Here is the article:http://www.palmbeachpost.com/news/conte ... =7&cxcat=6
Mystery of lost bees points to pesticide
By SUSAN SALISBURY
Thursday, October 16, 2008
It's been two years since Florida beekeeper Dave Hackenberg sounded the first alert about a mysterious disappearance of bees now known worldwide as Colony Collapse Disorder.
Now Hackenberg and fellow Floridian Dave Mendes are headed to Paris, invited to speak before an international beekeeping conference on syndrome de depeuplement des ruches, the still-unsolved mystery of why bees abruptly leave their hives and never return.
Dave Hackenberg, a beekeeper based in Florida and Pennsylvania, will speak at a gathering of fellow beekeepers in Paris about Colony Collapse Disorder, which he first noticed in 2006.
Colony Collapse Disorder
The mystery: Adult bees disappear from a colony, leaving behind a box full of honey. No dead bees are found.
Why it matters: Honey bees are critical for agricultural pollination, adding more than $15 billion in value to about 130 crops, especially fruits, berries, nuts and vegetables.
The suspects: Scientists globally are looking at four potential causes: pathogens; parasites; environmental stresses, which include pesticides; andmanagement stresses, including nutrition problems. Most believe a combination of factors are to blame.
The pesticide: Some U.S. beekeepers suspect neonicotinoids, a class of insecticides based on nicotine and sprayed on seeds, interferes with a bee's nervous system, which is key to hive activity. Once the plant is mature, bees may accumulate the poison as they gather pollen.
The prevalence: In the winter of 2007-08,U.S. beekeepers surveyed by the Agricultural Research Service reported a total loss of 36 percent of their honey bee colonies, up 13.5 percent from the previous winter.
For Hackenberg, who made the first call to Florida Department of Agriculture on Nov. 12, 2006, it's been a frustrating two years. Although scientists know more than ever about bees, the insects continue to disappear, and promised research funding has failed to materialize.
"We don't have a lot of time," he said. "It's like if you had eight kids last week, and this week you have six. Two died, but you don't know why the two died, and the other six might die before the winter is over."
At stake is the food on your plate. Crops depend on pollinating insects, or, as Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Miramar, said earlier this year, "If there ain't no bees, there ain't no food."
One key difference between how the United States and France are approaching the problem is regulation of a class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids. On the market since the 1990s, the nicotine-based substance is in widespread use on 120 crops. But not in France, Italy, Germany and Slovenia: Those countries have banned the pesticide. Some studies have found that neonicotinoids impair bees' navigational and foraging abilities.
The insecticides, sold under various brand names, are used to treat seeds prior to planting, said Kimberly Stoner, an entomologist with the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven.
"The pesticide is put on the seed, and that plant takes in that pesticide and it moves through the vascular system of the plant," Stoner said. "Bees are potentially picking them up in pollen and nectar at low levels that don't kill the bees, but that might affect their behavior and immune system."
Stoner said more data is needed about how neonicotinoids are affecting bees before any conclusion can be drawn. But her $786,000 grant proposal to study pesticide residues and their impact on bees was among those not funded by the USDA this month.
In fact, despite well-publicized assurances from members of Congress that a recent farm bill included millions for bee-related study, no such research was funded in the farm bill's $28 million in "specialty crop" grants.
What data there is troubles Hackenberg. He cites a report from Minnesota this week where tests found corn syrup fed to honeybees contained eight parts per billion of neonicotinoids.
In France as well as the rest of Europe, that might be enough to bar that class of insecticides. Stoner said U.S. standards differ from those in Europe where countries operate under a policy known as the precautionary principle.
"It says that when there is enough data to have a serious suspicion of harm, you can go ahead and act without having to have absolute proof of harm," Stoner said. "It puts the burden of proof more on people who market pesticides to show that the claim is unfounded. Here you have to show proof of harm."
Mendes, Hackenberg and others in the beekeeping industry met with Environmental Protection Agency officials in September to discuss the issue. The bottom line is more research dollars are needed, Mendes said.
"In this country, we need data," he said. "If we can't get the funding to collect the data, then the chances of finding out one way or the other are stalled." For now, "We don't have the numbers."