Bee die-off a threat to U.S. food supply
Beekeepers say a mysterious years-long die-off of honeybees reached crisis levels this winter, and scientists warn the phenomenon could begin to cut the nation's food supply.
“This is not just a problem for us beekeepers. It eventually could be a problem for anyone who eats,” said beekeeper Dale Bauer of Fertile, Minn., who estimates that half of his 15,000 bee colonies died during the winter.
It's an increasing concern for them and those who grow dozens of agricultural products that bees pollinate: asparagus, broccoli, celery, squash, citrus fruits, peaches, blueberries, strawberries and melons.
“Beekeepers across the country are saying this is the worst winter since colony collapse disorder (or CCD) was first identified,” said Nichelle Harriott, a staff scientist with Beyond Pesticides, a Washington advocacy group.
Since 2006, the year scientists identified the syndrome, commercial beekeepers have lost bees at a rate of at least 30 percent each winter. Many beekeepers reported losing 50 percent to 70 percent of their bees this winter.
Why worker bees abruptly disappear from colonies has stumped researchers, who say CCD is caused by a mix of factors, from environmental to natural. What's under increased scrutiny is the use of a type of pesticide that was put into the market two years before the spike in bee die-offs.
Last week, four commercial beekeepers and several environmental groups sued the Environmental Protection Agency, which they want to suspend the registrations of insecticides clothianidin and thiamethoxam. The lawsuit claims the EPA never should have given conditional approval to the pesticides.
“The losses across the nation will be more than 40 percent. There is just way too much of these products being used,” said beekeeper Jim Doan of Hamlin, N.Y., a plaintiff in the lawsuit.
The EPA does not comment on pending litigation, said spokesman Dale Kemery.
“Honeybees and other pollinators facilitate the production of many of the valuable crops grown in the U.S.,” said Ray McAllister, senior director of regulatory affairs for CropLife America, which represents 90 pesticide manufacturers. “The crop-protection industry recognizes their importance and remains actively involved in efforts to study and improve pollinator health.”
Doan, New York's biggest beekeeper, lost all but 700 of his 2,300 bee colonies during the winter. This summer, instead of renting his bees to growers, he plans to stay in the Adirondacks with his bees.
“There are no farms there. It's the only way to make bees healthy again,” he said.
Matters are no better for Dave Hackenberg of Lewisburg in Union County, Pennsylvania's largest beekeeper, who lost 70 percent of his 3,000 bee colonies.
“If you lose 40 percent of your bees, you can replace them. It is progressively getting worse, and we can't take these losses much longer,” Hackenberg said.
Pollination from honeybees adds $15 billion to the value of agricultural production in America, according to the Department of Agriculture.
Adam Voll, whose family owns Soergel Orchards in Franklin Park, said he expects bee rental prices to be a bit less in Western Pennsylvania than the $180 paid last month in California during almond pollination. Soergel's rents bees to pollinate apples, peaches, pumpkins and melons.
“Demand in California is always big. Apples and peaches are not all pollinated at the same time in the eastern part of the United States,” he said.
The controversial category of pesticides called neonicatinoids were developed by BayerCropScience, based in North Carolina. The company, a division of Bayer Corp. of Robinson, maintains the pesticides are safe for pollinators.
Scientists such as Harriott, of Beyond Pesticides, say neonicatinoids are less toxic to mammals than chemicals used in the past. But, she said, “They have chronic and toxic effects on other non-target insects like honeybees.”
Neonicatinoids are used to treat corn and soybean seeds.
May Berenbaum, professor and entomology department head at the University of Illinois at Urbana, has serious doubts about the way neonicatinoids are used.
“It is not possible to attribute all of colony collapse disorder to pesticides. But the prophylactic treatment of seeds is totally contrary to 60 years of integrated pest management. You should treat crops when there is a pest, not before. And eventually the insects they want to get rid of will develop immunity to the pesticide,” she said.
Rick Wills is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7944 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Man dies in jump from Route 130 overpass onto passing tractor-trailer in Hempfield
- Starkey: Penguins’ season impressive so far
- Penguins a love affair for Evancho sisters
- McKeesport property deemed ripe for development
- Clairton police present interactive seminar on use of force
- Damaged Marina at McKees Point still slated to open in May
- Kittanning shelter creating calm haven for interviewing young victims
- North Versailles couple faults construction company for damage to property
- Hornqvist’s net-front presence with Penguins could be valuable asset
- Pirates notebook: Reliever Holdzkom among three players cut
- Figure in probe of improper influence in federal investor visa program gave Rendell $15K illegally