Largest Beekeeper in U.S. Says More Than Half Died Over Winter
The nation’s bee population has had one of its worst winters ever, reports the New York Times. The newspaper quotes Bret Adee, a co-owner of Adee Honey Farms of South Dakota, saying: “We lost 42 percent over the winter. But by the time we came around to pollinate almonds, it was a 55 percent loss.” Adee Honey Farms, the paper adds, is the “nation’s largest beekeeper,” with some 80,000 colonies.
It’s normal for a certain amount of bees to die over the winter and into early spring — five to fifteen percent — due to winter bees grown old in the hive, and pests and diseases amplified by the close quarters. So beekeepers aren’t alarmed by bee corpses, so much as when the bees simply disappear, as with colony collapse disorder, which spread in the mid-2000s until it scythed down 30 to 40 percent of the bee population annually.
A survey of the 2007-08 season, covering almost 20 percent of the U.S.’s estimated 2.44 million colonies, found that 36 percent of colonies were lost that year. “The 37.9 percent of operations that reported having at least some of their colonies die with a complete lack of bees had a total loss of 40.8 percent of colonies,” noted the authors, adding: “Sixty percent of all colonies that were reported dead in this survey died without dead bees” — suggesting colony collapse disorder.
Neonicotinoids are a) systemic, meaning that they are absorbed by the whole plant, b) long-lasting, remaining active not just for 16 – 200 days as Bayer has testified, butmore than three years, and c) cumulative in strength and in effects. So the sublethal doses available in pollen can aggregate in hives over time, or in fields, as leftover plant matter is tilled back into the ground after each harvest.
A recommended two-year suspension of neonicotinoids in Europe just failed to win a majority vote (but may be appealed), while a coalition of beekeepers and food safety activists are now suing the Environmental Protection Agency in an attempt to force its regulatory hand. While bees may be the “point” insect in this battle, there are also concerns about the health of the Monarch butterfly and even birds (pdf) and small mammals.
EPA regulation could thus far be qualified as lax; as the Times reports in that same story: “Eric Mussen, an apiculturist at the University of California, Davis, said analysts had documented about 150 chemical residues in pollen and wax gathered from beehives.”