[permaculture] The loss of billions of bees raises questions about our pesticide controls.
Lawrence F. London, Jr.
lflj at intrex.net
Wed Jul 30 21:36:11 EDT 2008
-------- Original Message --------
Subject: [SANET-MG] The loss of billions of bees raises questions about our pesticide
Date: Wed, 30 Jul 2008 20:39:24 -0400
From: jcummins <jcummins at UWO.CA>
To: SANET-MG at LISTS.IFAS.UFL.EDU
From the Los Angeles Times
The loss of billions of bees raises questions about our pesticide
By Al Meyerhoff
July 30, 2008
It's likely that most people have never heard of Gaucho. And no, it's
not a South American cowboy. I'm talking about a pesticide.
There is increasing reason to believe that Gaucho and other members of
a family of highly toxic chemicals -- neonicotinoids -- may be
responsible for the deaths of billions of honeybees worldwide. Some
scientists believe that these pesticides, which are applied to seeds,
travel systemically through the plant and leave residues that
contaminate the pollen, resulting in bee death or paralysis. The
French refer to the effect as "mad bee disease" and in 1999 were the
first to ban the use of these chemicals, which are currently only
marketed by Bayer (the aspirin people) under the trade names Gaucho
and Poncho. Germany followed suit this year, and its agricultural
research institute said it concluded that the poisoning of the bees
was because of the rub-off of the pesticide clothianidin (that's
Pancho) from corn seeds.
So why did the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2002 grant an
"emergency" exemption allowing increased use of Gaucho -- typically
invoked during a major infestation -- when only a few beetles were
found in blueberries? Why did the agency also grant a "conditional"
registration for its close relative, Pancho, allowing the chemical on
the market with only partial testing? And why is the agency, hiding
behind a curtain of "trade secrets," still refusing to disclose
whether the additional tests required of companies in such cases were
conducted and, if so, with what results?
Therein lies a tale. Most pesticides, we're told, are safe. So we add
about 5 billion pounds a year of these deadly chemicals to our world,
enough to encircle the planet if it were packaged in 100-pound sacks.
Sure, they are regulated -- but badly -- under the antiquated Federal
Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act. This law allows a chemical
on the market unless it's proved to pose "an unreasonable risk," far
too weak a standard.
Gerard Eyries, a Bayer marketing manager, said in connection with the
French action that "imidacloprid [that's Gaucho] left a small residue
in nectar and pollen, but there was no evidence of a link with the
drop in the bee population." Bayer also blamed seed makers and
suggested that there may be "nonchemical causes" for this massive bee
kill. But Bayer may not be entirely objective here. In 2006, Gaucho
sales topped $746 million.
Something is killing the bees, though. Some scientists suspect a
virus; others mites, even cellphones. (Bees are not known to use
phones, though, having their own communications system -- a dance
called the "waggle.")
Here in the U.S., the bee kill is a big problem. Domesticated bees
were brought to the U.S. on the Mayflower. Today, they contribute at
least $15 billion to the nation's agricultural economy. For example,
California's $2-billion-a-year almond crop is completely dependent on
honeybees from about 1.5 million hives for pollination. This year,
more than 2.4 million bee colonies -- 36% of the total -- were lost in
the U.S., according to the Apiary Inspectors of America. Some colonies
collapsed in two days.
Part of the problem is how we farm. Rather than rotating crops,
farmers grow the same one each year. This "monoculture" creates a
breeding ground for pests. Farmers then use chemicals that kill not
only the target organism but other life forms as well -- like
honeybees. That this approach may now be coming back to bite
big-production agriculture is not without some irony. For decades the
agriculture industry has been its beneficiary -- with farmworkers,
consumers and local communities the victims. But, actually, we're all
No independent government testing is required before a pesticide is
registered for use. Large gaps in basic scientific knowledge about
pesticides remain, including their environmental "fate" (where they
end up) and their toxicity to humans and to wildlife. A problem
pesticide may be removed from the market only after a long process and
full trial -- something that should be done before. The Food Quality
Protection Act of 1996 improved control of residues in our food. That
didn't help the bees.
Rachel Carson was vilified by an industry smear nearly 50 years ago,
after the release of her book, "Silent Spring." "If we were to follow
the teachings of Miss Carson," said American Cyanamid, the maker of
DDT, "we would return to the Dark Ages ... insects, vermin and disease
would once again inherit the Earth." But, as Carson so eloquently put
it in a CBS documentary in 1964: "Man's attitude toward nature is
today critically important simply because we now have acquired a
fateful power to alter and destroy nature. But man is part of nature,
and his war is inevitably a war against himself."
Al Meyerhoff, an environmental attorney in Los Angeles, is a former
director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's public health program.
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