Bee-Washing: It’s Pollination Week? Where Are the Bees?

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25,000 bumblebees were found dead in an Oregon parking lot just as National Pollinator Week recently kicked off

The bees were reported falling out of 55 blooming European linden trees near a shopping center over a period of several days; the trees had just been sprayed with Safari, a neonicotinoid insecticide

Neonicotinoids are taken up through the plant’s vascular system as it grows, and the chemical is expressed in the pollen and nectar of the plant; neonicotinoids are highly toxic to bees

In the US alone, a full one-third of the food supply depends on pollination from bees; if bee colonies continue to be devastated, major food shortages could result

The start of National Pollinator Week was marked by a tragic and perhaps eerily prophetic event, as an estimated 25,000 bumblebees were found dead in an Oregon parking lot.

Over a period of several days, multiple calls to the Oregon Department of Agriculture reported bees and other insects falling out of 55 blooming European linden trees near a shopping center.

The damage was so severe that Dan Hilburn, director of plant programs at the state Agriculture Department, said:1“I’ve never encountered anything quite like it in 30 years in the business.”

Neonicotinoid Pesticide Is the Suspected Culprit

The 55 trees where the dead bees were found had been sprayed with Safari, a neonicotinoid insecticide, on the same day the first bees were reported dead. Neonicotinoids are the most widely used pesticides in the world, and they are used on most American crops, especially corn.

These chemicals are typically applied to seeds before planting, allowing the pesticide to be taken up through the plant’s vascular system as it grows. As a result, the chemical is expressed in the pollen and nectar of the plant, and hence the danger to bees and other pollinating insects. It states directly on the label that these insecticides should not be used if bees are in the area. As the Cornucopia Institute reported:2

“Safari is part of the neonicotinoid pesticide family. When it is sprayed on a plant, the leaves, flowers and nectar become toxic to almost all insects. The product’s label on the distributor’s website warns it is ‘highly toxic’ to bees and tells applicators not to apply it ‘if bees are visiting the area.’”

If tests show that the insecticide is responsible for the bee deaths, the company that rents and manages the shopping center could be guilty of violating state or federal laws related to pesticide regulations, which can carry fines of up to $10,000.

In the meantime, the Agriculture Department installed bee-proof nets over the trees to prevent any further bee deaths. Unfortunately, there’s still a much larger issue at hand, which is the ongoing use of these toxic insecticides.

How Many Bees Have to Die Before Action Is Taken Against Neonicotinoids?

A general consensus among beekeepers is that the ongoing honeybee die-offs are most definitely related to toxic chemicals, and neonicotinoids in particular.

The disappearance of bee colonies began accelerating in the US shortly after the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) allowed these new insecticides on the market in the mid-2000s. In May, beekeepers and environmental groups filed a lawsuit against the agency over its failure to protect bees from these toxic pesticides.

Meanwhile, France has banned Imidacloprid, a neonicotinoid, for use on corn and sunflowers after reporting large losses of bees after exposure to it. They also rejected Bayer´s application for the neonicotinoid Clothianidin, and other countries, such as Italy, have banned certain neonicotinoids as well.

The EPA acknowledges that “pesticide poisoning” may be one factor leading to bee die-offs known as colony collapse disorder,3 yet they have been slow to act to protect bees from this threat. The current lawsuit may help spur them toward more urgent action, which is desperately needed as the food supply hangs in the balance.

There are about 100 crop species that provide 90 percent of food globally; of these, 71 are pollinated by bees. In the US alone, a full one-third of the food supply depends on pollination from bees. Apple orchards, for instance, require one colony of bees per acre to be adequately pollinated. So if bee colonies continue to be devastated, major food shortages could result.

More Bees Dying as Monsanto and Bayer Enter the Bee Business

Serious honeybee die-offs have been occurring around the world for the past decade, but this year the US experienced the highest losses of honeybee populations so far, with most of the nation’s beekeepers losing anywhere from 50 to 90 percent of their bee population. Pesticide manufacturers are likely none too pleased about the recent accusations hurled against their products, so they’ve taken matters into their own hands and purchased leading bee research firms, ostensibly to study colony collapse disorder and other bee research.

Monsanto, which is the world leader in genetically modified (GM) crops (and the pesticides and herbicides that go along with them), recently bought Beeologics, a company whose primary goal is finding a solution to the colony collapse disorder.

Bayer CropScience – a leading manufacturer of the neonicotinoid pesticides – plans to open the North American Bee Care Center by the end of 2013. The Center is intended to be a research hub as well as promote “the active promotion of bee-responsible use of Bayer products along with communication activities worldwide.”4

Can Monsanto and Bayer’s Bee Research Really Be Trusted?

Clearly, the forthcoming research from Beeologics and the North American Bee Care Center may now be tainted with regard to these companies’ products and their impact on bee populations. In other words, they are going to stop at nothing to make sure their pesticides and GM crops are completely cleared of any wrongdoing.

Already, in 2010 a study by Montana bee researcher Dr. Jerry Bromenshenk found that CCD was not caused by pesticides but rather a combination of fungus and virus, found in all collapsed colonies, may be the culprit… what was not widely reported in the media, however, was that Dr. Bromenshenk received a significant research grant from Bayer to study bee pollination – a massive conflict of interest that is likely to be carried over into any upcoming research from Bayer and Monsanto.

Further, one of the observed effects of neonicotinoids is weakening of the bee’s immune system, allowing them to fall prey to secondary, seemingly “natural” bee infections, such as parasites, mites, viruses, fungi and bacteria. Pathogens such as Varroa mites, Nosema, fungal and bacterial infections, and Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus (IAPV) are found in large amounts in honeybee hives on the verge of collapse, and this allows researchers to blame the deaths on these “natural” causes when the insecticides were ultimately the cause.

Tips for Helping the Bees and Other Pollinators

The Pollinator Partnership, which initiated Pollinator Week, has released many ways you can help the urgent issue of declining pollinator populations.5 Clearly major steps need to be taken on a national level to protect pollinators from toxic chemicals and other threats, but you can even make a difference right in your own backyard:

  • Reduce or eliminate your use of pesticides
  • Plant a pollinator-friendly garden by choosing a variety of plants that will continue flowering from spring through fall; check out the Bee Smart Pollinator App for a database of nearly 1,000 pollinator-friendly plants
  • Choose plants native to your region and stick with old-fashioned varieties, which have the best blooms, fragrance and nectar/pollen for attracting and feeding pollinators
  • Install a bee house
  • Supply water, even a dripping faucet or a suspended milk carton with a pinhole in the bottom, for insects and animals


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