Friday, March 30, 2012
Monsanto Insecticides Linked to Honeybee Colony Collapse
Honeybees – critical agents for pollinizing the world’s food chain – have been dying off at rates of 20-50% a year for the last two decades. The phenomenon, called “Colony Collapse Disorder,” has been blamed on mites, viruses, urbanization, weather patterns, and a whole host of causes. But the reality is that the massive deaths of these insects is most likely due to a chemical whose prime purpose…is to kill insects.
In Thursday’s issue of the journal “Science,” two teams of researchers published studies showing that even low levels of a group of pesticides called neonicotinoids may have significant effects on bee colonies. Derived from nicotine, the pesticides are produced in mass quantities by Monsanto, the company that gave you Agent Orange, GMO lawsuits against family farms, and the Indian suicides crisis. Introduced in the early 1990s, these pesticides have exploded in popularity; virtually all corn grown in the United States is treated with neonicotinoids.
The first experiment was conducted by French researchers, and showed that the chemicals confuse honeybee homing instincts, making it harder for them to find their way back to their hives. Researchers at the National Institute for Agricultural Research in France fed honeybees a dose of neonicotinoid-laced sugar water and then moved them a half-mile from their hive. The bees carried miniature radio tags that allowed the scientists to keep track of how many returned to the hive.
In familiar territory, the scientists found, the bees exposed to the pesticide were 10 percent less likely than healthy bees to make it home; in unfamiliar places, that figure rose to 31 percent. Using a computer model to estimate how this would affect a hive, they concluded that a hive’s population might drop by two-thirds or more.
“I thought it was very well designed,” said May Berenbaum, an entomologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
The second study, by scientists in Britain, showed that neonicocotinoids keep bumblebees from supplying their hives with enough food to produce new queens. In this study, Dr. Goulson and his colleagues fed sugar water laced with a neonicotinoid pesticide to 50 bumblebee colonies. The researchers then moved the bee colonies to a farm, alongside 25 colonies that had been fed ordinary sugar water. Dr. Goulson found that colonies exposed to neonicotinoids produced 85 percent fewer queens, which would translate into 85 percent fewer hives.
Jeffery Pettis, a bee expert at the United States Department of Agriculture, called Dr. Goulson’s study “alarming.” He said he suspected that other types of wild bees would be shown to suffer similar effects.
“Three or four years ago, I was much more cautious about how much pesticides were contributing to the problem,” Dr. Pettis said. “Now more and more evidence points to pesticides being a consistent part of the problem.”