Honey Bees and Native Pollinators Need Our Help (Published in the Daily Californian)
©By Christine M. Rossi, September 2014
On August 16, 2014 Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates proclaimed Honey Bee Awareness Day in the City of Berkeley. This coincided with National Honey Bee Day. Folks across the nation and in several other countries celebrated the Honey Bee by educating the public on the contributions of these tiny pollinators, share information about how they are in danger of complete population collapse world wide; and protest against Bayer, Monsanto, Dow and other Corporations who promote mono-crop agriculture and the extensive use of GMO’s, pesticides, herbicides and fungicides to control pests on crops (all of which they produce).
Honeybees are responsible for one out of every three bites of food that we eat, not to mention their contribution to the pollination of food crops for livestock, and their impact on the diversity of the ecosystem as a whole. Along with native pollinators (honeybees were introduced from Europe in the 1600’s) they are responsible for maintaining pollination of most fruits and vegetables that we consume as well as cotton, alfalfa, almonds, sunflowers, coffee… and the list goes on.
There are many factors that are contributing to the population drop including climate change, loss of habitat, potable water, limited diet, the varroa mite, pathogens; and the overuse of pesticides on crops. One group of pesticides called Neonicotinoids are a big part of the problem.
In the U.S., Neonicotinoids are currently used on the majority of corn and canola crops, cotton, sorghum, and sugar beets; and about half of all soybeans. They’re also used on the vast majority of fruit and vegetable crops. They are systemic and persistent, which means they stay in the plant and make their way to the pollen and nectar. Bayer Corporation produces three of the common Neonicotinoids on the market and one, Imidacloprid, is the most widely used, found in most home garden treatments as well as used on most crops. Interestingly enough in 2012 Bayer voluntarily removed it for use on the almond trees in California, because of its high toxicity to bees.
Bayer and other chemical producers like Dow and Syngenta who also produce Neonicotinoids blame this crisis on everything but their products. Profit is their bottom line. The research on Bee health by these corporations does not seem to be very holistic in their approach. The focus has been on control of bee pests such as the Varroa and tracheal mites with more chemicals, and the continued denial that their chemicals have any effect on the health of bees and other pollinators.
Several studies have been published over the past couple of years listing Neonicotinoids as one of the biggest factors in the population decline; Yale University, 2013, Harvard University 2014 and Pesticide Research Institute 2013 & 2014, Nature 2014. The European Union has banned the use of Neonicotinoids, and GMO seeds which are treated with Neonicotinoid on crops in Europe.
Effects of Neonicotinoids on bees include death; at lower doses, it weakens their immune system making them more susceptible to pathogens and pests. It is a neurotoxin that also causes disorientation, damaging a bee’s homing ability, and their ability to feed. All of which are signs of Colony Collapse disorder.
I am part of a grass roots effort to bring this issue to the forefront and to help people understand what we are up against, to encourage the public to vote with their checkbooks, support the pollinators by planting pollinator friendly plants, buying from nurseries that sell organic or certified pesticide free plants. Don’t buy plants from big box stores such as Home Depot, Lowes, Orchard Supply Hardware, or Wal-Mart and don’t buy garden products produced by Bayer, Dow, Syngenta or Monsanto.
Also, write your representatives in the State Government. The California Assembly just passed a bill AB-1789 postponing investigation of the issues with Neonicotinoids until at least 2018, which means no regulation changes on their use in California until 2020! This is a dangerous and shortsighted precedent and Governor Jerry Brown needs to be encouraged to veto this bill.
Bayer, Monsanto and other corporations say they want to make a difference but all I see is a desire to make a profit at the expense of the rest of us. Instead of throwing more chemistry at the problem, it would be amazing to see a paradigm shift in attitudes and see some of the vast profits that these corporations make put to use coming up with better ways to manage crops, change the way crops are planted to encourage biodiversity, not only for Honey Bees, but also for other pollinators that are essential for our food economy.
“Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson in 1962 helped ban the use of DDT; which was responsible for the decline of birds and fish at the top of the food chain. We are in the throws of another “Silent Spring”, this at the base of the food chain which will not only affect natural diversity but us humans and our ability to feed ourselves. It is time to empower the public to take a stand or suffer the consequences.
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