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Currently showing: Food security > Farming

28 Jul 13 12:34

Back in the spring, it seemed like I couldn’t visit my inbox or facebook stream without receiving requests to add my name to petitions to ban this pesticide or another in an effort to curb Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD, the “name given to the little-understood deaths of some 10 million hives’ worth of bees in the last six years.” (om/article/2013/07/25/colony-collapse-disorder-its-complicated)

Public outcry in the US had petitioners calling on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Congress to ban neonicotinoid pesticides in the spring. ( A coalition of beekeepers, environmental groups and consumer groups even went so far as to sue the EPA after it approved the registration of certain pesticides. (

The EPA, however, countered that they were "aware of no data demonstrating that an EPA-registered pesticide used according to the label instructions has caused CCD”, ( and the movement seemed to suffer from inconclusive evidence that any one specific pesticide was responsible for the mass deaths, and as spring turned to summer, the news flow on this topic seemed to go quiet.

A new study conducted by scientists at the University of Maryland and the USDA published this past week, however, begins to paint a credible, if not grim, picture.

The findings imply that no single pesticide is THE culprit, but the cocktail of chemicals – including fungicide – are key contributors in the decline of hive health.

The fungicide link is noteworthy, as fungicide – which obviously protects crops from fungus rather than insects – has never been seen as harmful to pollinators like bees. From the study: “While fungicides are typically seen as fairly safe for honey bees, we found an increased probability of Nosema infection in bees that consumed pollen with a higher fungicide load.”

Nosema apis is a unicellular parasite and is believed to be yet another contributor to the phenomenon of CCD. As part of the study, researches fed healthy bees pollen containing fungicides and miticides; both clearly reduced bees’ ability to fight off Nosema infection.

An additionally worrying finding was that much of the pesticides and other chemicals consumed by the bees was not directly from the crops they had been brought to pollinate, but from neighboring plants. Researchers found that even pollen from weeds contained pesticides, which had clearly drifted from nearby crop fields. From the study: “Our results show that beekeepers need to consider not only pesticide regimens of the fields in which they are placing their bees, but also spray programs near those fields that may contribute to pesticide drift onto weeds.”

These findings beg all sorts of questions. If these chemicals are killing bees, what the heck are they doing to humans? If there are SO many contributors to CCD, how is it possible to change enough of the factors to return hives to health, especially in the face of lobbyists and corporations who profit from the agricultural industry remaining the same? If chemicals are so pervasive, how pesticide-free is organic food really? And as it seems we won’t be able to get a handle on CCD any time soon, what are the risks and long term effects – on food supply, economy, environment, etc. – of a waning bee population and what can we do to mitigate those risks?

As an individual, I am doubling down on my commitment to purchasing organically grown produce. I already mostly buy organic, but I'll look to ONLY buy organic starting now. Signing petitions is one thing, but I am going to vote with my wallet as I think we sometimes have more power as consumers than as participants in the democratic process. Production has to respond to demand, right?

You can read the entire research article (Crop Pollination Exposes Honey Bees to Pesticides Which Alters Their Susceptibility to the Gut Pathogen Nosema ceranae) here:

The corresponding author for the study is Dennis vanEngelsdorp. Watch his TED talk here. It’s a bit old, but still good:;_content=ted-androidapp&utm;;;=on.ted.com_cZuN

Additional reading:

Dennis vanEngelsdorp: A plea for bees | Video on

Bees are dying in droves. Why? Leading apiarist Dennis vanEngelsdorp looks at the gentle, misunderstood creature's important place in nature and the mystery behind its alarming disappearance.

Category: Food security: Farming


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