradation of soil, water and air, to say nothing of the impact of pesticides on humans exposed to them. While some are beginning to realize that such a scorched earth tactic is short-sighted and that we should be working with nature, not against it, many are still loyally wedded to the pesticide mentality.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director put it best when he stated, “[t]he way humanity manages or mismanages its nature-based assets, including pollinators, will in part define our collective future in the 21st century.”