A Passionate Plea for the Honeybee
by Milt Bowling
Back in the mid '90s when my late dog Jake was a pup, we used to walk in a 100-acre urban wilderness near our home a couple of times a day. This green space was once the site of Vancouver's landfill. Thanks to lobbying from community activists, it was dedicated as an urban wilderness in perpetuity, and nature was encouraged to reclaim it. This provided fertile ground for blackberry bushes to take hold. In late spring and early summer their white and pink blossoms were everywhere, and so were honeybees and other pollinating insects. The bees were so numerous that the blackberry bushes looked that they were alive and mobile.
I saw with my own eyes bee numbers gradually decline over Jake's 11-year life, such that by the early 2000s we could spend an hour in the park and only see one or two bees, not thousands as before. As I come from a long line of beekeepers (150 years that I know of), this was frightening. When I pointed this out to fellow dog walkers, a few of them actually understood that this was problematic and, after checking their gardens at home, confirmed that, yes, they had a lot fewer bees, too.
But it wasn't until 2006 that honeybee decline made headlines when a leading U.S. commercial beekeeper, Dave Hackenberg, sounded the alarm of bee die-off, later to be termed colony collapse disorder. Thus began the past eight years of speculation about the cause or causes. One problem in seeking a solution is that proposed causes are analyzed singularly, as if they are isolated in a lab rather than interacting synergistically with other harmful elements.
What's causing bee die-off?
Recently pesticides, primarily neonicotinoids, have firmly staked out centre stage as the leading culprits. And it's not hard to understand why. More and more studies demonstrate that supposed sublethal doses can in fact be terminally harmful to bees, particularly when local farmers misapply them. Or at least that is the problem as industry explains it, if acknowledged at all. As with controversial regulatory decisions in other environmental areas, supposed "safe" levels were based on industry-sponsored science.
Neonicotinoids are chemically similar to nicotine and
(This is not only a problem for honeybees ... these pesticides get into our food, and they persist and accumulate in the environment, in our water and soil, and progress up the food chain)
were originally regarded as preferable to insecticides that were commonly used in the '80s and '90s, when Shell and Bayer developed this new breed. One of the main perceived advantages was that neonics were shown in tests to be less lethal to mammals than to insects. Neonicotinoids work by interfering with neurotransmitters in insects' brains; they are essentially a nerve poison, driving insects to erratic behaviour and death. The leading neonicotinoid, imidacloprid, is now the most widely used insecticide on the planet. The problem that is hard to miss is that bees are insects, too, and nerve poisons do not discriminate between friend and foe.
Imidacloprid is a water-soluble systemic insecticide that can be applied against soil, seed, timber and animal pests, as well as used for foliage treatment for food crops. As it is systemic, it disperses throughout the entire plant, including pollen, the primary source of protein for bees, and nectar, a source of carbohydrates for them. Obviously, this is not only a problem for honeybees. As far as humans are concerned, these pesticides get into our food, and they persist and accumulate in the environment, in our water and soil, and progress up the food chain. It is also lethal to beneficial soil bacteria, thus affecting the quality and quantity of the food we grow.
Water samples taken during the 2013 growing season in Iowa, the top corn-producing state in the U.S., showed frightening results. Although previous studies by the U.S. Geological Society had found many other types of common agricultural chemicals in stream samples in the state, researchers observed a "substantially greater neonicotinoid detection frequency" in this 2013 study compared to historical detections of other insecticides.
The pesticide-wireless link
It is quite clear that insecticides make a very popular target for scientific and political attention, but is that the end of it? What about genetically modified organisms, hive pests, viruses, climate change, monocrops, habitat loss, or electromagnetic fields spread by the ever-expanding proliferation of wireless technology? None of these factors are good for bees.
Thousands of studies show adverse effects of human-made radio frequency (RF) exposure on flora and fauna, including us. The "World Health Organization's (WHO's) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in May 2011 classified RF as 2B, a possible human carcinogen. Over and above cancer, dozens of studies show the adverse influence of electromagnetic fields on human fertility, and scores of others report a decrease in immune-system function. Is it out of the realms of possibility then that RF could adversely affect bees as well?
What about pesticides and RF combined? No money is available to find out, as that might threaten the trillion-dollar wireless industry. Two 2013 studies by researchers demonstrated that neonicotinoids disrupt the innate immune systems of bees, making them susceptible to viral infection to which the bees are normally resistant.
According to a 1999 study, neonics allow the bees' protective blood brain barrier (BBB) to leak and allow foreign chemicals into their brains; similarly RF allows leakage in the BBB of humans. This leakage of the blood brain barrier may impact bees' ability to search for food and to learn navigation routes to food sources and back to the hive. This disorientation has also been shown with RF exposure and bee behaviours in studies in Germany and bee navigation and return to hive in studies in India.
Although there is disagreement as to the cause or causes of the pollinator problem, there seems to be consensus that the cause is environmental and multifactorial. Research suggests that both pesticides and electromagnetic fields are deleterious to wild and domestic bees, as well as butterflies, birds and bats. Lamentably, there is political and economic pushback in acknowledgement of any adverse effects of radio frequency, but there is at least action on the pesticide front. The European Union in April 2013 passed a two-year restriction on neonics, as have her countries, most recently Zealand.
As detailed in a press release June 2014, the results of four-year analysis by 29 leading independent scientists viewing 800 peer-reviewed ports "confirm that they [neonics] are causing significant damage to a wide range of beneficial invertebrate species and are a key factor in the decline of bees."
In a study just published in Science, 67 percent of monitored invertebrate populations show a 45 percent mean abundance decline during the past 35 years. This clearly has a ripple effect throughout our ecosystem and therefore on human well-being. This timeline would coincide with the introduction of neonics and the spectacular increase of wireless radiation in our environment.
What can we do to help?
Vote with your wallet. Buy organic and support local farmers' markets. Write your government officials about your concerns about the aforementioned possible factors in honeybee decline. It's easy to send an email, or, better yet, mail them a letter. They need to hear from you.
An effective step for homeowners is to look at their own
(Bees are insects, too, and insect.nerve poisons do not discriminate between friend and foe)
yards. We all have a part to play. Neonicotinoids are widely available in lawn and garden products to control insects on ornamental plants and the doses are typically higher than those recommended for food crops. If you want to do something to help the bees, plant bee-friendly plants in your yard. Stop using chemicals that contribute to the problem. Do you really need to use poison to ensure a nice lawn? Do you really need a lawn in the first place? More and more people are converting their yards to vegetable and flower gardens.
Here's a simple guiding principle for creating such refuges around your home. If you can't grow something without resorting to a toxic chemical, maybe you shouldn't be growing it. You can also begin growing your own food, which is like growing your own money. It's fresh and it's organic. Talk to your friends and neighbours, so they become aware of the issues. The more we know, the more we can take action to make things change. Bees are worth it, and so are we.
Milt Bowling is on the board of directors for Health Action Network Society.
THEY TOLD US ON THE NATIONAL NEWS [USA AND CANADA] A YEAR OR SO AGO ABOUT THIS PROBLEM, AND ADDED THAT 40 PERCENT OF OUR FOODS DEPEND ON POLLINATION. IS MANKIND GOING TO BRING TO PASS THE HORRIFIC KILLING OF NATURE AS GIVEN IN THE BOOK OF REVELATION? MAYBE IT WILL BE SO, THEN MAYBE IT WILL BE GOD'S HAND, BUT OFTEN GOD'S HAND IS TO LET MANKIND DO THE CRAZY ERRORS OF LIFE THAT BRING FORTH DESTRUCTION - Keith Hunt