Fears for crops as shock figures from America show scale of bee catastrophe

The Guardian reports about fears for crops as shock figures from America show scale of bee catastrophe.

(emphasis mine) [my comment]

Fears for crops as shock figures from America show scale of bee catastrophe
The world may be on the brink of biological disaster after news that a third of US bee colonies did not survive the winter
The Observer, Sunday 2 May 2010

Honey bees are vital insect pollinators, responsible for the healthy development of many of the world' s major food crops. Photograph: David Silverman/Getty Images

Disturbing evidence that honeybees are in terminal decline has emerged from the United States where, for the fourth year in a row, more than a third of colonies have failed to survive the winter.

The decline of the country's estimated 2.4 million beehives began in 2006, when a phenomenon dubbed colony collapse disorder (CCD) led to the disappearance of hundreds of thousands of colonies. Since then more than three million colonies in the US and billions of honeybees worldwide have died and scientists are no nearer to knowing what is causing the catastrophic fall in numbers.

The number of managed honeybee colonies in the US fell by 33.8% last winter, according to the annual survey by the Apiary Inspectors of America and the US government's Agricultural Research Service (ARS).

The collapse in the global honeybee population is a major threat to crops. It is estimated that a third of everything we eat depends upon honeybee pollination, which means that bees contribute some £26bn to the global economy.

Potential causes range from parasites, such as the bloodsucking varroa mite, to viral and bacterial infections, pesticides and poor nutrition stemming from intensive farming methods. The disappearance of so many colonies has also been dubbed "Mary Celeste syndrome" due to the absence of dead bees in many of the empty hives.

US scientists have found 121 different pesticides in samples of bees, wax and pollen, lending credence to the notion that pesticides are a key problem. "We believe that some subtle interactions between nutrition, pesticide exposure and other stressors are converging to kill colonies," said Jeffery Pettis, of the ARS's bee research laboratory.

A global review of honeybee deaths by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) reported last week that there was no one single cause, but pointed the finger at the "irresponsible use" of pesticides that may damage bee health and make them more susceptible to diseases. Bernard Vallat, the OIE's director-general, warned: "Bees contribute to global food security, and their extinction would represent a terrible biological disaster."

Dave Hackenberg of Hackenberg Apiaries, the Pennsylvania-based commercial beekeeper who first raised the alarm about CCD, said that last year had been the worst yet for bee losses, with 62% of his 2,600 hives dying between May 2009 and April 2010. "It's getting worse," he said. "The AIA survey doesn't give you the full picture because it is only measuring losses through the winter. In the summer the bees are exposed to lots of pesticides. Farmers mix them together and no one has any idea what the effects might be."

Pettis agreed that losses in some commercial operations are running at 50% or greater. "Continued losses of this magnitude are not economically sustainable for commercial beekeepers," he said, adding that a solution may be years away. "Look at Aids, they have billions in research dollars and a causative agent and still no cure. Research takes time and beehives are complex organisms."

In the UK it is still too early to judge how Britain's estimated 250,000 honeybee colonies have fared during the long winter. Tim Lovett, president of the British Beekeepers' Association, said: "Anecdotally, it is hugely variable. There are reports of some beekeepers losing almost a third of their hives and others losing none." Results from a survey of the association's 15,000 members are expected this month.

John Chapple, chairman of the London Beekeepers' Association, put losses among his 150 members at between a fifth and a quarter. Eight of his 36 hives across the capital did not survive. "There are still a lot of mysterious disappearances," he said. "We are no nearer to knowing what is causing them."

Bee farmers in Scotland have reported losses on the American scale for the past three years. Andrew Scarlett, a Perthshire-based bee farmer and honey packer, lost 80% of his 1,200 hives this winter. But he attributed the massive decline to a virulent bacterial infection that quickly spread because of a lack of bee inspectors, coupled with sustained poor weather that prevented honeybees from building up sufficient pollen and nectar stores.

The government's National Bee Unit has always denied the existence of CCD in Britain, despite honeybee losses of 20% during the winter of 2008-09 and close to a third the previous year. It attributes the demise to the varroa mite — which is found in almost every UK hive — and rainy summers that stop bees foraging for food.

In a hard-hitting report last year, the National Audit Office suggested that amateur beekeepers who failed to spot diseases in bees were a threat to honeybees' survival and called for the National Bee Unit to carry out more inspections and train more beekeepers.
Last summer MPs on the influential cross-party public accounts committee called on the government to fund more research into what it called the "alarming" decline of honeybees.

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has contributed £2.5m towards a £10m fund for research on pollinators. The public accounts committee has called for a significant proportion of this funding to be "ring-fenced" for honeybees. Decisions on which research projects to back are expected this month.


Flowering plants require insects for pollination. The most effective is the honeybee, which pollinates 90 commercial crops worldwide. As well as most fruits and vegetables — including apples, oranges, strawberries, onions and carrots — they pollinate nuts, sunflowers and oil-seed rape. Coffee, soya beans, clovers — like alfafa, which is used for cattle feed — and even cotton are all dependent on honeybee pollination to increase yields.

In the UK alone, honeybee pollination is valued at £200m. Mankind has been managing and transporting bees for centuries to pollinate food and produce honey, nature's natural sweetener and antiseptic. Their extinction would mean not only a colourless, meatless diet of cereals and rice, and cottonless clothes, but a landscape without orchards, allotments and meadows of wildflowers — and the collapse of the food chain that sustains wild birds and animals.

60 Minutes on Disappearing
Honeybees from 2007

60 Minutes: Why Are Honeybees Disappearing? Pt 1

60 Minutes: Why Are Honeybees Disappearing? Pt 1

Tehran Times reports that North American bee catastrophe unfolds.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010
North American bee catastrophe unfolds
The latest findings show that a third of the U.S. honeybee population has perished as scientists are still flummoxed in their efforts to find a cause for the unfolding eco-catastrophe.

It is estimated that one third of human beings' foodstuffs depend on honeybee pollination, which means that bees contribute around $40 billion to the global economy, the report said.

Scientists have pointed to
a number of potential causes such as parasites, bacterial infections, pesticides, and poor nutrition caused by intensive farming methods.

The disappearance of so many colonies has also been dubbed “Mary Celeste syndrome” due to the absence of dead bees in many of the empty hives, the British paper added.

“We believe that some subtle interactions between nutrition, pesticide exposure, and other stressors are converging to kill colonies,”
said Jeffery Pettis of the U.S. Agricultural Research Service.

Some parts of Europe, Asia, and South America have also been affected by honey bee disappearances.

The Daily Green reports that one-third of all honeybees died last winter, and that's not even the worst news.

4.30.2010 9:51 AM
One-Third of All Honeybees Died Last Winter, and That's Not Even The Worst News

Colony Collapse Disorder is still alive and well ... even if U.S. bees are not, according to the fourth annual depressing survey of honeybees.

From the most comprehensive survey taken to date, due in large part to beekeepers who read Bee Culture' s CATCH THE BUZZ news service, (archives) and other industry media, the Apiary Inspectors of America (AIA) and the USDA have completed their fourth annual census of winter honey bee colony losses. What they found was troubling, to say the least. But if you carefully read the numbers, they are even more troubling.

Just over 4,200 beekeepers completed the survey, ranging from backyard beekeepers with a handful of colonies, to a host of commercial operations with thousands of colonies each. All told, the beekeepers that responded own just over 22% of all the colonies in the U.S. That comes to 551,000 colonies, a fair sized sample, and certainly more representative than previous years.

If you consider how many colonies the respondents lost as a percent of how many colonies there in the U.S., it is estimated that 33% of all the colonies in the U.S. died last winter. A third of all the bees in the U.S. died last winter. One Third!

But that' s not the worst part. Of those who answered the survey, they lost (are you ready?) over 40% of their colonies... Over 40%. When you look at the average losses of respondents from the previous three years, this represents fully a 23% increase in the average number lost. Recall, averages mean that some beekeepers lost far more than 40%, and some lost less than 40%. Some that I know, with thousands of colonies, lost 60%, 70% and a few over 90% of their bees.

The first question, of course, especially for this contribution, is was Colony Collapse Disorder a part of this massacre?
And yes, according to evaluations by the respondents, it was... but these responses are not backed by hard scientific data but rather good beekeeper opinion. This can be argued with, but the trend is telling, and after these many years I' ve found it to be fairly reliable. Nevertheless, only 28% of operations reported that at least some of their dead colonies were found dead without dead bees, one of the critical symptoms of Colony Collapse Disorder. However this group lost a total of 44% of their colonies, as compared to the total loss of 25% experienced by beekeepers who did not report losses indicative of Colony Collapse Disorder. 44 vs. 25.

One critical Colony Collapse Disorder factor is that this survey does not include colonies that perish during other times of the year... from any causes. And, as we know, Colony Collapse Disorder raises its ugly head often in the fall, before winter losses are considered. So those aren' t in this survey, unfortunately.

But bees die from lots of causes, and last year' s mostly really lousy weather contributed to last year' s really lousy production of food for bees... nectar and pollen. Poor weather means poor growing season means poor crops means not much food means unhealthy bees means bees susceptible to attacks from other nasties.

Now here' s a dilemma. If Mother Nature does not provide enough to eat for bees in an area, what' s a beekeeper to do? On one hand, a beekeeper can feed the bees sugar or corn syrup. But if he does, he is criticized for feeding an unnatural diet to these all natural creatures.
But if he doesn' t, they die. You can make any choice you want based on any philosophy you have, but I won' t stand by and let my bees die if I can help it. I doubt any farmer would intentionally let his livestock perish if saving them somehow was possible.

But it' s difficult and expensive to feed bees. And if it costs too much, takes too much time, the weather doesn' t cooperate... a beekeeper sometimes simply can' t get them all fed. So some die of starvation. Of the bees that died last winter... over 60% died because of foul weather and poor food resources. Mother Nature took her toll, that' s for sure.

Interestingly, only 5% of the beekeepers who responded to this survey felt that colony losses were attributable to Colony Collapse Disorder. What the release from the AIA doesn' t include is... what number of colonies are owned by this small, but perhaps significant number of beekeepers? Right now, we don' t know, but it will come out in the wash when the final numbers are reviewed and published.

For now, know that a third of all the bees in the U.S. died last winter... and they have to be replaced. Let' s hope Mother Nature is a better Mother this season.

Pittsburgh Live reports that fourth winter bee die-off threatens crops, raises prices.

Fourth winter bee die-off threatens crops, raises prices
By Rick Wills
Friday, April 30, 2010

A national survey released yesterday revealed one-third of commercial beekeepers' colonies died over the winter, the fourth consecutive year with similar losses.

Researchers warn
the rate of bee deaths is becoming unsustainable, and continued losses could impact the cost and availability of food.

"These numbers are all indicators that a crisis is coming,"
said Dennis van Engelsdorp of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. "It will reach a perfect storm the way the credit crisis did."

Honeybees, a species from Europe, became the pollinators of choice in American agriculture because they are easy to manage and were plentiful. A single colony can contain 20,000 workers, while bumblebee colonies might have only 200.

Nearly 34 percent of the country's managed honeybee colonies were lost last winter, according to the survey of 4,331 beekeepers conducted by the Apiary Inspectors of America and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Honey Bee Lab in Beltsville, Md.

That compares to
losses of 29 percent in 2008-09, 35.8 percent in 2007-08 and 31.8 percent in 2006-07.

In the past year, Dave Hackenberg of Lewisburg, Pennsylvania's largest beekeeper, lost 62 percent of his colonies.

"The problem's not going away. The losses will continue into the future," said Hackenberg.

Honeybees pollinate staples such as nuts, fruits and vegetables,
adding $15 billion each year to agricultural output in the United States, according to the Agriculture Department.

Agriculture is Pennsylvania's No. 1 industry; the state has nearly 8 million acres of farmland. Crops include grains such as wheat, oats, rye and barley, as well as potatoes, apples, cherries, peaches and grapes.

Diminished numbers of bees could lead to more expensive food and less availability of some flowering crops, van Engelsdorp said.

"We would have to go to less-intensive agriculture, decreased production of apples, almonds, squash and many other things. You would not have the acres and acres of apples in Adams County without pollination," van Engelsdorp said.

Crops in need of pollination also could be at risk if cash-strapped migratory beekeepers leave the business, as some have suggested.

The stress on bees from shipping hives long distances to pollinate crops is one suspected contributor to colony collapse disorder, a syndrome identified three years ago that is characterized by the death of an entire colony. Bees also are under great threat from a variety of mites and viruses and from poor nutrition.

Researchers, environmental groups and beekeepers increasingly are scrutinizing pesticides as a reason for the honeybee die-offs. Italy, France, Germany and Slovenia restrict the use of some pesticides, and watchdog groups have asked the Environmental Protection Agency to do the same.

During recent almond pollination in California, demand for bees dramatically outstripped availability.

"There was a scramble for bees at the end of almond pollination,"
said Joe Traynor, a bee broker in that state's San Joaquin Valley, where almond growers use more than 1 million bee colonies each February to pollinate vast crops.

Bee colonies a decade ago rented for $60 and cost as much as $170 this February in California.

"The growers insisted they would not pay more than $100 per colony. Many paid a lot more than that,"
said Hackenberg.

Organic Consumers reports that bees are busier than ever as disease besieges colonies.

Bees are Busier Than Ever as Disease Besieges Colonies
By Adrian Higgins
The Washington Post, March 15, 2010

In normal times, David Hackenberg would begin trucking his 20 million honeybees from the almond orchards of California to the orange groves of Florida this week.

Instead, after a month working the almond blossoms on the West Coast, his exhausted pollinators will get some rest and relaxation in the Georgia woods before the East Coast apple blossoms summon them to work once more next month.

These are not normal times for bees, or for commercial beekeepers, so Hackenberg's pollinators will skip the citrus gig to reduce their exposure to pesticides and get some rest. "Everybody is seeing [bee] losses this winter," said Hackenberg, of Lewisburg, Pa. "This was probably the worst year ever."

More than three years after beekeepers starting seeing the sudden disappearance of hive populations, scientists have yet to find the cause -- let alone the fix -- for a condition called colony collapse disorder (CCD). Meanwhile,
the commercial beekeeping industry is struggling to provide pollination services to the nations' farmers. One-third of food crops rely on insect pollination.

Sfgate writes about fun ways to obliterate all hope.

The sad fate of the honeybees. It's been out of the news for a while, thus causing many to believe that maybe science has solved the honeybee colony die-off crisis, or just the worst has been averted, or that we've figured out some magical way around the problem.

Wrong. Turns out the honeybee colony collapse is actually worse than when the first alarming stories emerged in 2006. For the fourth year in a row, more than a third of the colonies failed to survive the winter -- with some collapse rates much higher -- and scientists have made little progress in figuring out why. All they can deduce is that it's likely a multitude of complex factors (though mostly attributed to pesticides), making a simple fix nearly impossible. It remains potentially one of the worst ecological disasters in history -- far worse than the BP oil spill -- in how it affects the global food supply across the board.

My reaction:

I am still in the middle of researching this. I will write reaction as well as a follow up entry on the subject tomorrow.

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8 Responses to Fears for crops as shock figures from America show scale of bee catastrophe

  1. Tyrone says:

    poor nutrition caused by intensive farming methods.

    Are they trying to say...
    GMO Foods?

  2. navid says:

    thanks for your research, much appreciated

  3. Gail says:

    No doubt pesticides are a significant portion of the collapse but as usual, scientists aren't even considering toxic greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil and biofuels. Even though ozone is well known to cause cancer, emphysema and asthma and vegetation is even more sensitive to exposure.

    my take on the bees in this post about the trees:


    thanks for all the other links.

  4. Mark says:

    greenhouse gas?? And why are then not all hives affected? Makes no sense.

    I think it is China all over again. :-))

    What has changed in agriculture during the last decade? Any structural changes? Maybe even fertilizer use?

    How about urea over-dosage in India? Any correlation there?

  5. Mark says:

    Hmmm... one should possibly not concentrate on CCD too much as the percentage losses attributable to CCD have retreated.

    The starving bees are probably "just" a sign of unsustainable farming methods and soil losses.

  6. gambosino says:

    A small bit of good news. I work outside in northern Mexico. There still are a lot of wild bees. The Mesquite are in bloom and they are hard at work. It all seems normal.

  7. sharonsj says:

    Wild bees are different from commercial bees--they do not have the same stress. Commercial bees are hauled around the country in big trucks so they can pollinate various orchards and crops.

    The bee die-off is now attributed to a combination of causes, including stress, pollution, bad food, and opportunistic parasites.

    In fact, the entire planet is under assault and we're busily killing the oceans. Now we can't eat most seafood because it's either endangered or contaminated.

    Guess we're going to have to learn to eat weeds.

  8. rstout47 says:

    I've compiled enough evidence after talking with scientists, chemists, airline pilots, engineers and other professionals who are in the know that we are getting heavily sprayed from the government chemtrails program from 30,000 plus feet in the air with five known poisons that settle down from that height after 24 hours to ground level. It's known to kill plant life, insects such as bees and other pollenators, and people who have weak immune systems and respiratory problems. This government program has been going on for over ten years with no stopping in sight! God's judgment will be upon these people for doing these things to God's creatures!!!!!!!

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