Pesticides may be contributing to the loss of honeybees

By Bill Couzens
The article “Local farmers worry about effect of honeybee disappearance” Times-Democrat, May 16) missed a crucial point: pesticides.

In defense of the oversight, pesticides and their connection to the falling bee population is tough to prove. One reason is the variety of pesticides in use in different areas makes reporting difficult relative to testing for all possible pesticides.

The bee drop off is now termed Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).

Because of the newness of CCDs, there is not the years of science behind this phenomenon as there are with the connections between some pesticides and cancer.

What is known is that the numbers of bees that have disappeared are placing our food supply in jeopardy. Billions of bees have mysteriously vanished since late last year in the U.S. Is it all that unrealistic to assume pesticides may have a role in the bees’ disappearance?

For the sake of example, one possibility that comes to mind are insecticides, including Imidacloprid.

According to the Pesticide Action Network, in 1994 in California alone, 5,178 pounds of Imidacloprid were use to treat more than 20,000 acres. It might seem that this is a huge amount, but not when you consider what they used 11 years later.

In 2005, California’s use of Imidacloprid jumped to 163,618 pounds, spread 54,961 times treating 787,444 acres. That included 106,591 acres of wine grapes.

Virginia keeps no records of how much pesticide is used. There currently is no process in place.

Some experts believe Imidacloprid confuses bees, so they cannot find their way home to the hive.

The Pesticide Action Network warns that the exposure to Imidacloprid for humans causes skin and eye irritation, fatigue, twitching, cramps, and muscle weakness, including the muscles necessary for breathing.

We must ask ourselves the question: How something so significant can be added to the recipe of the environment, and not make a difference?

How can one possibly think that repeated exposures to chemicals known to kill bees at high concentrations – and confuse them at low concentrations – not make a difference in the bee population?

Because of the known dangers of pesticides, Virginia state officials now recommend that pesticide application sites not be located next to schools, because of the clear findings linking pesticides with asthma and cancer.

So is it really a leap that experts believe pesticides have a role in the vast decline of honeybee hives?

Each year, more than two million bee colonies are rented for U.S. crop pollination. The monetary value of honey bees as commercial pollinators is estimated at about $15 billion annually.

Beekeepers report record losses of 30 to 90 percent of their honeybee hives, according to a Congressional Research Service study released March 29. Testimony from Dr Caird Rexroad, Associate Administrator of Agricultural Research Service gave an overview of Colony Collapse Disorder.

Beginning in October 2006, honey bee colonies were dying across the continental United States. According to Dr. Rexroad, the CCD working group said the stress on the bees’ immune systems could be occurring for a number of reasons, including pesticide applications.

Many pesticides are toxic to bees, and in cases where pesticides may not be lethal, they may increase the stress levels of bees, making colonies more susceptible to disease.

The cause of colony collapse disorder has not yet officially been determined. But do we really need official causes to start making healthier choices, while the clock is ticking at least from a preventative perspective?

Communities need to take steps to reduce unnecessary and preventable exposures to pesticides and other harmful toxins that are both known, and suspected, to cause harm to the planet and human health – if not for us, for our children.

Legal does not mean “safe.” Invisible does not mean “not present.” The current bee phenomenon is a wakeup call that we maybe already too late in picking up.

Both our planet and human health are at risk. And as with human health, all living things on earth are the proverbial mirror for the condition of the planet.

William U. Couzens, of Middleburg, is the president and founder of Next Generation Choice Foundation.

©Times Community Newspapers 2007