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Fears for crops as shock figures from America show scale of bee catastrophe

The world may be on the brink of biological disaster after news that a third of US bee colonies did not survive the winter

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/may/02/food-fear-mystery...

 

Disturbing evidence that honeybees are in terminal decline has emerged from the United States where, for the fourth year in a row, more than a third of colonies have failed to survive the winter.

The decline of the country's estimated 2.4 million beehives began in 2006, when a phenomenon dubbed colony collapse disorder (CCD) led to the disappearance of hundreds of thousands of colonies. Since then more than three million colonies in the US and billions of honeybees worldwide have died and scientists are no nearer to knowing what is causing the catastrophic fall in numbers.

The number of managed honeybee colonies in the US fell by 33.8% last winter, according to the annual survey by the Apiary Inspectors of America and the US government's Agricultural Research Service (ARS).

The collapse in the global honeybee population is a major threat to crops. It is estimated that a third of everything we eat depends upon honeybee pollination, which means that bees contribute some £26bn to the global economy.

Potential causes range from parasites, such as the bloodsucking varroa mite, to viral and bacterial infections, pesticides and poor nutrition stemming from intensive farming methods. The disappearance of so many colonies has also been dubbed "Mary Celeste syndrome" due to the absence of dead bees in many of the empty hives.

US scientists have found 121 different pesticides in samples of bees, wax and pollen, lending credence to the notion that pesticides are a key problem. "We believe that some subtle interactions between nutrition, pesticide exposure and other stressors are converging to kill colonies," said Jeffery Pettis, of the ARS's bee research laboratory.

A global review of honeybee deaths by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) reported last week that there was no one single cause, but pointed the finger at the "irresponsible use" of pesticides that may damage bee health and make them more susceptible to diseases. Bernard Vallat, the OIE's director-general, warned: "Bees contribute to global food security, and their extinction would represent a terrible biological disaster."

Dave Hackenberg of Hackenberg Apiaries, the Pennsylvania-based commercial beekeeper who first raised the alarm about CCD, said that last year had been the worst yet for bee losses, with 62% of his 2,600 hives dying between May 2009 and April 2010. "It's getting worse," he said. "The AIA survey doesn't give you the full picture because it is only measuring losses through the winter. In the summer the bees are exposed to lots of pesticides. Farmers mix them together and no one has any idea what the effects might be."

Pettis agreed that losses in some commercial operations are running at 50% or greater. "Continued losses of this magnitude are not economically sustainable for commercial beekeepers," he said, adding that a solution may be years away. "Look at Aids, they have billions in research dollars and a causative agent and still no cure. Research takes time and beehives are complex organisms."

In the UK it is still too early to judge how Britain's estimated 250,000 honeybee colonies have fared during the long winter. Tim Lovett, president of the British Beekeepers' Association, said: "Anecdotally, it is hugely variable. There are reports of some beekeepers losing almost a third of their hives and others losing none." Results from a survey of the association's 15,000 members are expected this month.

John Chapple, chairman of the London Beekeepers' Association, put losses among his 150 members at between a fifth and a quarter. Eight of his 36 hives across the capital did not survive. "There are still a lot of mysterious disappearances," he said. "We are no nearer to knowing what is causing them."

Bee farmers in Scotland have reported losses on the American scale for the past three years. Andrew Scarlett, a Perthshire-based bee farmer and honey packer, lost 80% of his 1,200 hives this winter. But he attributed the massive decline to a virulent bacterial infection that quickly spread because of a lack of bee inspectors, coupled with sustained poor weather that prevented honeybees from building up sufficient pollen and nectar stores.

The government's National Bee Unit has always denied the existence of CCD in Britain, despite honeybee losses of 20% during the winter of 2008-09 and close to a third the previous year. It attributes the demise to the varroa mite – which is found in almost every UK hive – and rainy summers that stop bees foraging for food.

In a hard-hitting report last year, the National Audit Office suggested that amateur beekeepers who failed to spot diseases in bees were a threat to honeybees' survival and called for the National Bee Unit to carry out more inspections and train more beekeepers. Last summer MPs on the influential cross-party public accounts committee called on the government to fund more research into what it called the "alarming" decline of honeybees.

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has contributed £2.5m towards a £10m fund for research on pollinators. The public accounts committee has called for a significant proportion of this funding to be "ring-fenced" for honeybees. Decisions on which research projects to back are expected this month.

WHY BEES MATTER

Flowering plants require insects for pollination. The most effective is the honeybee, which pollinates 90 commercial crops worldwide. As well as most fruits and vegetables – including apples, oranges, strawberries, onions and carrots – they pollinate nuts, sunflowers and oil-seed rape. Coffee, soya beans, clovers – like alfafa, which is used for cattle feed – and even cotton are all dependent on honeybee pollination to increase yields.

In the UK alone, honeybee pollination is valued at £200m. Mankind has been managing and transporting bees for centuries to pollinate food and produce honey, nature's natural sweetener and antiseptic. Their extinction would mean not only a colourless, meatless diet of cereals and rice, and cottonless clothes, but a landscape without orchards, allotments and meadows of wildflowers – and the collapse of the food chain that sustains wild birds and animals.

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w-o-w. And who in authority is doing anything positive? Not that it is a practical suggestion, but if bee-keepers limited hiring their hives to only organic-type farmers who don't use any pesticides, a few more hives might survive. One thing about the European honeybee Apis mellifera is that they can fly for several kilometers from their hives and there's no way of controlling what pollen/nectar they bring back. The local stingless bees (eg Trigona sp) fly far shorter distances but they pollinate Macadamia nuts apart from other indigenous flora.
It still surprises me when there are still people who have no idea what implications the extinction of bees on human has... "Why? They're just insects!" ... geez...
Needing more bee farmers......anyone game?
But im with all you guys on the thought of organic farming and less chemicals of pesticides. (This is a small part of a bigger picture but everything has a begining and a end result) I still say this is the number one cause of most poblems today ....I say all the un-natural stuff they pump into animals, fruit, veges is just wrong and is now been pumped into us, as we eat the chemical fulled fruit or vege.... Why pump fruit, bread, bananas full of VB, VC, sugar etc,etc, etc. when it should of had it in the first place if it was growing correctly in the first place with lots of TLC (or lots of neglact lol) and lots of the good old fashion poop, compost etc,etc. So if growing wrong, then they have to pump extras into their crops, onto their crops and all to make them taste and look good and its all about MONEY. If not sold the day or two after its picked, this means pump it with chemicals so it looks good on the shelfs, because giants of the world, (eg, woolworths, coles, $$$) store it for too long before it gets to the customers. etc,etc, etc.

Good old fashion......if everyone grew their own veges, then this would cut back on trucks, time wasted from farm to shelf, kock out the big giants of million $$ companys and them sucking the farmers dry and the customers...then the farmer wouldnt of had to head towards chemicals and pesticides....the farmer changed to keep in the game of making money but have lost so much more in the years this sad $$$ making way of doing things has come about.
Sorry went on a bit too much....heehee...just shareing a thought.
http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2005/03/23/1329911.htm

GM can hurt the birds and bees: study

The world's biggest study on genetically-modified (GM) crops has found they can have a harmful effect on insects, birds and other plants, fuelling debate over whether farmers should be allowed to cultivate such crops.

Read more
and also:

http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,473166,00.html

Are GM Crops Killing Bees?
By Gunther Latsch

A mysterious decimation of bee populations has German beekeepers worried, while a similar phenomenon in the United States is gradually assuming catastrophic proportions. The consequences for agriculture and the economy could be enormous.

Read more
and also, I have been wondering about increasing levels of atmospheric electromagnetic radiation (mobile phone traffic, satellites etc) - what does this do to the bees' ability to navigate? Maybe they are becoming unable to find their way back to their hives in the evenings and dying in the field? (a mysterious symptom is that the hives are found empty - no dead bees in them)....?
This sounds like alien abduction to me ... sorry couldn't resist ;)

Seriously though, think there was something recently about boats and dolphins in NZ that sounds a bit similar. If I get a chance I'll look it up.
yes, there's a theory that whale strandings are caused by boat sub-sonic noise messing with their sonar navigations systems....

same sort of deal
oh wow - this is amazing from the spiegel article:

"In many cases, scientists have found evidence of almost all known bee viruses in the few surviving bees found in the hives after most have disappeared. Some had five or six infections at the same time and were infested with fungi -- a sign, experts say, that the insects' immune system may have collapsed."

looks like it could well be GMO contamination!! disaster!! mutate my prettties!! mutate!!
I'm a massive fan of the show "River Cottage" on the Food Channel. For those that don't know, the presenter moved from London to a rural area, put in his own food gardens, raises ducks, chickens, a few pigs and a couple of cows, and has some bee hives.

I'd love to do exactly what he's doing, including having bees, but my mum told me as a kid that I'm allergic to bee stings. I'm going to ask my doctor about getting tested or what kind of risks I face if I do it. I'd love nothing more than to know that the honey I eat is right out of my back yard, and my little honey bees are helping the local environment.
If there's a Homoeopath in your area, Daniel, a visit to him/her could be the difference between being allergic and not being allergic.
Daniel, you can buy a hive of native stingless bees if you are allergic... they are pretty expensive though, think it was over $300 from memory when I last looked.

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