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Vital Pollinating Bees Need Protection

Friday, February 12, 2010 by: Peter Finch
Tags: honeybees, pollination, health news

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(NewsTarget) Honeybees provide us with around a third of our food through the simple act of pollinating fruits, berries, nuts, and vegetables. Agriculture has become so dependent on pollinating honeybees that continued precipitous decline in bee populations threatens much of what we eat and drink.

We face the prospect of a world with scarcer and therefore pricier coffee and orange juice for our breakfast and with fewer apples, oranges, lemons, berries, peaches, cherries, melons, nuts, squash, beans, and yes, honey. The prime pollinator of all these crops and more, the Western honeybee, is annually responsible for around $15 billion US dollars in food crop value from 130 food crops.

Around five years ago, honeybee populations started plummeting in North America. Suddenly, between 2005 and 2006, there was a sharp and catastrophic collapse of bee colonies in dozens of countries simultaneously. This was unlike anything seen before, even by the most experienced beekeepers.

In the USA, approximately one third of all hives have collapsed over the last two years. These losses constitute around 800,000 colonies in 2007 and a staggering 1 million colonies in 2008. Various causes have been mooted, and now neonicotinoid (nicotine-based) chemicals are under the spotlight.

In 2004, France banned the best selling pesticide imidacloprid. In 2008, Germany suspended the registration for eight pesticide seed treatment products used on canola and corn. The European Parliament voted late in 2009 for tougher controls on bee-toxic chemicals.

Movement to stem drastic honeybee population declines in North America has been much slower. For years, neonicotinoids have been sprayed onto corn. Now huge agribusiness corporations have acquired patents to coat their proprietary corn seeds with these neonicotinoids. These "neonics" are extremely persistent. They enter the plant and are present in pollen and on droplets of water on leaves.

Now, in light of the mounting evidence that new seed chemical coatings are deadly to bees, Sierra Club has been urging the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ban their use until it obtains scientific evidence that sublethal effects do not cause harm to America's honeybees.

A new documentary called Nicotine Bees was filmed across the US, in Germany, in Canada, and in India. It seems to implicate neonicotinoids as the most important factor in the bee die-offs, and the Sierra Club is urging the American public to view Nicotine Bees. They suggest showing the 45-minute film in schools and at organizational meetings.

Beekeeper Kim Flottum concludes, "It is obvious that bees and nicotine don't mix anywhere on the map. You can be pretty well assured that if honey bees are at risk, so are all the rest of the pollinators out there. All of them."

Another documentary film, The Vanishing of the Bees, warns that if pollinated crops are less available, our diets will consist more and more of rice, wheat, soybeans, and corn (all largely self- or wind-pollinated). Interestingly, these are the main crops that agribusiness has huge financial stakes in.

As gardeners and farmers, we can help the honeybee. Apart from working to ban indiscriminate spraying of pesticides, we can plant native flowers, trees and shrubs that are bee-friendly on our land. We can learn about beekeeping and set up hives in our own backyards. We can grow, buy and eat food that supports local, organic and small-scale farming practices and producers that are pesticide-free. When we look after the honeybee, we also look after ourselves.


About the author

Peter Finch is a certified-organic grower of premium produce and herbs, that he sells at seasonal farmers markets and to restaurants, natural food stores. Peter's farm perches high in the rolling hills of Northumberland, Ontario, Canada, where the glacial till provides mineral-rich soils. Farmer Pete's new blog is www.spicymesclun.blogspot.com.

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