“Beemageddon & the Honey Bee!” Interview with Laurel Hopwood, Sierra Club Genetic Engineering Action Team & article by Todd Woody.
Presented by Willi Paul, Planetshifter.com Magazine
“The impact honeybees have on the human population and the environment is far more crucial than we may think. Agricultural crops rely on honeybees worldwide to provide them with life and guarantee their reproduction. Bees facilitate pollination for most plant life, including well over 100 different vegetable and fruit crops. Without bees, there would be significantly less pollination, which would result in limited plant growth and lower food supplies. According to Dr. Albert Einstein, “If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live. No more bees, no more pollination,… no more men”. Bees’ eradication affects us more than we may think.”
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Interview with Laurel Hopwood by Willi
In terms that the general public can understand, why has the sierra club genetic engineering action team "taken on" the demise of the honey bee?
Genetic engineering involves artificially combining completely different species together. Genetically engineered organisms (GEOs) are new life forms and can reproduce, spread and cannot be recalled. Sierra Club opposes the release of these new life forms into the environment. Ecological implications are of great concern.
Most corn, soy and cotton are now genetically manipulated. Since 2005, more and more of these crops are being "coated" with a class of insecticides called the neonicotinoids (neonics). The purpose is to kill all insects that may ill effect the crops. However, many insects are beneficial insects, such as the honeybee, which serves as a major pollinator for our food supply.
What is Smartstax and how does this genetically modifies corn attack the honey bee?
The corn doesn't attack the honeybee. Rather, Smartstax is a GE (genetically engineered) corn which has been stacked with several agrichemicals, including a neonicotinoid (neonic). According to many scientific studies, when honeybees are exposed to neonics, the bee loses its navigational skills and cannot find its way home. In addition, there is evidence that neonics ill effect the immune system of honeybees, thus making them more susceptible to parasitic and viral diseases. These exposures can be detrimental at very low doses, called sublethal doses.
Studies also indicate that this new method of insect control - "coating" the seeds with neonics - are - more dangerous to beneficial insects, than just spraying the crop. This is because the poison becomes more perservent in the environment, including foraging areas.
Does the sierra club have viable alternatives to pesticides?
Yes. Grow crops without the use of toxic agrichemicals, whenever possible. Encourage the public to purchase these crops helps to complete the circle. The good news is there's a movement towards local farmers markets. There is also a movement called Food Not Lawns, which encourages property owners to plant edibles, rather than grass. There is also a movement to grow crops on vacant lots.
Who are your partners in this work? What groups and companies are guilty of hurting the honey bees?
The good: Center for Food Safety, Pesticide Action Network (PANNA), Beyond Pesticides, XERCES Society, National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) and many beekeepers.
The bad: The Bayer Corporation manufacturers neonics; Croplife; Biotechnology Industry Organization, and others.
What has the EPA done in this "bee vs. chemical" situation?
Despite over a million people contacting the EPA with a request to cancel the registration of the neonicotinoids, the EPA has repetitively denied the request. See below.
Tell us about clothianidin.
Clothianidin is an insecticide within the class of neonicotinoids. On January 3, 2012, scientists at Purdue University documented major adverse impacts from clothianidin, used as a seed treatment in corn, on honey bee health. The results showed clothianidin present in foraging areas long after treated seed has been planted. The study raises questions about the long term survival of this major pollinator.
According to Tom Theobald, a founding member of the Boulder County Beekeeper's Association, "In 2010, I got hold of an EPA document revealing that the agency has been allowing the widespread use of this bee-toxic pesticide, against evidence that it's highly toxic to bees. Clothianidin has failed to meet the requirements for registration. It's continued use is in violation of the law."
Upon learning of the EPA's failures, the National Honey Bee Advisory Board, the American Beekeeping Federation and The American Honey Producer's Association urged the agency in a 12/8/2010 letter to cancel the registration of this pesticide. Yet despite the fact that clothianidin had failed a critical life cycle study which was required for registration, the agency responded in a 2/18/2011 letter stating: "At this time, we are not aware of any data that reasonably demonstrates that bee colonies are subject to elevated losses due to chronic exposure to this pesticide. EPA does not intend at this time to initiate suspension or cancellation actions against the registered uses of clothianidin."
Does the sierra club genetic engineering action team have a web site? Tell us about your public outreach efforts.
Our website is http://www.sierraclub.org/biotech/. Sierra Club members can join our biotech listserv, where information is provided on a range of issues regarding the outdoor release of GEOs into the environment.
Please share your feedback on the following article by Todd Woody?
Yes, there is evidence that fungicides, in a synergistic effect with the neonics, are contributing to CCD. But fungicides alone aren't the problem.
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As we've written before, the mysterious mass die-off of honey bees that pollinate $30 billion worth of crops in the US has so decimated America's apis mellifera population that one bad winter could leave fields fallow. Now, a new study has pinpointed some of the probable causes of bee deaths and the rather scary results show that averting beemageddon will be much more difficult than previously thought.
Scientists had struggled to find the trigger for so-called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) that has wiped out an estimated 10 million beehives, worth $2 billion, over the past six years. Suspects have included pesticides, disease-bearing parasites and poor nutrition. But in a first-of-its-kind study published today in the journal PLOS ONE, scientists at the University of Maryland and the US Department of Agriculture have identified a witch's brew of pesticides and fungicides contaminating pollen that bees collect to feed their hives. The findings break new ground on why large numbers of bees are dying though they do not identify the specific cause of CCD, where an entire beehive dies at once.
When researchers collected pollen from hives on the east coast pollinating cranberry, watermelon and other crops and fed it to healthy bees, those bees showed a significant decline in their ability to resist infection by a parasite called Nosema ceranae. The parasite has been implicated in Colony Collapse Disorder though scientists took pains to point out that their findings do not directly link the pesticides to CCD. The pollen was contaminated on average with nine different pesticides and fungicides though scientists discovered 21 agricultural chemicals in one sample. Scientists identified eight Ag chemicals associated with increased risk of infection by the parasite.
Most disturbing, bees that ate pollen contaminated with fungicides were three times as likely to be infected by the parasite. Widely used, fungicides had been thought to be harmless for bees as they're designed to kill fungus, not insects, on crops like apples.
"There's growing evidence that fungicides may be affecting the bees on their own and I think what it highlights is a need to reassess how we label these agricultural chemicals," Dennis van Engelsdorp, the study's lead author, told Quartz.
Labels on pesticides warn farmers not to spray when pollinating bees are in the vicinity but such precautions have not applied to fungicides.
Bee populations are so low in the US that it now takes 60% of the country's surviving colonies just to pollinate one California crop, almonds. And that's not just a west coast problem- California supplies 80% of the world's almonds, a market worth $4 billion.
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