by Lisa Archer

March 25, 2013

from FOE Website








Spring is in the air, and as we plant our vegetable gardens and enjoy the blossoming flowers, it’s easy to forget the small creatures that keep many of our spring favorites alive and are essential to our food supply: bees.


One out of every three bites of food you and I eat is pollinated by honeybees. In fact, bees and other pollinators are necessary for about 75 percent of our global food crops.


From nuts and soybeans, to squash and cucumbers, from apples, oranges, cherries and blueberries, to avocados, peaches and melons, bees play a critical role in producing the food we eat. Honey bees also contribute over $15 billion to the U.S. economy.


Bees are a keystone species and with roughly 80 percent of all flowering plants on the earth reliant on pollinators to reproduce, if we lose bees we will likely lose a host of other important species.


As you may have read in the news, these critical pollinators are in trouble, victims of Colony Collapse Disorder - or CCD, a phenomenon in which bee colonies have been mysteriously collapsing when adult bees seemingly abandon their hives. This last winter, beekeepers reported bee die-offs of more than 50 percent -- the worst loss in more than 40 years.


CCD has pushed the beekeeping industry in the U.S. to the verge of collapse, and this could spell trouble for a variety of our favorite foods from almonds to blueberries.


For years, the cause of CCD was a scientific mystery, but a growing body of scientific evidence is pointing to a key factor, a class of neurotoxic pesticides called neonicotinoids, or neonics. In fact, a January 2013 European Food Safety Authority report labeled neonicotinoids as an 'unacceptable' danger to bees.


And a new report from the American Bird Conservancy provides compelling evidence that neonics are also harming birds.


Neonics are the fastest-growing class of synthetic pesticides in history, and the neonicotinoid imidacloprid (Bayer Crop Science's top-selling product), is currently the most widely used insecticide in the world.


Neonics are used as seed treatments on more than 140 crop varieties, as well as on termites, cat and dog flea treatments, lawns, landscapes and gardens. Neonics are persistent and last for years in the soil. They permeate the entire plant and are expressed in pollen, nectar and guttation droplets (dew). And, they can’t be washed off food, meaning that we are all eating them.


What’s worse, neonics aren’t just in use in commercial agriculture.


Many of the plants and seeds we buy in nurseries across the U.S. have been pre-treated with the pesticides and at much higher doses than is used on farms - so when we plant our gardens we may unwittingly be harming bees!


The EPA approved Bayer's products based on the companies own studies and despite mounting evidence - including a memo by the EPA’s own scientists discrediting Bayer’s original study - and 1.25 million public comments, the EPA has delayed action on neonics until 2018. Other governments haven’t been so slow to act.


Governments in Italy, Germany, France and elsewhere have already taken action to limit neonics, and beekeepers there are reporting recovery.


The 2013 EFSA study has prompted the EU Parliament to consider a two-year ban on three popular neonics.


And, due to a successful campaign by our sister organization Friends of the Earth England, Wales, Northern Ireland, many of the major home and garden retailers in the UK have pledged to stop selling neonics.


Bees really are the “canary in the coal mine” when it comes to our food, telling us that the way we produce our food is unhealthy and unsustainable and needs a rapid transition to sustainable, just, ecological agriculture.


A new USDA study shows that we could move away from chemically intensive industrial agriculture toward a system of ecologically friendly agriculture and continue to produce enough food for us all.


Friends of the Earth has some exciting actions coming up to save the bees and other pollinators. You’ll have an important role to play, so check back soon.


And in the meantime, choose to buy organic food as much as possible, and, as you plant your spring gardens, be sure to say no to the neonics and choose certified organic seeds and plants to help protect bees and other pollinators!











Loss of Wild Pollinators

...Serious Threat to Crop Yields - Study Finds
by Damian Carrington
28 February 2013

from TheGuardian Website




Wild bees and other insects twice as effective as honeybees

in producing seeds and fruit on crops



A bee collects pollen from a sunflower.

Photograph: Michael Kooren/Reuters



The decline of wild bees and other pollinators may be an even more alarming threat to crop yields than the loss of honeybees, a worldwide study suggests, revealing the irreplaceable contribution of wild insects to global food production.


Scientists studied the pollination of more than 40 crops in 600 fields across every populated continent and found wild pollinators were twice as effective as honeybees in producing seeds and fruit on crops including,

  • oilseed rape

  • coffee

  • onions

  • almonds

  • tomatoes

  • strawberries

Furthermore, trucking in managed honeybee hives did not replace wild pollination when that was lost, but only added to the pollination that took place.

"It was astonishing; the result was so consistent and clear," said Lucas Garibaldi, at the National University in Río Negro, Argentina, who led the 46-strong scientific team.


"We know wild insects are declining so we need to start focusing on them. Without such changes, the ongoing loss is destined to compromise agricultural yields worldwide."

Pollination is needed for about three-quarters of global food crops.


The decline of honeybee colonies due to disease and pesticides has prompted serious concern.


Jason Tylianakis, at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand, described them as,

"the species charged with protecting global food security".

The new research shows for the first time the huge contribution of wild insects and shows honeybees cannot replace the wild insects lost as their habitat is destroyed.


Lucas Garibaldi said relying on honeybees was a "highly risky strategy" because disease can sweep through single species, as has been seen with the varroa mite, and single species cannot adapt to environmental changes nearly as well as a group of wild pollinators.

"The studies show conclusively that biodiversity has a direct measurable value for food production and that a few managed species cannot compensate for the biodiversity on which we depend," said Tylianakis, who was not part of the research team.

Garibaldi's team, whose work was published in the journal Science (Wild Pollinators Enhance Fruit Set of Crops Regardless of Honey Bee Abundance) on Thursday, warn:

"Global degradation of natural services can undermine the ability of agriculture to meet the demands of the growing, increasingly affluent, human population."

Garibaldi said:

"Without wild pollination, you will not get the best yields and the best agricultural land already farmed, so it is very important to get the maximum yield."

He added that, across the world, the yields of crops that needed pollination were rising significantly more slowly (see "Global Growth and Stability of Agricultural Yield Decrease with Pollinator Dependence") than crops that did not.


Wild pollinators perform better than honeybees because they deploy a wider range of pollinating techniques, such as "buzz" pollination. They also visit more plants, meaning much more effective cross-pollination than honeybees, which tend to carry pollen from one flower to another on the same plant.


A second new study published in Science on Thursday showed more than half the wild bee species were lost in the 20th century in the US.


It made use of a remarkable record made of plants and pollinators at Carlinville, Illinois between 1888 and 1891 by entomologist Charles Robertson.


Scientists combined that with data from 1971-72 and new data from 2009-10 to discover the changes in pollination seen over the century as widespread forest was reduced to the fragments that remain today.


They found that half of the 109 bee species recorded by Robertson had been lost and there had been a serious degradation of the pollination provided by the remaining wild insects, with their ability to pollinate specific plants falling by more than half.


There was an increasing mismatch between when plants flowered and when bees were active, a finding consistent with climate change, according to the researchers.


Laura Burkle, at Washington University in Montana, who led the work, said:

"There are two sides to this coin. These pollination systems are incredibly robust to environmental change, it is almost miraculous that they continue to pollinate given the land use changes. But the system is also incredibly compromised and further degradation will have serious impacts."