Wednesday, October 7, 2009
So why have our bees buzzed off?
Bees ... on the decline
By BEN JACKSON
Published: 03 Oct 2009
IT has become an international whodunnit - who or what has killed billions of our bees?
There is no one murder suspect. The only thing baffled boffins can agree on is that we must find an answer soon - because the busy bee pollinates one in three plants in the human diet.
The honeybee has certainly never been under greater threat. In the UK last year beekeepers lost one in five of their colonies.
Some bee species have declined by up to 95 per cent over the last 30 years. That pattern has been repeated around the globe, with massive losses across Italy, France and America.Many of those in the US have suffered "colony collapse disorder" where hundreds of bee colonies simply disappear.
New film The Vanishing Of The Bees features footage of one of the worst incidents, dubbed the "bee holocaust". Brett Adee, the world's biggest commercial beekeeper, is shown chatting beside his 70,000 hives in Lost Hills, California, in 2007. He says: "We haven't seen any of this colony collapse disorder here."But a few months later Brett is seen returning to his hives to discover the largest disaster ever seen in bee-keeping history - 40,000 hives containing two billion bees had disappeared.
Yesterday The Sun spoke to Florida beekeeper Dave Hackenberg - the man who first alerted the industry to the problem. He and a number of other experts believe the problem may stem from pesticides called neonicotinoids which are applied to seeds before they are planted.
While more evidence is needed, the idea the farming industry might be poisoning itself is deeply disturbing. Hackenberg, 60, says: "I first started worrying about this in 2004. It was so mysterious we were losing bees and no one could guess what was going on."I put 400 hives in one field and when we came back there was nothing flying about.
"I lost probably 35,000 bees in one go. There was only a handful of them left, yet in the next field where there were 200 hives everything was fine."It was only later I realised the bees had been feeding on pumpkins in a field where neonicotinoids were in use."
He took some of the bees to Penn State University for scientists to analyse and they discovered a fungus inside them.He explained: "Bees are not like cows which stay inside a fence. They fly for miles so if there's something different out there they are going to find it."I knew we had changed to using more systemic pesticides, but we had been told they were safe and it didn't hurt bees or people." Then Dave discovered a study by the University of Florida which showed how these pesticides had affected the south Meditterranean termites.
He explained: "They were breaking down their immune system, causing them to quit feeding. One of the things we had noticed was our bees wouldn't eat."We tried to make contact with the chemical company, Bayer, who help manufacture it."The Penn scientists said they were certain these chemicals were the problem. They found one bee with 35 different pesticides in it, so no wonder there's a problem."
Other people suggested the problem could be created by a disease carried by mites.Dave says: "But we've had the mites since 1988. When I talked to these scientists they said this is something that has broken down their immune system. These new pesticides have only been used on a large scale since 2004. I'm very worried about this."
This week The Co-operative - Britain's biggest farmer - called for immediate research into neonicotinoid pesticides. It has already banned them on the company's 60,000 acres of farmland. And yesterday The Sun reported how Liam Gallagher is campaigning to save the honeybee.
While Dave may take some convincing otherwise, the jury is still out. Chemical giant Bayer have rejected the allegations.
Dr Julian Little, the UK spokesman for Bayer CropScience says: "This is about the varroa mite, the nosema pest and a number of fungal and viral diseases."The healthiest bees in the world are in Australia, where they have lots of neonicotinoids but they don't have varroa."If you look at a country where they have restricted the use of neonicotinoids, France, they have a worse bee problem there than they do in the UK."
Others disagree saying Australia doesn't use bees for mass pollination and France only banned the chemicals in 2004, meaning they could still be in the food chain.
Here in the UK the British Beekeepers' Association say the answers are still inconclusive.Either way, the industry agrees an international solution must be found - for the sake of the bee ... and for man.