Niagara Gazette

Columns

May 14, 2013

CONFER: U.S. slow to address honey bee deaths

Niagara Gazette — You might recollect the buzz of recent years regarding the precipitous decline in honey bee populations.

Since 2006, most apiaries have seen their bee colonies decrease by 30 to 90 percent per year. Some hives have been totally wiped out.

25 percent had once been the maximum rate of mortality in northern states that had significant cold-weather die-offs. But the recent deaths have been occurring everywhere and during the spring and summer when temperatures are perfect and food is plentiful.

For some time, the reasons for this frightening extirpation remained unknown, and the moniker of “colony collapse disorder” was placed upon it as a catch-all for what could be either natural or man-made causes. Those days of uncertainty are gone: It was determined over the past couple of years, by independent studies released in prominent journals like Science and Nature, that the root cause of honey bee deaths was the family of pesticides known as neonicotinoids. Last year, those findings were affirmed just across the border by Ontario’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs which discovered that 70 percent of the dead bees across the province showed exposure to neonicotinoids.

These insect nerve agents have been used in increasing abundance on corn since 2005, after entering the market in the 1990s (it is now used on most all commercial corn in the United States). That timeline of pervasiveness aligns perfectly with the sudden decline in bee populations. Produced by Bayer, neonicotinoids are applied directly to the seed and thus become a part of the adult plant, including the nectar and pollen upon which the bees feed. The chemical doesn’t kill bees outright, but it seriously impairs their development and behavior, which accounts for the inability of the bees to feed properly (they waste away), maintain their colonies and replenish them through adequate reproduction.

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