Sacred Honey Bee Evening video clip, CLICK ON THE PHOTO TO VIEW

Sacred Honey Bee Evening video clip, CLICK ON THE PHOTO TO VIEW
Click on this photo for a video of "Evening in Honor of the Sacred Honey Bee". Photo by Daniel Bahmani

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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Beekeepers ask Boulder County to ban class of pesticides

By Laura Snider Camera Staff Writer
Posted: 11/24/2011 11:00:00 AM MST

Hovering around the debate over whether GMO crops should be allowed on Boulder County open space has been a less vocal buzz over bees.

Some beekeepers say a class of commonly used insecticides is killing their bees.

Last week, when two Boulder County advisory boards held a meeting to listen to public comments on a proposed cropland policy, a half-dozen bee advocates showed up among the GMO protesters to ask the boards to ban neonicotinoids.

"I speak for the insects, specifically, for the bees," said Tom Theobald, who has been a beekeeper in Boulder County for 36 years. "My most specific concern is with the systemic pesticides -- the neonicotinoids."

The two advisory boards -- the Food and Agriculture Policy Council and the Parks and Open Space Advisory Committee -- made a decision on the part of the proposed cropland policy that has garnered the most public attention: whether farmers should be allowed to plant genetically modified organisms on land that they lease from the county. Both boards agreed that GMOs should be phased out over time.

As for neonicotinoids, neither board is now recommending a ban.

The county commissioners will make a final decision about the entire cropland policy next month. And before they do, Theobald -- who owns Niwot Honey Farm -- plans to make sure they hear from beekeepers.

He said he thinks corn pollen from plants treated with neonicotinoids is responsible, at least in part, for the devastating losses he has experienced over the last several years in his bee colonies.

Poisonous pollen?

Neonicotinoids are often used to treat seeds before they're planted to protect the seedlings from insect damage.

"They are a seed treatment -- a powder that's applied to the seeds," said Adrian Card, a Colorado State University extension agent for Boulder County. "When the seed germinates, it takes the insecticide into the seed. As the plant grows, the insecticide is systemic."

Because the insecticide is taken up through the plant and incorporated into the plant's tissues, neonicotinoids can be found in pollen.

Bee colonies across the country have been wiped out in recent years by an unexplained phenomenon dubbed Colony Collapse Disorder. Scientists have not agreed on a cause of the problem, though many now say a variety of factors may be at play.

Theobald -- who has lost as much as 60 percent of his bee colonies in some years -- has recently started to do some of his own research, and it has led him to target neonicotinoids, which have been in widespread use for about a decade, as a probable villain.

"About three years ago, in the spring, I sat down in one of the yards that had really high winter losses, and I went through those colonies very carefully -- Sherlock Holmes-style," he said. "These colonies went into the winter apparently strong and healthy, plenty of honey, and then nothing. Dead."

Theobald said he thinks the corn pollen collected by bees in the summer is stored in the hive as a reserve while bees continue to eat whatever other pollen is fresh at the time. Then, toward the end of September, when other kinds of pollen become scarce, the bees begin to feed on stored corn pollen that may be laced with neonicotinoids.

"It disrupts the fertility of the queen and the viability of the brood," he said.

Considering a ban

After Theobald and several other local beekeepers made their case to the Food and Agriculture Policy Council and the Parks and Open Space Advisory Committee last week, both boards discussed the possible connection between neonicotinoids and bee death when they voted on the cropland policy proposal.

Several members of the agriculture council said they were concerned about the systemic insecticides. Member Erik Johnson suggested that the council adopt language from a minority report that was included in the draft cropland policy. (Only three of the nine volunteer members of the county's Cropland Policy Advisory Group, which wrote the draft policy over the last year, agreed with banning neonicotinoids.)

Johnson's motion did not pass.

Dick Miller, a conventional farmer on the council, said he did not support banning neonicotinoids because he didn't think there is evidence that the insecticide is connected to bee death. Miller also said his own bee colonies appear to be doing fine.

"I just have a problem just blanket-banning it because I don't think it's credible information," he said.

But Shanan Olson, an organic farmer who also serves on the Food and Agriculture Policy Council, said she is concerned that insecticides may be having an impact.

"I have a relationship with the bees and other pollinators -- we are a seed farm, there are a ton of flowers -- and I absolutely see the effects," she said.

Parks and Open Space Advisory Committee members also did not vote to recommend a ban on neonicotinoids, though they did approve language that would prohibit the insecticide "should neonicotinoids be shown to play a significant role in Colony Collapse Disorder."

"I checked in with a couple of scientists I know who work on Colony Collapse Disorder, and there's no evidence (connecting it to neonicotinoids)," said committee member Janice Moore, a biology professor at CSU. "What they think is that colony collapse, if there was one cause, they would have pounced on it by now. They've really looked at (neonicotinoids) as a solitary cause, and it doesn't cause colony collapse. It may work in conjunction with five or six other things from climate change to Lord-knows-what to induce this. But as far as a stand-alone cause, this is not it."

Before the county commissioners vote on the entire cropland policy, Theobald plans to make sure they know the beekeepers' concerns, whether or not all scientists agree with them.

"They've crucified us on this you-don't-have-the-evidence thing -- you don't have peer-reviewed science," Theobald said. "But (beekeepers) have global experience with this. There is no higher peer review than that. We have experience, and the experience is that there are some very, very serious questions surrounding these systemic pesticides."

Contact Camera Staff Writer Laura Snider at 303-473-1327 or

A really good site (in French) about Warre Hives

Friday, November 25, 2011

Making the Connection: Honeybees, Food, and You - a TED talk by Christy Hemenway of Gold Star Honeybees

Help Save the Annual Bee/Honey Production Report:Annual Report Still in Jepordy

A couple of weeks ago Bee Culture’s Buzz informed you that the Annual NASS Honey Report was slated to be discontinued, and, perhaps the monthly ERS Honey Price Report was in trouble, too. We urged you to write a short note requesting that they NOT be discontinued because of the their importance to the beekeeping industry.

Now it seems some money has been reinstated, and that some of those reports will remain…those that get the most support from their members. The American Federation has joined the parade and they are urging their members to support continuing these reports. Below is their letter. The Buzz report generated some response, but more is needed. If you sent a letter to the original cause, send it again to the person listed below. We need these reports.

USDA-NASS had announced that it would discontinue the annual bee/honey production report along with a wide range of agricultural survey programs. Now, Congress has passed the 2012 Agricultural Appropriations bill, which gives the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) sufficient funding to continue some of these reports – those that receive the most support from their industries.

Beekeepers need to contact NASS to urge that the agency continue the annual bee/honey report.

“This is the only production report NASS provides for the honey industry,” says ABF president David Mendes. “We have a chance to save the report. It is important that the honey industry let NASS know how critical this annual report is to the industry and support the reinstatement of its publication.”

In addition to giving producers information on honey production and colony numbers in the various states, the annual report is used by the National Honey Board as a comparison to its domestic assessment collections and is a vital component of the fledgling beekeeper crop insurance program.

“When we go to Congress and USDA to make our case for programs to benefit beekeepers, we rely on the annual bee/honey report as an indication of the health and trends of our industry. Without the NASS report, we would have nothing to base our requests on,” said Mendes.

Beekeepers, packers, state associations and others associated with the honey industry are encouraged to take a moment to send an e-mail to the Joseph Prusacki, NASS statistics division director, at, explaining the importance of this report to you and to the industry.

The same communication should be sent to your members of Congress and to the NASS field office in your state. To locate the NASS office in your state, go to

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Bayer's top-selling pesticides continue to cause bee deaths worldwide


The worrisome deaths of bee populations worldwide is likely to continue as the German agrochemical company Bayer remains unrestricted in its manufacture and sale of neonicotinoid pesticides.

Bayer's accountability in the phenomenon known as the Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is among the cases to be heard at the Permanent People's Tribunal (PPT) Session on Agrochemical Transnational Corporations (TNCs), a landmark international opinion tribunal that will try the six largest agrochemical TNCs for various human rights violations, to be held from December 3 to 6, 2011.

"Bee deaths are a global problem, so it is crucial to discuss this issue and to find solutions on an international level. It is encouraging that the PPT as a global initiative is addressing this problem, which is both an environmental and an economic threat," said Philipp Mimkes, spokesperson of the Coalition Against Bayer Dangers, a Germany-based public interest group.

Mimkes revealed that imidacloprid (product name Gaucho) and clothianidin (product name Poncho) remain Bayer's top-selling pesticides, despite the fact that this class of pesticides, known as neonicotinoids, is strongly linked to CCD.

In 2010, Gaucho sales were valued at US$ 820 million while Poncho sales were valued at US$ 260 million. Gaucho ranks first among Bayer's best-selling pesticide, while Poncho ranks seventh. "This is the reason why Bayer, despite the serious environmental damage they cause, is fighting tooth and nail against any application prohibition of neonicotinoids," said Mimkes.

In Europe, many dangerous uses of neonicotinoids have been banned. Germany, Italy, France and Slovenia have stopped the use of Gaucho and Poncho as a seed dressing for corn, their most important application. However, the use of these pesticides is unrestricted in many countries, including the U.S. where one-third of the bee population has died every year since 2006.

Honeybees pollinate over 70 out of 100 crops that provide 90% of the world's food. They pollinate most fruits and vegetables-including apples, oranges, strawberries, onions and carrots. The declining bee population thus has potentially serious impacts on food security and livelihood of farmers. It can also affect the range of food crops that can be grown and consequently the nutritional value and variety of our food supply.

Decline of bee populations

CCD is used to described the drastic decline of bee populations across the world, which started in the mid-1990s. This was also the same period when neonicotinoids were introduced in the market. In 1994, honeybee populations started dying in France, and later in Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Poland, England, Slovenia, Greece, Belgium, Canada, U.S., Brazil, Japan, and India.

Neonicotinoids are a class of pesticides that are chemically related to nicotine. They are taken up by a plant's vascular system and released through pollen, nectar and water droplets from which bees then forage and drink.

While CCD is likely caused by a combination of many factors including the stresses of industrial beekeeping and loss of habitat, many scientists believe that exposure to pesticides is a critical factor. Neonicotinoids are of particular concern because they have cumulative, sublethal effects on bees and other insect pollinators. These effects include neurobehavioral and immune system disruptions that correspond to CCD symptoms.

CCD has severe impacts on the livelihoods of beekeepers around the globe. In the U.S., where beekeeping industry is valued at US$ 15 billion, losses due to CCD are estimated to be from 29 to 36 percent per year.

In 1991, Bayer began producing imidacloprid, which is now one of the most widely used insecticides for field and horticultural crops, especially maize, sunflower, and rape. In 1999, however, France banned imidacloprid as a seed dressing for sunflowers, after a third of French honeybees died following its widespread use. Five years later, it was also banned as a corn treatment.

Bayer then produced clothianidin, a successor to imidacloprid. This was brought into the American market in 2003, and the German market in 2006. Clothianidin is also a neonicotinoid and highly toxic to honeybees.

A recent United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report described the Bayer pesticides clothianidin and imidacloprid as a risk to numerous animals. It revealed that these chemicals potentially cause toxic chronic exposure to non-target pollinators, as well as animals such as cats, fish, rats, rabbits, birds and earthworms. "Laboratory studies have shown that such chemicals can cause loss of sense of direction, impair memory and brain metabolism, and cause mortality," the UNEP report said.

Due to their high level of persistence, neonicotinoids can remain in the soil for several years. Thus, even untreated crops planted in fields where the pesticides were previously used can take up the toxins from the soil via their roots.

In 2008 in Baden-Wuerttemberg, Southern Germany, two thirds of the honeybee population along the Rhine River died when dust from the clothianidin seed treatment on corn drifted onto neighbouring fields as the corn was been sown. This resulted in an average loss of 17,000 Euros for affected beekepers. Tests on the dead bees showed that 99 percent had a build-up of clothianidin. Butterflies and other useful insects disappeared at the same.

Aggressive push to stop neonicotinoids

Mimkes' group has been campaigning against neonicotinoids since 1997, when the hazards of neonicotinoids were more or less unknown to the broader public. He said that it is about time that Bayer is aggressively pushed to stop the manufacture and sale of these pesticides, and is made accountable for the economic loss and environmental damage brought by their products.

"The most important development is that today there are thousands of reports, articles and studies around the world about the correlation of exposure to pesticides such as imidacloprid and clothianidin, and the widespread decline of bees. Beekeepers and environmental groups in many countries have become active, and have pressed governments and authorities to protect bees," he said.

Environmental and beekeeping associations worldwide have gathered 1.2 million signatures to demand that clothianidin be removed from the market, which were presented to Bayer's Chief Executive Officer during a shareholder's meeting. The signature campaign was prompted by the public leak of an internal memo from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which confirms the risk that the pesticide poses to bees and describes Bayer safety studies to be inadequate.

The EPA in 2003 provided "conditional registration" to clothianidin, pending Bayer's conduct of a chronic life cycle study on its effect on bees. Bayer asked for more time to finish its research, during which period it extensively sold the product. Bayer finally submitted its study in 2007, which the EPA declared as "scientifically sound" and used as a basis for the continued registration of clothianidin.

But the leaked EPA memo revealed that EPA granted Bayer permission to conduct its study on canola, instead of corn-a crucial distinction, since canola is a minor crop compared to corn. Furthermore, the studies were conducted on test fields that were too small and close together. With bees foraging in a range of up to six miles, it thus seemed most likely that the test bees dined outside of the test fields, the memo further said.

The upcoming PPT Session on Agrochemical TNCs will include in its indictment governments and institutions that in several instances colluded with agrochemical TNCs in violations of the right to life, health, and livelihood, among other basic human rights.

According to Mimkes, "Previous PPTs have helped to put pressure on companies, so we hope that it brings additional momentum for the campaign to stop the mass death of bees."

The PPT has its historical roots in the tribunals on the Vietnam War and Latin American dictatorships. In the more recent era of corporate globalisation, PPTs have tackled and exposed TNCs which operate above national laws and can commit human rights violations with impunity.

The PPT Session on Agrochemical TNCs is the first to target Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer, Dow Chemical, DuPont, and BASF or the six companies currently in control of the world's food and agricultural system.

Support the tribunal. Sign the petition at