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Save the bees from corporate greed

Two crucial scientific studies have confirmed that pesticides and insecticides at even low, undetectable levels are linked to the massive collapse of honey bee colonies.

Chemical firm Bayer, which produces the nicotine-based imidacloprid, has always dismissed any connection between the use of its insecticide and the disappearance of bee colonies in the United States and Europe.

But from the University of Maryland, we learn that sub-lethal doses of imidacloprid weaken bees, so that they lose their immunity to a common parasite Nosema.

Though the doses were not high enough to affect longevity or the ability to forage, the increase in the Nosema parasite infestation shows that even undetectable levels of the pesticide affect the immune system of bees.

The researchers conclude that interactions between pesticides and pathogens like Nosema, "could be a major contributor to increased mortality of honey bee colonies, including colony collapse disorder, and other pollinator declines worldwide."

Scientists at the University of Purdue, Indiana, analysed bees found dead in and around hives from several apiaries over two years and discovered the presence of neonicotinoid insecticides in all of them. These products are used to coat corn and soybean seeds before planting.

They were present on nearby dandelion flowers up to two years after treated seed was planted and in corn pollen gathered by bees.

"We know that these insecticides are highly toxic to bees; we found them in each sample of dead and dying bees," said Christian Krupke, associate professor of entomology and a co-author of the findings.

Other bees at the affected hives exhibited tremors, uncoordinated movement and convulsions, all signs of insecticide poisoning.

All corn seed and about half of all soybean seed planted in the US is coated with the sticky insecticide, and to keep the seed flowing freely in the planters, it is mixed with talc.

"Given the rates of corn planting and talc usage, we are blowing large amounts of contaminated talc into the environment," Krupke said. "This material is so concentrated that even small amounts landing on flowering plants around a field can kill foragers or be transported to the hive in contaminated pollen."

Bees that do not die directly as a result of the insecticide suffer other effects, such as loss of homing ability or lowered resistance to disease or mites. In other words, bee colony collapse is due to multiple problems, but it is likely that the loss of resistance to viruses, mites and parasites is itself connected to the use of these deadly chemicals.

(And while we are on the subject – what is the cumulative effect on human beings eating food grown in this way? It can't possibly have no effect. Perhaps we should be told.)

Late last year, Monsanto (inventor of the neonicotinoids and many other deadly agro-industrial weapons) bought up one of the key companies looking at genetic modification of honey bees to survive colony collapse.

Beeologics, based in Florida and Israel, has developed a product called Remembee, an anti-viral agent that works by interfering with the bees' DNA, its genetic make-up.

Kelly Powers, a Monsanto PR person, said at the time, without a trace of irony: "I don't need to tell you how important bees are to farmers who rely on pollination, and Remembee has great promise, pending approvals."

First they create the chemicals that harm the bees – then they manipulate their genes to resist some effects of the poison. And at every point - big fat profits!

If anything requires genetic modification, it’s corporations like Monsanto and Bayer, for the sake of the eco-system as a whole. The consequences of a world without pollinating bees are too shocking to contemplate.

Penny Cole
Environment editor
9 February 2012

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