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 Toxic Pesticides and the Flight of The Bumblebee

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Posts : 7972
Join date : 2012-05-29
Location : Manchester UK

PostSubject: Toxic Pesticides and the Flight of The Bumblebee   Mon 27 Aug 2012, 18:05

Toxic Pesticides and the Flight of The Bumblebee: Are We Poisoning Our Future?

Photo source Wikipedia

you heard the buzz lately? Billions of bumblebees have been dying off,
and, as a result, the entire global food chain may be in danger. Along
with other insects, such as moths and hoverflies, bees pollinate around a
third of the crops grown worldwide.

The humble bee is a much
under-appreciated creature. In fact, life as we know it depends on it.
Bees pollinate wild plants and agricultural crops, including some 90 per
cent of the world’s commercial plants. Most fruits, vegetables and
nuts, including okra, tomatoes, sunflowers, cucumbers, cashew, onion,
cabbage, rapeseed, almonds, citrus fruits and cherries are all
pollinated by bees, and coffee, soya beans and cotton are dependent on
them to increase yields. Bees are at the forefront of a food chain that
also sustains wild birds and animals.

As with other crucial pollinators,
bees have been in serious decline around the world for the past few
decades. Sydney Cameron, an entomologist at the University of Illinois,
led a team on a three-year study of eight species of bumblebees in the
US. The findings showed that the relative abundance of four of the
sampled species had declined by up to 96 per cent and that their
geographic ranges had contracted by 23 to 87 per cent, some within the
past two decades. In the US, 50 to 90 per cent of commercial bee
colonies are affected by ‘Colony Collapse Disorder’. The decline is
however not restricted to the US. It’s a major global issue.

In the UK, for instance, three of the
25 British species of bumblebee are already extinct, and half of the
remainder has shown serious declines, often up to 70 per cent, since
around the 1970s. Bee populations have also been affected in the
mainland Europe, China and India.

Reasons for the decline of bees may be
many, including parasites, viral and bacterial infections, changes to
habitat, pollution, poor nutrition stemming from intensive farming
methods and even mobile phone frequencies. However, one of the causes
points to the use of neonicotinoids, a nicotine-based pesticide that has
been banned in France, Germany, Portugal, Greece, Italy and Slovenia.

In 2010, writer and activist Tom
Philpott wrote that the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) allowed
the widespread use of clothianidin, a neonicotinoid manufactured by the
chemical and pharmaceutical company Bayer, despite warnings from the
EPA’s own scientists.

Philpott’s evidence was based on a
leaked internal EPA memo that revealed clothianidin has serious health
impacts on bees, which may be directly related to their disappearance.
The memo reported that studies show clothianidin is highly toxic and
that information from standard tests and field studies, alongside
incident reports involving similar insecticides, suggests the potential
for long-term toxic risk to honeybees and other beneficial insects. In
December, beekeepers and environmentalists in the US asked the EPA to
remove its approval of the pesticide.

Nevertheless, the EPA has allowed the
widespread use of the pesticide on corn, wheat and other staple food
products. Meanwhile, Bayer raked in $262 million in 2009 from its sales
of neonicotinoids to farmers.

Bayer continues to export or
manufacture its pesticides across the world, including in India. In
fact, imidacloprid, another neonicotinoid, is one of India’s highest
selling pesticides.

Dr Parthiba Basu from the University
of Calcutta argues that India is also experiencing a decline. His
research team’s findings show that the yields of pollinator-independent
crops have continued to increase, whereas pollinator-dependent crops
have levelled off. In an attempt to identify an underlying cause for the
pollinator decline, the team is comparing conventional agriculture with
ecological farming. Basu states there is an obvious indication that
within the ecological farming setting (where harmful pesticides are not
used), there is pollinator abundance.

He added that if the team’s findings
were extrapolated, this would offer a clear indication that India was
facing a decline in natural pollinators, as ecological farming was only
practiced on about 10-20 per cent of the country’s arable land. There
are serious implications. Unlike those with access to a varied diet,
Basu says there are certain vegetable crops that many people living near
the poverty threshold rely on. If there is a pollination crisis, Basu
suggests nutritional security could be affected.

In India, wild honey collection in the
Kutch region of Gujarat in 2010 fell to 50 tonnes from the usual 300
tonnes in previous years because of the fall in the number of honey
bees. The yield of certain native crops like date palms, lemon, papaya
and kesar mangoes has also decreased. In Malda, West Bengal, mango honey
was once good business, but farmers say bees are now avoiding mango

There’s still a lot we don’t know
about the massive bee die-offs. But one thing we do know is that bees
are in trouble — by implication, we are too.

Given the revelations concerning the
EPA in the US with regard to neonicotinoids, another thing we know is
that we should no longer leave our food chain or ecology in the hands of
the big chemical and pharmaceutical companies — nor should we rely on
the regulating and policy bodies that are too often seen to be in their

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