...and another UK article:

Ban on bee-harming insecticides would be a mistake, says chief science adviser

Mark Walport's defence came as beekeepers marched on parliament against the government's opposition to planned ban

March of the Beekeepers to ban ban on bee harming pesticides., Westminster
Hundreds of beekeepers and nine major campaigning organisations demand environment minister Owen Patterson vote in favour of a ban on bee-harming pesticides, London, 26 April 2013. Photograph: Friends of the Earth

Plans to ban insecticides linked to serious harm in bees across Europe would be a "serious mistake" and could harm food production, according to the government's chief scientific adviser. Sir Mark Walport's strident defence of the government's opposition to the proposed ban came on Friday as hundreds of beekeepers and environmental campaigners marched on parliament in protest and delivered a petition signed by 2.6 million people to the prime minister at No 10 Downing Street.

"This plan is motivated by a quite understandable desire to save the beleaguered bee and concern about a serious decline in other important pollinator species," Walport wrote in the Financial Times. But Walport, who is just a month into the job, said the European commission must drop its proposal to suspend three neonicotinoids from use on flowering crops, such as corn, that bees feed on: "The consequences of such a moratorium could be harmful to the continent's crop production, farming communities and consumers."

Fashion designer Vivienne Westwood protests with beekeepers Fashion designer Vivienne Westwood protests with beekeepers Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA

Supporters of the ban, likely to be passed in a vote on Monday, argue the greater risk to food production is from the long-term loss of bees. Experts at the European Food Safety Authority have concluded there is now sufficient evidence to impose a precautionary ban while further research is done.

On the march, Steve Benbow, owner of the London Honey Company, which has several hundred hives across the UK, said: "We're here because the government is not listening to beekeepers – they need to wake up."

He said "The effect of neonicotinoid insecticides on bees and other pollinators is catastrophic. I've seen my bees get increasingly exhausted and ragged and they can die in huge numbers in front of the hives, but its the build up over time that is really damaging." Bad weather and the build up of the varroa parasite are problems, he said, but so are pesticides.

"It's fantastic to see the strength of support and that so many of the public are behind this issue," said Emma Hockridge, head of policy at the Soil Association. "Pollination is a vital resource for our farmers."

Bees and other wild insects such as moths, ladybirds and hoverflies, pollinate three-quarters of all food crops, but have been in serious decline in recent decades. Scientific research published in the world's most prestigious journals is increasingly linking neonicotiniods, the world's most widely used insecticides, to severe harm to bee colonies. The chemical industry, which makes billions a year from their products, insist their products are safe and banning them would harm food production.

March of the Beekeepers to ban bee harming pesticides., Westminster Vivienne Westwood and Katherine Hamnett along hundreds of beekeepers and nine major campaigning organisations demand environment minister Owen Patterson vote in favour of a ban on bee-harming pesticides, London, 26 April 2013. Photograph: Friends of the Earth

"No one is saying the solutions to bee decline are easy," said Paul de Zylva, from Friends of the Earth. He said a comprehensive bee action plan was needed. "The European commission's prudent proposed ban is a proportionate response to the conclusions of the most comprehensive review of risks pesticides pose to bees," de Zyvla said. "That found a 'high acute risk' to honey bees and an unknown risk to wild bees, and that's the point. Neonicotinoids have not even been tested for the risk to wild bees, yet we are told they are safe. It's notable that the words of ministers and civil servants sound just like those from the pesticides industry."

Walport said: "All too often, people citing the precautionary principle simply overreact: if there is any potential hazard associated with an activity, then it should be stopped. In the longer term, we need a comprehensive action plan, exploring the complex factors behind the decline of pollinators." A report on 5 April from parliament's green watchdog, the Environmental Audit Committee, accused the government of "extraordinary complacency" and relying on "fundamentally flawed" studies.

EU member states will vote on Monday on a two-year suspension of neonicotinoids across the continent. European commission sources expect the vote will not produce a decisive result for or against the ban, meaning the EC has the power to fulfil its intention to put the ban in place.

The "march of the beekeepers" was organised by campaign group Avaaz, whose petition attracted 2.6 million signatures, as well as Buglife, Environmental Justice Foundation, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Pesticide Action Network, RSPB, Soil Association and 38Degrees.

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  • I have moved all the articles across to a new Bee group as it was getting too bulky and hard to find in here.

  • New labels for pesticides linked to bee deaths

    Updated Tue 20 Aug 2013, 1:12pm AEST

    The United States Environmental Protection Agency is introducing new labelling requirements for pesticides suspected of contributing to the global decline in bee populations.

    It follows a European Union decision to impose a three-year ban on the same pesticides, known as neonicotinoids, from December.

    Neonicotinoids are a widely used group of pesticides, popular because of their low toxicity for humans. But it's their effect on bees that's causing concern.

    "This class of pesticides, these systemic neonicotinoids, fundamentally weaken bees, suppressing their immunity and making them more susceptible to a wider range of factors. Whether that's poor nutrition, whether that's other diseases, or parasites, these factors in combination are what are driving these bee declines," said Paul Towers of US-based lobby group Pesticide Action Network.

    Mr Towers says the new labelling requirements, prohibiting the use of some neonicotinoid pesticide products where bees are present, are welcome, but more needs to be done.

    "US agriculture faces one of the worst years on record for honeybee declines, so the EPA should move quickly to protect bees.

    "It should start with creating the best protections possible in the places where bees face the greatest burden of pesticide exposure.

    "They should act on this growing body of scientific evidence and really focus on restricting the use of neonicotinoids, especially as seed treatments throughout agriculture."

    In Australia, the farm chemical regulator, the APVMA, is researching the impact of neonicotinoids on the health of honey bees.

    Trevor Weatherhead, of the Australian Honeybee Industry Council, says neonicotinoids are a concern for the industry.

    "The concern that has been raised is the sub-lethal effects.

    "We know that they are like a lot of other pesticides, that they will kill bees.

    "But it's the sub-lethal effect where there could be a minute amount which is below the level of what will kill a bee, but will have an effect on the bee, and the concern is that through navigation ability of the bee they will go out and lose their ability to find their way home."

    Mr Weatherhead says the situation in Australia may be different to the US, and to Europe, where a ban on neonicotinoids comes into effect from December.

    "The picture in Australia is not as clear because in the rest of the world they have a thing called Varroa mite, which we don't have here in Australia.

    "We believe this is confusing the issue, that the Varroa mite is also weakening the bee as well, so any effect on the bee will be more pronounced than here in Australia where we don't have that mite.

    "We're just waiting to find out more information. There is hopefully some research being done to look at whether the nectar and the pollen within the plants that are seed-coated are lethal and have an effect on bees."

    The Australian review is expected to deliver findings before the end of the year. Any changes to labelling would not be introduced until new agricultural and veterinary chemical regulations come into effect in July 2014.

  • Excerpt from article in TIME magazine:

    You can thank the Apis mellifera, better known as the Western honeybee, for 1 in every 3 mouthfuls you'll eat today. Honeybees — which pollinate crops like apples, blueberries and cucumbers — are the "glue that holds our agricultural system together," as the journalist Hannah Nordhaus put it in her 2011 book The Beekeeper's Lament. But that glue is failing. Bee hives are dying off or disappearing thanks to a still-unsolved malady called colony collapse disorder (CCD), so much so that commercial beekeepers are being pushed out of the business.

    So what's killing the honeybees? Pesticides — including a new class called neonicotinoids — seem to be harming bees even at what should be safe levels. Biological threats like the Varroa mite are killing off colonies directly and spreading deadly diseases. As our farms become monocultures of commodity crops like wheat and corn — plants that provide little pollen for foraging bees — honeybees are literally starving to death. If we don't do something, there may not be enough honeybees to meet the pollination demands for valuable crops. But more than that, in a world where up to 100,000 species go extinct each year, the vanishing honeybee could be the herald of a permanently diminished planet.

  • Scientists discover what’s killing the bees and it’s worse than you...

    As we’ve written before, the mysterious mass die-off of honey bees that pollinate $30 billion worth of crops in the US has so decimated America’s apis mellifera population that one bad winter could leave fields fallow. Now, a new study has pinpointed some of the probable causes of bee deaths and the rather scary results show that averting beemageddon will be much more difficult than previously thought.

    Scientists had struggled to find the trigger for so-called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) that has wiped out an estimated 10 million beehives, worth $2 billion, over the past six years. Suspects have included pesticides, disease-bearing parasites and poor nutrition. But in a first-of-its-kind study published today in the journal PLOS ONE, scientists at the University of Maryland and the US Department of Agriculture have identified a witch’s brew of pesticides and fungicides contaminating pollen that bees collect to feed their hives. The findings break new ground on why large numbers of bees are dying though they do not identify the specific cause of CCD, where an entire beehive dies at once.

    When researchers collected pollen from hives on the east coast pollinating cranberry, watermelon and other crops and fed it to healthy bees, those bees showed a significant decline in their ability to resist infection by a parasite called Nosema ceranae. The parasite has been implicated in Colony Collapse Disorder though scientists took pains to point out that their findings do not directly link the pesticides to CCD. The pollen was contaminated on average with nine different pesticides and fungicides though scientists discovered 21 agricultural chemicals in one sample. Scientists identified eight ag chemicals associated with increased risk of infection by the parasite.

    Most disturbing, bees that ate pollen contaminated with fungicides were three times as likely to be infected by the parasite. Widely used, fungicides had been thought to be harmless for bees as they’re designed to kill fungus, not insects, on crops like apples.

    “There’s growing evidence that fungicides may be affecting the bees on their own and I think what it highlights is a need to reassess how we label these agricultural chemicals,” Dennis vanEngelsdorp, the study’s lead author, told Quartz.

    Labels on pesticides warn farmers not to spray when pollinating bees are in the vicinity but such precautions have not applied to fungicides.

    Bee populations are so low in the US that it now takes 60% of the country’s surviving colonies just to pollinate one California crop, almonds. And that’s not just a west coast problem—California supplies 80% of the world’s almonds, a market worth $4 billion.

    In recent years, a class of chemicals called neonicotinoids has been linked to bee deaths and in April regulators banned the use of the pesticide for two years in Europe where bee populations have also plummeted. But vanEngelsdorp, an assistant research scientist at the University of Maryland, says the new study shows that the interaction of multiple pesticides is affecting bee health.

    “The pesticide issue in itself is much more complex than we have led to be believe,” he says. “It’s a lot more complicated than just one product, which means of course the solution does not lie in just banning one class of product.”

    The study found another complication in efforts to save the bees: US honey bees, which are descendants of European bees, do not bring home pollen from native North American crops but collect bee chow from nearby weeds and wildflowers. That pollen, however, was also contaminated with pesticides even though those plants were not the target of spraying.

    “It’s not clear whether the pesticides are drifting over to those plants but we need take a new look at agricultural spraying practices,” says vanEngelsdorp.

  • Have a look at this movie length video"Vanishing of the Bees".

  • UK bee insecticide study flawed, says EU food agency

    Field study cited by British government as evidence that neonicotinoids cause little harm to bees has 'several weaknesses', says European Food Safety Authority

    EFSA experts found a series of inadequacies in the UK government's bumblebee field trial Photograph: Nigel Roddis/Reuters

    The trump card waved by the UK government in its doomed opposition to the Europe-wide suspension of three bee-harming pesticides has been confirmed as nothing more than a joker.

    As the lobbying intensified in the run up to the crucial vote on the neonicotinoid ban, environment secretary Owen Paterson told farmers in February: "I have asked the European Commission to consider all the evidence and to wait for the results of our field trials, rather than rushing to a decision based on lab tests alone."

    When those field trial results were finally released, it was immediately apparent they were a busted flush: the bumblebee hives intended as controls in the experiment had been hopelessly contaminated by neonicotinoids. Despite months of heavy pressure from government, no amount of massaging of the data could make it look credible.

    But ministers and officials ploughed on regardless, citing the work as field evidence that neonicotinoids cause little harm. Professor Ian Boyd, chief scientific adviser to the department of environment, food and rural affairs, gamely declined to agree with my suggestion that the trials were a catastrophe, though he acknowledged: "It is extremely difficult to have a control in a landscape where neonicotinoids are widely used."

    But the European Food Safety Authority on Tuesday called a spade a spade.

    EFSA has identified several weaknesses in [the study] which suggested that neonicotinoid pesticides do not have a major effect on bumble bee colonies under field conditions. Given these weaknesses, the Authority considers that the study does not affect the conclusions reached by EFSA regarding risks for bees related to the use of the neonicotinoid pesticides thiamethoxam, clothianidin and imidacloprid.

    EFSA's conclusion that the three neonics posed an unacceptable risk to bees was instrumental in the ban being put into place.

    EFSA's statement is as direct as it is comprehensively damning:

    The Authority made the following points regarding the relevance of the study to the risk assessments published by EFSA:

    • The study looked at only one crop – oilseed rape – and two plant protection products authorised for use in the UK. Furthermore, the test sites and surrounding areas used reflect a small sample of agricultural conditions in the UK and cannot be considered representative of conditions in other parts of the EU.
    • Two important routes of exposure – dust and guttation – were not addressed by the study.
    • In its assessments, EFSA reached conclusions mainly for honey bees, and identified a data gap for other pollinators. Field studies of bumble bees cannot be used to understand the risks to honey bees and other pollinators because of significant species differences.

    EFSA's experts highlighted a number of other deficiencies in the report. These include:

    • Inconsistencies and contradictory statements regarding the objectives of the study.
    • Absence of suitable control bee colonies. In particular, analysis of residues in pollen and nectar showed that the "control" site had been contaminated by thiamethoxam.
    • Environmental conditions were varied across the three the test sites, which reduces the sensitivity of the study in detecting effects on colonies.

    EFSA also raised concerns about how [the authors] elaborated and interpreted the study results to reach their conclusions.

    With that kind of write up it is perhaps not surprising that the link to the study is now dead. It may also explain why neither Paterson or his minister Lord de Mauley were keen to accept my wager that the study would never grace the pages of a peer-reviewed journal.

    It is a prime example of politicians claiming to deliver evidence-based policy while desperately scrabbling around for policy-based evidence. It reflects very badly on all involved.

  • ELBOW LAKE -- In a sprawling bee yard, beekeeper Steve Ellis, wearily surveyed 1,300 hives destined for fields across the countryside.

    Given bees pollinate fruits, vegetables and nuts, and pollination is required for about one third of all food production, he should be enthused about their summer journey.

    But as Ellis knelt in front of a hive to inspect it, he had cause for concern. Many of the bees were in no condition to pollinate plants and make honey. Indeed, drifts of decomposing bees covered the ground.

    "From a beekeeper's standpoint, it's a nightmare," Ellis said. "Dead bees everywhere."

    The problem isn't an isolated one. Across the nation, large numbers of bees — about one third of colonies each year — have been dying for the past six years. Scientists believe the cause is a combination of pesticides, disease and poor nutrition, and some are concerned the annual bee losses are unsustainable. As soon as this year, some warn, there might not be enough bees to pollinate some crops.

    As Ellis lamented the rotten odor of dead bees, which close to the hive he said "smells like death," a single bee struggled out of the hive dragging a dead bee.

    "It's actually a good sign some of the bees have enough wherewithal to carry dead bees off now," he said. "For about a week they were so impaired they couldn't even carry the dead carcasses out, they just piled up."

    So what killed millions of bees in this bee yard?

    The Minnesota Department of Agriculture, Bayer Crop Science, the University of Minnesota and Purdue University are all testing the dead bees, said Ellis, who thinks they were killed by a Bayer Crop Science insecticide from a nearby farm field.

    During the winter, Ellis takes his bees to California to pollinate almond trees. He recently trucked the hives back to Minnesota and was at his bee yard preparing the hives to be placed in fields around the region when bees started dying.

    A farmer was planting corn on a nearby field that day, and the wind blew clouds of dust over the bee yard. Ellis thinks that dust carried a toxic mix, as the seeds were treated with neonicotinoid insecticide.

    According to pesticide industry reports, more than 90 percent of corn seeds planted in the United States are coated with neonicotinoid insecticides.

    Systemic insecticides are taken up by the growing plant, so the chemical is inside the corn plant, ready to kill any pest that munches on the leaves, stalk or roots.

    Bayer Crop Science sent a team to collect samples of dead bees, Ellis said. The company did not respond to an interview request.

    Neonicotinoid insecticides are used on more than 150 million acres of crops. As the seeds are being planted, the insecticide attaches to dust and drifts on the wind.

    "Beekeepers in Ontario and Minnesota and Iowa and New York and all over the corn belt are reporting these kinds of problems," said Ellis, a member of the National Honey Bee Advisory Board, an organization formed by bee keepers to address bee losses. "We think it represents an unreasonable risk that EPA should be able to recognize."

    Beekeepers have asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to restrict the use of neonicotinoid insecticides. Earlier this year, the European Union imposed a two-year ban on three neonicotinoid insecticides after the European Food Safety Authority identified "high acute risk" to bees.

    One area of concern identified by European regulators is exposure to bees during spring planting.

    In response to that ban, the EPA said there is not enough scientific evidence to impose similar restrictions in the United States. The agency is reviewing the registration of neonicotinoid insecticides, but that review is expected to take several years.

    Ellis has been fighting government agencies and agri-chemical companies since his bees starting dying in about 2006. He is one of several beekeepers who sued the EPA earlier this year seeking a moratorium on the use of neonicotinoid insecticides while the agency conducts an environmental study of the insecticides. The EPA does not comment on pending litigation.

    According to Ellis, about 60 percent of his bees died during the past winter. After losing so many earlier this month, he won't have enough bees to put all of his hives out this summer, and the hives he does set out will only have about half the normal number of bees.

    Bees are dying in large numbers around the world.

    Scientists and apiarists disagree over exactly what's happening, but there is consensus that disease, nutrition and pesticides create a worst-case scenario for bees. A growing body of scientific research shows even very low levels of neonicotinoid insecticide exposure can affect bee behavior.

    Vera Krischik, an associate professor of entomology at the University of Minnesota, notes bees are very social insects with a complex communication system. For insects, bees have a big, well developed brain, and neonicotinoid insecticides work by blocking neurons in the brain, she said.

    "Very low levels are affecting foraging. That to me is the huge issue," said Krischik, who is publishing three years of research on bumblebees and honeybees. "Bees can't find their way home. You know, if you can't go out and collect pollen and nectar and you can't bring it back, then a colonial insect is going to have a big problem."

    However, it's not just farm fields that are affecting bees.

    Neonicotinoid insecticides are ubiquitous in urban backyards. They protect flowers, shrubs and trees from pests.

    The insecticide dose on backyard plants is much higher than what is used on farm crops, said Krischik, who found the insecticide that protects a rose bush or an apple tree also is deadly to bees who come to drink nectar from the flowers.

    "I start to see a significant number being killed at the regular landscape rate," Krischik explained. "And when I add twice the rate, because you can use this product more than one time a season, the bees die in the flower. Just one sip kills them on the spot."

    The next question for researchers is to understand how much neonicotinoid insecticide bees are exposed to across the landscape, Krischik said. But she can't answer that question because she has no money to continue her research.

    A year ago, the Minnesota Legislature blocked a grant Krischik received from the Minnesota Legislative Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources to study how treating trees for Emerald Ash Borer is affecting bees.

    This year the Legislature passed a pollinator habitat bill. It appropriates $150,000 per year to improve bee habitat and increase public awareness of pollinators. The legislation also requires state agencies to create a report on pollinator habitat, and establish a process for reviewing the safety of neonicotinoid insecticides.

    The legislation reflects a growing public concern about bees, said Marla Spivak, a Distinguished McKnight Professor in University of Minnesota's entomology department.

    "The progress is going quickly now. Even this pollinator bill passed in our legislature this session is just amazing. This would have never happened three years, five years ago. So now I think we'll see some positive change," Spivak said. "But right now, honeybees are really, they really are at the tipping point right now."

  • "could harm food production" - yeah not as much as not having any bees to pollinate our crops - what an idiot? new job could be a short lived new position... 

    • But they do a lot of harm while they are there.

  • Well worth sharing - thanks Lissa. 

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