Interesting documentary: The mystery of Colony Collapse Disorder has brought honeybees into the public eye. But the story of their plight and its impact is much more complicated.
Varroa mites are an issue, but what do you think, or have you read, that can help further explain this complex problem of bees "disappearing"? Other factors affecting bee colonies are fungi, pesticides, climate change, poor hive management and loss of habitat caused by changes in land use.
Should there be increased testing, extra measures taken on, or even a ban on neonicotinoids? Are the alternatives to using neonicotinoids any better?
According to the Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists (CAPA) statistics (http://www.capabees.com/2014/07/24/capa-statement-on-honey-bees/) :
Please share your thoughts here!
Great article in the Guelph Mercury today by Terry Daynard:
Neonic ban not supported by science and would make things worse http://www.guelphmercury.com/opinion-story/4914418-neonic-ban-not-s...
Guelph MercuryBy Terry Daynard
In an Oct. 9 Guelph Mercury column (Neonic pesticide ban is vital for bee health, as well as our own), some environmental groups called for a ban on the use of neonicotinoid insecticides.
They support this with questionable information and claims.
This column provides an alternative perspective.
Neonic insecticides do kill insects, including bees if not used carefully. In some situations, with certain dust-emitting corn planters, there can be deaths at seeding time in spring. Farmers, seed and equipment suppliers, and governments have moved quickly to reduce this risk. Preliminary statistics from Health Canada indicate springtime bee deaths were down significantly in 2014.
But to state that neonics are "the primary cause" of increased bee mortality — especially overwinter mortality — is simply not supported by science.
Bee experts tell me bee deaths are caused by a combination of factors, with farm pesticides being but one. The arrival of varroa mites a few years back, coupled with the diseases which they spread and the use of within-hive pesticides for their control, are critical factors. Transport of bees for hundreds of kilometres for commercial pollination services does not help either.
Poor nutrition was another big factor last winter. Many bees — which don't hibernate but cluster within hives and vibrate to keep warm — simply ran out of food reserves and starved. Readers seeking more information on bee mortality are referred to a website managed by the widely recognized bee guru Randy Oliver (no champion of pesticides) at www.scientificbeekeeping.com.
Some claim that seed-applied neonics kill bees exposed to corn pollen later in the season. But canola seed is also treated with neonics (the same per-acre application rate as corn) and bees flourish in Canadian canola fields. This is even though European research indicates that bee exposure to neonics is about 10 times greater with canola flowers than with corn pollen.
Neonics are long-lasting, which often means detectable soil residues (typically at one to10 parts per billion), but also protection for food crops. Neonics are sometimes found in rural ponds/sloughs, but at concentrations of parts per trillion, similar to that for caffeine and Tylenol in the Great Lakes.
The two-year moratorium in Europe was imposed in December 2013 by politicians, not the science-based European Food Safety Authority, Europe's equivalent of Health Canada. Australia, with abundant neonic usage but no varroa, has low bee mortality.
The European Union moratorium has only now become effective for autumn-sown crops. This fall, unprotected canola plants (called oilseed rape in Europe) have been attacked extensively by flea beetles. The result has been both large crop losses (45,000 acres in the United Kingdom, alone — more than the entire Ontario canola acreage in 2014) and increased insecticide spraying. Many farmers have sprayed three or more times. The U.K. has authorized emergency spraying of two new pesticide products (ironically, both neonics) to help.
And organic farmers don't have the answer. Some have suggested hand-picking or covering plants with mesh — good for a garden, maybe, but farm fields?
Neonics are used in more than agriculture, largely because of proven safety for non-insect species including humans, mammal, fish and birds. Control of pet fleas is one. Control of the European ash borer is another.
Ban advocates never mention this.
Terry Daynard farms near Guelph and is a former associate dean in research and innovation at the University of Guelph.
National Geographic Article:
Engineer Sees Big Possibilities in Micro-robots, Including Programmable Bees
Robert Wood says that medicine and agriculture could be transformed by micro and "soft" robots
Article in today's Financial Post:
Bees, bans and bungling: How an anti-pesticide campaign may spell serious trouble
First thing: I am an organic farmer and a beekeeper, so I am not the biggest fan of chemical inputs in agriculture. I have some trouble accepting the need for neonic seed treatments, but realize not everyone thinks as I do. I agree the industry responded appropriately by requiring better lubricants and dust prevention at seeding time to reduce bees` exposure. I agree that these measures worked. My understanding is that despite neonics being used with canola as well, the same `dust` is not created as with corn and soy and so that is why bees are not affected as much in canola.
But what irks me is that the chemical industry falls on this argument that there are lots of other factors affecting bee health: viruses, varroa mite, etc. Yes this is true. But varroa mite did not appear just "a few years back" (Terry Daynard's words), it was about 30 years ago! But major bee declines have been experienced in only the past 6 or 8 years.
Furthermore, making this argument only points the finger back at chemicals. For example, it is true that varroa mites are wreaking havoc on bees, but beekeepers have been able to manage the pest until recently. The reality is that pesticides weaken the bees negatively affecting their ability to keep other pests at bay.
Neonics are not the only culprit here. Banning neonic seed treatments does not solve the problem of all of the other pesticides that are negatively affecting bees and other beneficial insects. We need to REDUCE neonic use AND we need to REDUCE the use of ALL pesticides (note I am not naively demanding the ban of all pesticides).
Let me ask, when you are exhausted and worn out from working so damn hard and not getting enough sleep, and then you get a 1/2 day to relax. What happens? Often you get sick. Same for bees. This is the pesticide stress that the video talks about. Their immune systems are compromised. They are disoriented/drugged. They become lethargic, natural instincts fail to govern behaviour (e.g.groom mites away effectively), etc. Pesticides may not be killing the bees directly, but they are affecting their health causing them to succumb to other pests.
The video also mentions nutritional stress. Terry Daynard's article suggests bees die because they run out of food. Not entirely true. My experience, and those shared by many beekeepers I know is that dead hives in the spring are full of honey. Admittedly, insufficient ventilation which leads to condensation build up in the hive which then freezes is a more common problem, but most beekeepers are aware of this now and prevent it. But nutritional stress is a real problem and it is not due to lack of food; it is poor quality food, and the finger points to large scale chemical based agriculture again. Chemical treatments allow farmers to move toward larger and larger fields of monocrops; especially soy and corn. Soy does not provide food for bees. Corn pollen is reluctantly taken by bees if nothing else is available. Bees need a balanced diet. (By the way, canola provides pollen and nectar for good bee nutrition). People who eat too much of one thing (corn) may get enough calories but are still fatally malnourished because we cannot live without balanced nutrition. Same for bees. They are not undernourished (which puts blame on beekeepers) they are malnourished (which is due to the fact millions of acres are in corn/soy with not a flowering weed in sight).
I'll admit, it annoys me when people spell DOOM for our entire food system if there is DOOM for bees. This is naive. There are thousands of other pollinating species out there. Now they may be feeling the effects of chemicals too, I don't know. But think of this: Bees are a domesticated livestock species. Beekeepers are farmers. I am sure there are many farmers on this forum with various flocks and herds, laying eggs and giving milk. What would you think and do if you lost 50-60% of your herd or flock every year to some unknown and poorly understood cause? What would it cost if you had to replace half your herd/flock every year? Could you stay in business? What if some evidence pointed to the fact that it was something your neighbours were doing that was killing your livestock? What would you do?