by Jill Richardson
from AlterNet Website
A new leaked memo from the EPA has the beekeeping world buzzing.
Bad puns aside, the failure of the EPA to protect the environment - in this case, bees - jeopardizes beekeepers' ability to continue in their work. Beekeeper Tom Theobald, who exposed the leaked memo, says that beekeepers now lose 30 to 40 percent or more of their hives each year, and it takes two years to recover each one.
Theobald has been a beekeeper in Boulder County, Colorado for 35 years, but now he says he's not sure he can continue.
The leaked EPA memo, dated November 2, 2010, focuses on Bayer CropScience's request to register (i.e. legalize) its pesticide clothianidin for use on mustard seed and cotton.
Clothianidin was first registered in May 2003, but its registration was conditional on safety testing that the EPA said should be completed by December 2004.
Only, as the latest memo points out, the study, when it was done (long after 2004), was inadequate in demonstrating that clothianidin does not pose a threat to honeybees.
Unfortunately, with the EPA's failure to
ensure clothianidin's safety before allowing its use on corn and
canola, it fell to beekeepers to discover why their bees were dying,
and how the EPA allowed clothianidin on the market.
Beginning in 1995, 20 to 30 percent of
colonies began dying each winter. At the time, Theobald assumed the
varroa mites, a parasitic mite that attacks bees. The
mites were first found in the U.S. in 1987, but they did not reach
Boulder County, CO until 1995, the same year the winter losses of
Imidacloprid, the first of the neonicotinoids to be commercialized, was registered in the U.S. in 1994.
Neonicotinoids attack the nervous system of insects. They are frequently used by treating seeds prior to planting. Then, once the plant grows, the pesticide spreads to all parts of the plant - including the pollen. The hope is that only pests who try to feed on the plant will be killed, and beneficial insects will not be affected.
Sadly, it appears that the bees never
got that memo.
The bees of Boulder have their choice of alfalfa, yellow sweet clover, wildflowers, and an awful lot of corn. While corn does not require bees for pollination, it produces large amounts of pollen when it tassels - a bee feast!
Corn pollen is no doubt a major source
of food for bees across the entire U.S., as more acres are devoted
to corn than to any other crop. And beginning in 2004, corn seed
companies began selling seeds with five times the previously used
dose of neonicotinoids.
Ultimately, he identified and made public the problem now called Colony Collapse Disorder.
Theobald recognized the symptoms described by Hackenberg as what he had observed in his own hives: the bees would mysteriously disappear, and the empty hive would go weeks without bees from other hives coming to rob all of the honey.
Beekeepers around the world who experienced the same mysterious problem began looking for causes, and they all came to the same conclusion:
When Theobald checked his hives in the fall of 2006, he found that the brood nests (the area where larva are kept) were smaller than usual.
He says they should have been the size
of a basketball, but instead they were the size of a grapefruit. In
2007, he did a more thorough investigation and found many hives with
no brood at all. That meant that, after the summer bees died off (as
they usually do), there would be no winter bees to replace them and
to keep the colony going throughout the winter.
Theobald suspected that contaminated
corn pollen, collected in August and stored, would have been fed to
the larva and to the queen (as royal jelly) when the number of
flowers declined and the bees needed to use their stored pollen,
around mid-September. The contaminated pollen would have killed the
larva and caused the queen to stop laying. With no bees to carry the
hive through the winter (or a few bees, who might not survive), the
entire colony dies.
The U.S. did no such thing. In fact, as beekeepers questioned the safety of clothianidin, a neonicotinoid registered in 2003, the Bush EPA stonewalled and refused to provide Bayer's study demonstrating the safety of clothianidin to bees, even after a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.
In 2008, the Natural Resources
Defense Council (NRDC) sued over the EPA's failure to comply
with the FOIA. Around the same time, Theobald made an amazing
discovery on the internet.
The first memo, dated February 20, 2003, says,
The scientists recommended requiring a
study that spanned the entire life of a worker bee to test
clothianidin for toxicity to the workers (as well as to the queen)
prior to allowing the product on the market.
However, the new May 2005 deadline passed and the study was not submitted.
Bayer also requested - and was granted -
permission to perform its study in Canada on canola (a minor crop in
the U.S.), with no test performed on corn.
Eight months later, Theobald found the study online.
In an article he wrote for Bee Culture, he summarized it as follows:
This past November, when Bayer CropScience requested the registration of clothianidin for use on mustard seed and cotton, the Obama EPA reviewed the earlier study and found in inadequate to justify the new registration, but made no comment about the existing registration for corn and canola.
Beekeepers are enraged. If the study - used to justify the legal use of clothianidin on corn and canola - is insufficient, then there is no evidence whatsoever to demonstrate that clothianidin is not a significant threat to bees.
Why is clothianidin still legal? The sloppy, if not corrupt, work by the EPA resulted in eight growing seasons (so far) of widespread use of clothianidin.
As of 2007, for example,
80 percent of corn seed sold by
Pioneer Hi-Bred (DuPont) contained either 0.25 or 1.25
mg per seed of clothianidin.
The larger question, for all of us, is why the EPA allows pesticides on the market before they have been tested for safety (using conditional registrations), and how sound is the science - conducted by the pesticide companies - once it is done?