The Silence of the Bees – The Riddle Deepens

1x1.trans The Silence of the Bees   The Riddle Deepens

Honeybees with a nice juicy drone (Photo: dni777 / Flickr)

Part 1
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, honeybees provide more than $15 billion in value to about 130 crops, including berries, nuts, fruits, and vegetables. The honeybee pollinates a third of all the food we eat and contributes billions in annual agriculture revenue to the U.S. economy.

But bee colonies in Western countries have been declining at historically unprecedented levels. Three years ago, massive hive die-offs were estimated to be 30-70% in the U.S. and Québec. According to a survey conducted by the Apiary Inspectors of America (AIA), from 2006 to 2009, over one-third of beekeepers reported colonies collapsing accompanied by a “lack of dead bees”. The phenomenon in which disoriented honeybees die far from their hives has been coined “Colony collapse disorder” or (CCD).

Dina Spector with Business Insider reported that in March 2007, James Doan, formerly the largest commercial beekeeper in New York, delivered an emotional testimony to the House Committee on Agriculture concerning the large-scale and mysterious loss of honey bee colonies, which he attributed to CCD.

1x1.trans The Silence of the Bees   The Riddle Deepens “The economic impact on my operation is that it will cost me $200,000 to replace the honey bees that I have currently lost,” Doan wrote in a letter. “If we cannot survive as a beekeeping industry here in this country, there will not be an agriculture community here in the U.S., period.”

Scientists and beekeepers speculate this ecological disaster may be the result of everything from impaired protein production, genetically modified food, pests, viruses, and fungi, to weather or agricultural pesticides. One pesticide in particular that is suspect is neonicotinoids, a class of neurotoxins that kills insects by attacking their nervous systems.

As FORTUNE’s Katherine Eban points out, for years, their leading manufacturer, Bayer Crop Science, a subsidiary of the German pharmaceutical giant Bayer AG (BAYRY), has tangled with regulators and fended off lawsuits from angry beekeepers who allege that the pesticides have disoriented and ultimately killed their bees. The company has countered that, when used correctly, the pesticides pose little risk.

Now in walks the The New York Times — whose journalistic credibility diminishes with each dying day the organization stays afloat — claiming that scientists and soldiers have solved the Bee Mystery! The NYTimes writes “A unique partnership of military scientists and entomologists appears to have achieved a major breakthrough: identifying a new suspect, or two. A fungus tag-teaming with a virus have apparently interacted to cause the problem, according to a paper by Army scientists in Maryland and bee experts in Montana….”

1x1.trans The Silence of the Bees   The Riddle Deepens CNN explains how a key piece of information about Bayer, a pesticide manufacturer, was left out of the Times story:

“What the Times article did not explore — nor did the study disclose — was the relationship between the study’s lead author, Montana bee researcher Dr. Jerry Bromenshenk, and Bayer Crop Science. In recent years Bromenshenk has received a significant research grant from Bayer to study bee pollination. Indeed, before receiving the Bayer funding, Bromenshenk was lined up on the opposite side: He had signed on to serve as an expert witness for beekeepers who brought a class-action lawsuit against Bayer in 2003. He then dropped out and received the grant.”

And Fortune notes that Bromenshenk’s company, Bee Alert Technology, which is developing hand-held acoustic scanners that use sound to detect various bee ailments, will profit more from a finding that disease, and not pesticides, is harming bees.

Bromenshenk’s study and the Times article fail to note the impact of pesticides on dying bees. “And what chemical conglomerate, notes Spector with Business Insider, “is responsible for manufacturing the pesticides that lace all our fields and flowers in the toxins that honey bees then feast on?

That’s right, Bayer.

Spence Cooper
Inquisitive foodie with a professional investigative background and strong belief in the organic farm to table movement. Author of Bad Seeds: A FriendsEAT Guide to GMO's. Buy Now!
Spence Cooper