Honeybees have it rough these days. The climate is changing, adding all sorts of weather-related stress and pollen producing challenges, and increasing numbers of bees are being shipped farther and farther for large-scale industrial agricultural pollination as local colonies struggle. Add to this Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), and we have ourselves a serious problem.
If you aren’t familiar with CCD or haven’t yet seen Vanishing of the Bees, let me bring you up to speed: honeybees are more than just buzzing insects that land on flowers and produce honey for you to enjoy in your tea; bees are the critical link between us and our food. In fact, without bees, “two-thirds of our natural crops would not be propagated.” This is bad news for anyone who needs food to survive, which constitutes, well, pretty much everyone on Earth.
In light of the continued and growing concern for bee population health and stability, a number of beekeepers and environmental groups from around the U.S. came together this past March to petition the EPA to cease sales of clothianidin, a neonicotinoids (neonics) class of pesticides that is suspected of being harmful to honeybees. The EPA rejected the petition due to failure to demonstrate a case for “imminent harm,” or harm that will occur “within the one to two years necessary to complete cancellation proceedings.” The agency also downplayed the science connecting clothianidin to bee decline, acknowledging that the chemical effects bees but not on a widespread scale.
It’s important to note that this EPA ruling is based off of low numbers of reported incidents related to clothianidin. Also be aware that clothianidin isn’t the only pesticide on the market being used today; mega companies like Bayer, the manufacturer of clothianidin, Monsanto, Dow Chemicals, Syngenta and BASF have numerous pesticides at their disposal and a powerful lobbying operation in place to ensure their agricultural chemicals remain in use.
Adding complication to the matter is the fact that pesticides may not be the only CCD culprit: viruses, mites, pathogens and habitat loss could also play a role, yet the likelihood of such massive, systematic and consistent colony collapse reeks of a broader-reaching agent. One has to also wonder about the relationship between government regulatory agencies and corporations. For example, a leaked memo in 2010 revealed that both EPA scientists and independent scientists determined that an earlier Bayer study researching clothianidin’s impact on pollinators was inadequate, yet the pesticide remains on the market today.
Losing honeybees at such an alarming rate is a very serious economic and environmental concern that deserves much more regulatory and public attention. Most of us buy our food from our local grocery store and don’t think about the greater connection between the pollinators and our apple, yet it’s a direct and critical relationship. One way you can combat CCD and the chemical lobby is to buy local, organic produce and support your local organic farmers. And, if you’re feeling adventurous, you can set up beehives in your yard (or on your back porch if your neighbors don’t mind), but check first with your town or city as some areas have specific beekeeping ordinances.
There are always immediate ways you can do your part to combat the heavily saturated chemical world we’re all exposed to, although more and more we find chemicals laced in practically everything, from baby bottles to the air we breathe. Clearly, the fight for a healthier planet and food future continues. Now, wouldn’t it be nice if the EPA got onboard?
Photo Credit: Fifamed
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