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Posted on 01 April 2012 by admin
Posted on 13 January 2012 by admin
Although news about Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) has died down, commercial beekeepers have seen average population losses of about 30 percent each year since 2006, said Paul Towers, of the Pesticide Action Network. Towers was one of the organizers of a conference that brought together beekeepers and environmental groups this week to tackle the challenges facing the beekeeping industry and the agricultural economy by proxy.
“We are inching our way toward a critical tipping point,” said Steve Ellis, secretary of the National Honey Bee Advisory Board (NHBAB) and a beekeeper for 35 years. Last year he had so many abnormal bee die-offs that he’ll qualify for disaster relief from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
In addition to continued reports of CCD — a still somewhat mysterious phenomenon in which entire bee colonies literally disappear, alien-abduction style, leaving not even their dead bodies behind — bee populations are suffering poor health in general, and experiencing shorter life spans and diminished vitality. And while parasites, pathogens, and habitat loss can deal blows to bee health, research increasingly points to pesticides as the primary culprit.
“In the industry we believe pesticides play an important role in what’s going on,” said Dave Hackenberg, co-chair of the NHBAB and a beekeeper in Pennsylvania.
Of particular concern is a group of pesticides, chemically similar to nicotine, called neonicotinoids (neonics for short), and one in particular called clothianidin. Instead of being sprayed, neonics are used to treat seeds, so that they’re absorbed by the plant’s vascular system, and then end up attacking the central nervous systems of bees that come to collect pollen. Virtually all of today’s genetically engineered Bt corn is treated with neonics. The chemical industry alleges that bees don’t like to collect corn pollen, but new research shows that not only do bees indeed forage in corn, but they also have multiple other routes of exposure to neonics.
The Purdue University study, published in the journal PLoS ONE, found high levels of clothianidin in planter exhaust spewed during the spring sowing of treated maize seed. It also found neonics in the soil of unplanted fields nearby those planted with Bt corn, on dandelions growing near those fields, in dead bees found near hive entrances, and in pollen stored in the hives.
Evidence already pointed to the presence of neonic-contaminated pollen as a factor in CCD. As Hackenberg explained, “The insects start taking [the pesticide] home, and it contaminates everywhere the insect came from.” These new revelations about the pervasiveness of neonics in bees’ habitats only strengthen the case against using the insecticides.
The irony, of course, is that farmers use these chemicals to protect their crops from destructive insects, but in so doing, they harm other insects essential to their crops’ production — a catch-22 that Hackenberg said speaks to the fact that “we have become a nation driven by the chemical industry.” In addition to beekeeping, he owns two farms, and even when crop analysts recommend spraying pesticides on his crops to kill an aphid population, for example, he knows that “if I spray, I’m going to kill all the beneficial insects.” But most farmers, lacking Hackenberg’s awareness of bee populations, follow the advice of the crop adviser — who, these days, is likely to be paid by the chemical industry, rather than by a state university or another independent entity.
Beekeepers have already teamed up with groups representing the almond and blueberry industries — both of which depend on honey bee pollination — to tackle the need for education among farmers. “A lot of [farm groups] are recognizing that we need more resources devoted to pollinator protection,” Ellis said. “We need that same level of commitment on a national basis, from our USDA and EPA and the agricultural chemical industry.”
Unfortunately, it was the EPA itself that green-lit clothianidin and other neonics for commercial use, despite its own scientists’ clear warnings about the chemicals’ effects on bees and other pollinators. That doesn’t bode well for the chances of getting neonics off the market now, even in light of the Purdue study’s findings.
“The agency has, in most cases, sided with pesticide manufacturers and worked to fast-track the approval of new products, and failed in cases when there’s clear evidence of harm to take those products off the market,” Towers said.
Since this is an election year — a time when no one wants to make Big Ag (and its money) mad — beekeepers may have to suffer another season of losses before there’s any hope of action on the EPA’s part. But when one out of every three bites of food on Americans’ plates results directly from honey bee pollination, there’s no question that the fate of these insects will determine our own as eaters.
Ellis, for his part, thinks that figuring out a way to solve the bee crisis could be a catalyst for larger reform within our agriculture system. “If we can protect that pollinator base, it’s going to have ripple effects … for wildlife, for human health,” he said. “It will bring up subjects that need to be looked at, of groundwater and surface water — all the connected subjects associated [with] chemical use and agriculture.”
Related action: Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) has a petition asking the EPA to ban Bayer’s toxic pesticide clothianidin.
Posted on 04 January 2012 by admin
By Lisa M. Krieger
Bay Area News Group
San Francisco biologists have made a macabre discovery that might help explain the mysterious crash of honeybee populations: zombie-inducing parasites.
Infected bees go mad, abandoning their hive in a suicidal rush toward bright lights, according to a new study by San Francisco State University researchers.
“It’s the flight of the living dead,” said lead investigator and biology professor John Hafernick, also president of the California Academy of Sciences.
The parasite, a tiny fly, has been found in bees from three-quarters of the 31 surveyed hives in the Bay Area, including in San Rafael, Mill Valley and Larkspur.
In a plot line similar to a George Romero horror film, the fly deposits its eggs into the bee’s abdomen, then takes over. The hapless bees walk around in circles, with no apparent sense of direction. Some are unable to even stand on their legs.
“They kept stretching them out and then falling over,” Hafernick said. “It really painted a picture of something like a zombie.”
The bees’ demise may contribute to what’s known as “Colony Collapse Disorder,” a phenomenon of failing honeybee hives around the United States — and a great concern in the agricultural community, which depends on these pollinators.
Despite six years of intense research, scientists have been unable to find a single reason for colony collapse. Increasingly, they suspect that several factors, including viruses and fungus, may be to blame.
“This is one more piece in the puzzle,” said researcher and SFSU graduate student Jonathan Ivers. “But no one has come up with a coherent picture of what the puzzle even looks like.”
The stakes are high, because honeybees are the primary pollinator of most nuts, vegetables and fruits. California’s $1 billion-a-year almond business, for instance, is entirely dependent on the honey bees.
“The agricultural economy of California would be devastated if honey bees disappeared,” Ivers said.
This creepy parasitic parable started in an unlikely place: a desk at SFSU. Three years ago, Hafernick returned from a field trip with a hungry praying mantis, so he scrounged for insects for it to eat. He found some bees under the light fixtures outside his classroom at Hensill Hall, and stuck them in a vial.
“But being an absent-minded professor,” he joked, “I left them in a vial on my desk and forgot about them.”
When he looked at the vial again — a week or so later — there was a startling sight: the dead bees were surrounded by small brown fly pupae.
“I knew that was unusual,” he said. “I knew that a parasitic fly was feeding on them.”
The fly’s identity — Apocephalus borealis — was revealed through a DNA test. The same fly is known to infect wasps and bumblebees.
Ivers and fellow grad student Andrew Core gained permission from Bay Area beekeepers to set up traps at the hives, then caught 20 to 50 so-called “worker bees” en route to find food.
The parasitic flies even engage in mind control. Somehow they’re able to hijack the bee’s normal daytime behavior, turning it into a nocturnal creature. Seven days after death, little larvae emerge from the bee.
The casualties are hard on a hive in two different ways. Not only does it lose important workers — but when these foragers are gone, younger bees inside the hive are forced to take their place. The entire labor structure of the hive goes awry.
“As you lose more and more workers, there’s a tipping point, which could lead to collapse,” he said.
Bees from the infected hives are often infected with a virus and a fungus — suggesting the fly might be a vector for these pathogens.
There are other gruesome examples in the insect world of exploitation.
An Asian wasp stings a cockroach in the brain, and injects venom that controls where the roach walks. Then it lays its egg on the roach and its larvae eat it alive.
And there’s an Amazonian nematode that, once inside an ant, turns the insect’s abdomen the same bright hue as a tasty berry. The ant is eaten by birds, who spread baby nematodes through their poop.
While SFSU researchers are far from discovering a treatment for bees, the next step is to expand their geographic search for infected hives.
Already, Hafernick has noticed a colony in the walls of his San Francisco house. “At night, they bounce against the windows while my wife and I are at the dinner table,” he said brightly.
And they’ll deploy a range of identification tools to better understand the freeloading fly. Next spring, they will glue tiny radio-frequency devices — smaller than the head of a pin — to the backs of bees, then track their travels. Once sick, do they re-enter the hive, infecting others?
“We don’t know how big a player this is” in collapsing colonies, he said. “It could be a really important one.”
Posted on 22 November 2011 by admin
Bees – for some reason – seem to fascinate many of us. Perhaps it’s their social structure: the queen, the workers, the drones, producing honey and baby bees and living their short lives in a super-organized way that would be the envy of any business. Like many an enterprise today, they even have guards outside the hives to sound the alarm if things get out of hand.
So when five years ago the world learned that bees in America and Canada were dying in large numbers, and hives were becoming defunct, the agricultural community and the beekeepers and just plain people became alarmed. Hives were deserted, the bees gone, presumably dead, honey production stopped, and the bee industry crippled.
The problem was called Colony Collapse Disorder, and it threatened California’s very profitable almond industry, which is dependent on bees to pollinate the trees and keep the nuts growing. And not just almonds: 130 crops in California alone depend on honey bees. Beekeepers from around the nation load their hives on trucks and bring them to California and rent them out to growers. As the disease, or whatever it is, spread, the price of renting ever-more-scarce bees went up.
Once the news media started reporting heavily on the plight of the bees and the beekeepers, interest soared. Researchers at universities around the country started looking into the problem; money was donated to figure out what was killing the bees. Stories appeared frequently about the scientific efforts to figure out what was causing Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) and what would cure it. With all that attention you’d think they would have solved the problem.
But what the scientists have discovered is that they really don’t know very much about bees. They don’t have a baseline of what goes on on the microscopic level in the hives. What viruses already exist in healthy colonies? You’ve got know that before you can start to understand if a virus is normal or abnormal and may be killing bees. Scientists like Joe DeRisi at the University of California San Francisco say they’ve made great strides, even though they haven’t found a culprit.
DeRisi: “I think there’s been tremendous progress. One of the frustrating things with CCD is it doesn’t look like there’s any one single agent or culprit that you can point the finger to that’s causing all of these problems. It looks to be a confluence of things that is several different pathogens or situations or environmental conditions that are coming together to cause losses that are more than would be expected. And that’s what’s frustrating people. What has occurred because of the interest in honeybees and because of the large losses caused by CCD is people like myself and other researchers around the country applying new techniques and tools to honeybees which they normally would not have done so, and so we’ve learned an incredible amount about the ecosystem in the bee and around the bee. And what we now know is that there’s a whole host of pathogens no one knew anything about and that certain combinations of these appear to be associated with higher losses than would otherwise be expected during the season. “
DeRisi’s lab discovered four new viruses that exist in healthy hives they never knew existed before. But that didn’t solve the problem at hand.
The disease remains a serious threat, with about a third of all bee colonies affected, and no cure in sight. But many among the other two-thirds of the beekeeping community think they have it under control, because their hives are doing well. They claim they take better care of their bees, feed them better, and use various medicines and techniques to keep the hives healthy.
One technique some beekeepers swear by is splitting the hives every year or even more frequently. That means taking half the bees out, getting a new queen (you can buy queens!), and making two hives out of one.Eric Mussen, a university extension bee specialist at the University of California at Davis, thinks splitting works – up to a point:
Mussen: “When you make these splits, you more or less take the pathogen load, all the problems, you kind of split it in half and then you’ve got these little colonies that have to build up really quickly and when that happens frequently they can outrun some of the parasites. They can outrun some of the disease problems for awhile, so those colonies get up and they make it and they’re, they’re good for a season. Okay, had you not split it, it seems like in many cases the microbes and the parasites become overwhelming and the colony dies, so my terminology is starting from packages, making splits, if you could keep your colonies forever young it looks like that’s a, a way that helps deal with the problem. Nothing’s perfect.
Q: Why hasn’t that completely eradicated this problem then? Why isn’t everybody splitting?
Mussen: Well, a number of people are splitting, either by default or some by design. They’ve, they’re now understanding what the problem is and, and how this helps. But the problem is that I think some of the equipment has or whatever the CCD problem is, is kind of innate in the equipment and so it really doesn’t matter what bees you put in and how you deal with them, it’s always right there, right on the edge ready to create a real problem. So you do the best that you can to try to just stay a little bit ahead of that.”
The research goes on – and so does pollination. The almond industry is surviving, and in fact, thriving. Last year was the largest crop ever. The crisis mentality seems to have passed, but the problem remains. While beekeepers are used to cycles where their bees die off, and then come back, Colony Collapse Disorder seems to be more persistent than previous die-offs, and shows little sign of abatement. While it hasn’t been decoded nor cured, it has focused attention on a unique part of agriculture that seems to need the attention. And that’s not honey-coating the progress that has been made.
Posted on 08 November 2011 by admin
(NaturalNews) Just because those cute little bear-shaped bottles at the grocery store say “honey” on them does not necessarily mean that they actually contain honey. A comprehensive investigation conducted byFood Safety News(FSN) has found that the vast majority of so-called honey products sold at grocery stores, big box stores, drug stores, and restaurants do not contain any pollen, which means they are not real honey.
For the investigation, Vaughn Bryant, one of the nation’s leading melissopalynologists, or experts in identifying pollen in honey, and director of the Palynology Research Laboratory at Texas A&M University, evaluated more than 60 products labeled as “honey” that had been purchased by FSN from ten states and the District of Columbia.
Bryant found that 76 percent of “honey” samples purchased from major grocery store chains like Kroger and Safeway, and 77 percent of samples purchased from big box chains like Sam’s Club and Wal-Mart, did not contain any pollen. Even worse were “honey” samples taken from drug stores like Walgreens and CVS, and fast food restaurants like McDonald’s and KFC, 100 percent of which were found to contain not a trace of pollen.
The full FSN report with a list of all the pollen-less “honey” brands can be accessed here:
So what is all this phony honey made of? It is difficult to say for sure, as pollen is the key to verifying that honey is real. According to FSN, much of this imposter honey is more likely being secretly imported from China, and may even be contaminated with antibiotic drugs and other foreign materials.
According to FSN, the lack of pollen in most conventional “honey” products is due to these products having been ultra-filtered. This means that they have been intensely heated, forced through extremely tiny filters, and potentially even watered down or adulterated in some way prior to hitting store shelves.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) holds the position that any so-called honey products that have been ultra-filtered are not actually honey. But the agency refuses to do anything to stop this influx of illegitimate “honey” from flooding the North American market. It also continues to stonewall all petitions to establish a national regulatory standard for verifying the integrity of honey.
Assuming that there is any real honey at all in the phony honey products tested by FSN, the removal of pollen and other delicate materials via ultra-filtering renders them medicinally dead. Raw honey is a health-promoting food that can help alleviate stomach problems, anemia, allergies, and other health conditions. Ultra-filtered honey is nothing more than a health-destroying processed sugar in the same vein as white table sugar or high fructose corn syrup.
The good news is that all of the honey products FSN tested from farmers markets, food cooperatives, and “natural” stores like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, were found to contain pollen and a full array of antioxidants and other nutrients. Local beekeepers are another great source of obtaining raw, unprocessed, real honey.
Be sure to read the entire FSN report at:
And if you have to buy at major grocery chains, the analysis found that your odds are somewhat better of getting honey that wasn’t ultra-filtered if you buy brands labeled as organic. Out of seven samples tested, five (71 percent) were heavy with pollen. All of the organic honey was produced in Brazil, according to the labels.
She spent months of studying what the rest of the world was doing to protect consumers from tainted honey and questioning beekeepers and industry on what was needed here. Gentry became the leading force in crafting language for Florida to develop the nation’s first standard for identification for honey.
Posted on 12 September 2011 by admin
Intertek is a leading provider of quality and safety solutions serving a wide range of industries around the world, providing audit, inspection, testing, and quality assurance and certification options.
Posted on 07 September 2011 by admin
Bavarian beekeepers forced to declare their honey as genetically modified because of contamination from nearby Monsanto crops
The European Union’s highest court on Tuesday ruled that honey which contains trace amounts of pollen from genetically modified (GM) corn must be labelled as GM produce and undergo full safety authorisation before it can be sold as food.
In what green groups are calling a “groundbreaking” ruling, the decision could force the EU to strengthen its already near-zero tolerance policy on genetically modified organisms (GMO
Bavarian beekeepers, some 500m from a test field for a modified maize crop developed by Monsanto – one of only two GM crops authorised as safe to be cultivated in Europe - claimed their honey had been “contaminated” by pollen from the plant.
The European court of justice found in their favour, a ruling that should offer grounds for the beekeepers to claim compensation in a German court.
But the court’s finding also potentially threatens recent EU legislation, introduced in July this year, that permits traces of GMOs in animal feed without a safety review.
Mute Schimpf, food campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe, said that the ruling “would confirm that existing laws allowing traces of unauthorised GM contamination are insufficient and would need revising.”
French Green MEP José Bové, an ex-farmer well-known for his destruction of a McDonald’s franchise in the south of France and the uprooting of GM crops in Brazil, said that the only protection farmers can have is for a complete ban on GMOs in Europe. “Beekeepers are powerless to prevent the contamination of their honey by GM pollen, as farmers are for their crops, and thus powerless to prevent the tainting of the foodstuffs they produce and the integrity of their product.
“The only sure way to prevent this is by precluding the cultivation of GMOs.”
Greenpeace, describing the traces of pollen in the honey as “genetic pollution” said that Monsanto and the Bavarian state should be held liable for the beekeepers’ losses as a result of their product having to be labelled as containing GMOs.
However, agricultural specialists criticised the ruling, saying that the decision has no grounding in science.
Guy Poppy, the director of the centre for biological sciences at the University of Southampton, told the Guardian: “There is no safety issue. This honey is as safe as any other.”
The corn in question is genetically engineered to produce an insecticide that naturally occurs in the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (BT). The production of this toxin protects the maize plants from European corn borer larvae.
“The Monsanto maize is genetically modified to produce the BT protein. But this same protein actually has been regularly used for years as a spray even by organic farmers,” he added.
“The consequences of these sorts of ruling is that new methods of plant breeding, whether GM or other forms that are developed, could be thrown out of potential use, making it impossible to innovate.”
Vivian Moses, professor of biotechnology at the University of London and the chairwoman of Cropgen, an advisory group on GM foods, said: “These beekeepers believe that there is a sensitivity among consumers of the presence of GM material, that the honey containing GM loses quality. They are just protecting their economic interest.
“But scientifically this doesn’t add up to anything, as the crop has been judged as safe for human consumption.”
In response to the ruling, the European commission will in two weeks discuss the issue of GMOs and honey with EU member states.
According to Brussels, it is likely that the decision will have an impact on the honey into the EU as Europe does not itself produce sufficient quantities for the size of the market. The bloc produces 200,000 tonnes per year and must import an additional 140,000 tonnes.
Argentina and China, both GM-friendly countries and the two biggest importers of honey into the EU, are likely to be affected in particular, the commission warned.
“The honey is not dangerous. There is no health risk from honey in the EU,” insisted EU consumer protection spokesman, Frédéric Vincent, worried that shoppers might stop buying honey as a result of the news.
“It’s an important ruling from the court. I can’t say at this point whether we need to change any laws,” he added. “The contamination is done by the bees themselves. We can’t put GPS tracking on the bees.”
Posted on 07 September 2011 by admin
Posted on 06 September 2011 by admin
BRUSSELS — Honey that contains traces of pollen from genetically modified crops needs special authorization before it can be sold in Europe, the European Union’s top court said Tuesday, in a judgment that could have widespread consequences on the bloc’s policy on genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.
The ruling from the European Court of Justice came after several Bavarian beekeepers demanded compensation from their government for honey and food supplements that contained traces of pollen from genetically modified maize.
The beekeepers had their hives close to fields where the Bavarian government was growing Monsanto’s MON 810 maize for research purposes.
The EU has strict guidelines on authorizing and informing consumers about foods containing GMOs – a policy that has caused problems for producers of genetically modified seeds such as U.S.-based Monsanto Co. that are used to much laxer rules in other parts of the world.
Kelli Powers, a spokeswoman for Monsanto, said the company could not provide detailed comment on the ruling until the firm had a chance to read the entire judgment.
But Powers emphasized that the company’s engineered corn seed has been approved as safe for human consumption.
“…the safety of MON 810 is confirmed by multiple regulatory approvals, including those in the EU, and by up to 15 years of successful commercial use and consumption of MON810 corn products in the EU and around the world,” Powers said in an e-mail.
Environmental activists said Tuesday’s ruling will force the 17-country European Union to strengthen the rules even further at a time they worried the bloc was dropping its zero-tolerance policy toward GMOs.
“This is a victory for beekeepers, consumers and the movement for GMO-free agriculture in Europe,” Mute Schimpf, a food campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe, said in a statement. “This ruling rewrites the rule book and gives legal backing to stronger measures to prevent contamination from the likes of Monsanto.”
Earlier this year, the EU approved rules to allow the import of animal feed contaminated with small traces of genetically modified crops – a move that was heavily criticized by environmental groups.
The EU and feed suppliers argued that a loosening of the ban was necessary because it was difficult to prevent minute traces of GMOs from finding their way into large shipments from overseas.
In its judgment on the honey, the Luxembourg-based court however seemed to take a stricter view.
The EU’s “authorization scheme for foodstuffs containing ingredients produced from GMOs applies irrespective of whether the pollen is introduced intentionally or adventitiously into the honey,” it said in its ruling.
The obligation to get special permission to sell the honey exists “irrespective of the proportion of genetically modified material contained in the product in question,” the court added.
AP Reporter Christopher Leonard in St. Louis contributed to this report.
Posted on 15 August 2011 by admin
- About 48 million pounds came from trusted and usually reliable suppliers in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Uruguay and Mexico.
- Almost 60 percent of what was imported – 123 million pounds – came from Asian countries – traditional laundering points for Chinese honey. This included 45 million pounds from India alone.
“This should be a red flag to FDA and the federal investigators. India doesn’t have anywhere near the capacity – enough bees – to produce 45 million pounds of honey. It has to come from China,” said Adee, who also is a past president of the American Honey Producers Association.
Data received by FSN from an international broker in India on Friday showed that within the last month 16 shipments – more than 688,000 pounds – of honey went from the Chinese port of Nansha in Guangzhou China to Little Bee Honey in India. The U.S. gurus of international shipping documents – Import Genius – scanned its database and found that just last week six shipments of the honey went from Little Bee to the port of Los Angeles. The honey had the same identification numbers of the honey shipped from China.
Government investigators in the U.S. and Europe and customs brokers in India told FSN that previous successful criminal investigations had proven that the Chinese honey suppliers and their brokers are masterful at falsifying shipping documents.
Each of the shipments – whether from China or India – bore an identical FDA inspection number. However, FDA’s Division of Import Operations did not respond to requests for information on how and where it issued that FDA number.
Food Safety News left several messages for the Little Bee Group to discuss the source of their honey and how they were breaking records when the rest of India’s honey producers were months behind schedule. None of the phone messages or emails were returned.
Other major Indian honey exporters insist that India gets no honey from China. However, Liu Peng-fei and Li Hai-yan of the prestigious Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences disagree. In a scientific study of the impact the global financial crisis is having on China’s honey industry, the apiculture scientists wrote that to avoid the “punitive import tariffs” Chinese enterprises “had to export to the United States via India or Malaysia in order to avoid high tariffs…”
The FDA says it has sent a letter to industry stating that the agency does not consider ultra-filtered honey to be honey.
“We have not halted any importation of honey because we have yet to detect ultra-filtered honey. If we do detect ultra-filtered honey we will refuse entry,” said FDA press officer Tamara Ward.
“FDA is just not looking” was the answer that most honey brokers offered. They added that the FDA doesn’t want to find it because then the agency would have to test for it, something it is incapable of doing in its existing laboratories.