As we covered on Part 1, bee colonies in Western countries have been declining at historically unprecedented levels, with massive hive die-offs in in the U.S. and Québec. Beekeepers have 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).
Dr. Jennifer Sass, a senior scientist with the health group at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), says that the Bromenshenk/Army study fails to ask the underlying question “Why are colonies dying? Is it because they’re getting weak? People who have HIV don’t die of HIV. They die of other diseases they get because their immune systems are knocked off, making them more susceptible.”
Fortune notes that Bromenshenk’s study acknowledges that the research does not “clearly define” whether the concurrent virus and fungus, which were found in all the afflicted bee samples, is “a marker, a cause, or a consequence of CCD.” It also notes uncertainty as to how, exactly, the combination kills the bees.
“We’re even concerned that based on this [Bromenshenk's study], beekeepers will use more pesticides trying to treat these viruses,” says Dr. Sass at NRDC.
According to Fortune, the NRDC sued the Environmental Protection Agency two years ago after it failed to release Bayer’s underlying studies on the safety of its neonicotinoids — a class of neurotoxins that kills insects by attacking their nervous systems. Under pressure, the EPA finally relented and NRDC researchers are now allowed to research the Bayer studies.
“The EPA has based its approval of neonicotinoids on the fact that the amounts found in pollen and nectar were low enough to not be lethal to the bees — the only metric they have to measure whether to approve a pesticide or not. But studies have shown that at low doses, the neonicotinoids have sublethal effects that impair bees’ learning and memory.” The USDA’s chief researcher, Jeff Pettis, told Fortune in 2008 that pesticides were definitely “on the list” as a primary stressor that could make bees more vulnerable to other factors, like pests and bacteria.”
Dina Spector with Business Insider cites David Hackenberg, former president of the American Beekeeping Federation, as part of a leading team of beekeepers and experts who claim that neonicotinoids are the cause of CCD. “Imidacloprid, the most widely-used neonicotinoid, is different than other insecticides because it enters the pollen and nectar of the plant, not just the leaves. Hackenberg describes bees under the influence of neonicotinoids as ‘drunk’ and ‘disoriented’. And, if neonicotinoids affect the honey bees’ ability to remember how to get back to their hive, then it makes sense why the dead bodies are never found.”
A researcher in Canada has already exposed Bromenshenk’s theory as nonsense, claiming that the virus and fungus under suspicion have been around for more than 20 years. “If bees weren’t disappearing 20 years ago, why are they now?” says Jim Doan, a bee farmer.
Over a decade ago, Bayer again attempted to blame CCD on a non-man made cause, such as a virus, fungus, or parasite. In 1999, after millions of honey bees exhibiting the same CCD symptoms began to disappear, the French government implemented a nationwide ban an imidacloprid-based pesticide used to dress sunflowers. And Bayer denied the connection, claiming only sublethal doses of Imidacloprid make it into the nectar and pollen that bees consume and carry back their hives.
Business Insider mentions Dr. Diana Cox-Foster, professor of entomology and insect biochemistry researcher at Pennsylvania State University who is part of a research team that has done extensive toxicology sampling of bees, wax, and pollen taken from hives that experienced dead-outs associated with symptoms of CCD. Her team found that on average, anywhere from 6 to 35 different chemicals compounds were in a single hive.
“The pesticides bees are bringing in from pollinating represent all different chemicals that we use in agriculture, yards, even inside our homes,” said Cox-Foster. And as Spector notes, in combination, some of these mixtures of chemicals may cause increased toxicity to bees that are not apparent when found individually.
Apparently, scientists are not yet able to implicate any single chemical — or combination of chemicals — as the sole cause of CCD. Spector claims there is a general consensus that bees are suffering from an assault of many different factors that put together, weaken the bee’s immune system and make it susceptible to viruses.
More research and federal funding are needed. Considering that the honeybee pollinates a third of all the food we eat, you’d think society at large would not tolerate allowing lawmakers and federal regulators to put corporate interests before the health and safety of the public.