Saturday, May 04, 2013

Bee Cause

Now some, not Eli to be sure, think there is a connection between Colony Collapse Disorder and Climate Change that being that both are going great guns and the response of the Very Serious People (TM - P Krugman) has been more study is needed.  Well, it does look like there will be some action taken someplaces.  The EU has imposed a two year ban on neonicotinoids, pesticides which are applied to seeds

A plant or seed treated with such a chemical incorporates it into its tissues as it grows, making it lethal to insects that bore into a stem or nibble a leaf. The neonicotinoids are also present in pollen and nectar, and two recent studies have suggested that even sublethal doses might hurt bees.
The problem, of course, is not that it is one thing, or one thing or another but one thing and many more  another things, and in that sort of situation the entire discussion is a circle of jerks with everyone saying not me boss, but him, and the pesticide manufacturers are not shy and not without influence.  In the Euro case, for once, the rules fell on the side of the bees because while a majority of member favored a permanent ban, the weighted vote (by population) was against, which left the Eurocrat in charge, Tonio Borg, to make the decision based on the recommendation of the European Food Safety Authority.

The situation in the US, is however normal, with even the EPA shy of taking on the pesticide manufacturers and their customers, the farmers.  The executive summary from a recent stakeholder conference, is indeed, a stirring call to inaction based on the multiple stresses on pollinators
Consensus is building that a complex set of stressors and pathogens is associated with CCD, and researchers are increasingly using multi factorial approaches to studying causes of colony losses.
The list of stresses is the usual suspects,  Varroa destructor and associated viruses are the proximate cause of colony collapse in many cases where an immediate cause can be detected,  illnourished bees tend to be dead bees, and yes there is documented research that pesticide effects are nasty, but further research, especially field studies are required to be absolutely 100% sure. 
Although a post meeting survey was not conducted, meeting participants indicated that the conference gave them the opportunity to voice their concerns, to hear the concerns of others, and to offer their perspectives to Federal officials on future directions the government might take to ensure the future of America's pollinators. The CCD Steering Committee plans to revise the CCD Action Plan, a document that will synthesize this input. The Action Plan will outline major priorities to be addressed in the next 5 -10 years. This plan will serve as a reference document for policy makers, legislators and the public and to help coordinate the federal strategy in response to honey bee losses. Finally, given the depth of issues effecting pollinator health, consideration should be given to renaming this committee to reflect the broader range of factors discussed in this report.
Eli no longer has to read The Onion to figure out what has been happening to the bees


kT said...

pesticide effects are nasty, but further research, especially field studies are required to be absolutely 100% sure.

I guess 'nasty' isn't good enough for you. You really thought that little gem through.

Anonymous said...

Can't ever be 100% sure about anything, except taxes and death.

And when it comes to bees, there are things we can easily control (like pesticide use) and other things we can't (like climate change).

But unfortunately, the EPA has become co-opted by corporations just like so many other agencies within our government so it is very unlikely they would ever ban neonics, even if a cause-effect relationship between them and CCD became overwhelming.

It just ain't your grandmother's EPA any more.


Hank Roberts said...

> two year ban

And what's the half-life of the neonicotinoids -- how fast do they, and their active breakdown products, clear out of the area after being used?

Could it be too cynical to suppose that two years isn't sufficient to say much about whether they're the problem? Does anyone outside the Bayer etc. business labs know if two suffices as a test? Or might they know if you'd need three, four, five years before the stuff degrades sufficiently to give us useful information?

Not cynical enough yet.
Working on it.

EliRabett said...

Half life is about a year for one of them.

google under name and persistence

pendantry said...

How is it that where there is doubt of harm being caused by an intervention it is deemed reasonable to insist on 100% certainty that this is the case, and yet the precautionary principle is thrown to the wind?

I really don't get it. Oh, wait, lots of munny is involved. Maybe that's it?

Mal Adapted said...

Commenter known as '~@:>':

"It just ain't your grandmother's EPA any more."

It never was:

Anonymous said...

Well, don't know about your grandmother's EPA, but mine was actually responsible for the general ban of DDT in 1972.

And that was in the face of major legal challenges by pesticide manufacturers.


Mal Adapted said...

Ah, yeah, those were the days when everyone was an environmentalist. The externalizers were caught unprepared then. It didn't take long for them to regain the upper hand, though. We lost the initiative, and it doesn't look like we'll ever get it back. Sigh.

Susan Anderson said...

Dead as a dodo indeed. And I also love "circle of jerks". And thanks for the Doonesbury, though I agree the EPA has done a good few things in the face of considerable opposition.

John said...

Hey, I REMEMBER that Doonesbury cartoon! One of his finest.

John said...

Suppose that, as a result of the EU banning this pesticide, the bees make a comeback in Europe but not in the US. If that happens, I expect that US agribusiness will press for a similar pesticide ban in the US. Whatever the cause, Colony Collapse Disorder is doing a lot of damage to US agriculture.

Hank Roberts said...

> suppose that
There's not going to be enough information for attribution from this. Do you think everything Bayer etc. know has been published? Seems to me full disclosure of research ought to be required for new chemicals. But what do I know.

Hank Roberts said...

Working on my cynicism, I can imagine the nicotine-resistant honeybee varieties may be rolled out along with the next generation pesticides.

Spray them all, Bayer will know its own.

It'd fit the pattern. Heck, the Monsanto Protection Act will probably protect it from being questioned.

EliRabett said...

Won't help. Remember Eli's post on the natural pollinators? They are still toast.

Anonymous said...

Eli, I'm glad you're taking a more nuanced approach to this now but I do hope that linking to the NYT doesn't mean you haven't RTFR...

Of course, it could turn out that this ban is good for the bees. However if, as I suspect, it makes growing OSR less profitable than non-flowering crops such as wheat or maize...

Of course the fact that countries such as Scotland and Switzerland have poor bee health, despite their very limited use of neonicotinoid seed treatment whilst bee populations in Australia, where neonicotinoids are widely used, are thriving may provoke some thought...


Anonymous said...

Harvard's Alex Wu understands the proper approach to the issue, given what we know already about the impact of neonics on bees, which is actually more than sufficient to warrant action.

Wu's findings are here

And a talk here

But of course, rather than actually DO something about massive bee loss (implement even a temporary ban on neonic use and monitor what happens), the US EPA and other officials will hem and haw and "debate" endlessly about what the "real" cause of CCD is, saying things like "we need more data before we act".

Sound familiar?

It should. It's the same damned argument that big tobacco made about smoking and Big oil has been making for 20 years about climate change.

And we the American public don't ever seem to learn. They keep feeding us the same crap and we keep lapping it up. (And in this case it is our own EPA which is feeding us the crap, and under a Democratic admin to boot)

We just are not very bright. Probably too much pesticide ingestion over the years.


Aaron said...

Would farmers expose their (migrant) human workers to pesticides?

Surely, they would be at least as careful with their migrant bees?

Anonymous said...

That should be Alex Lu (not Wu)


Anonymous said...

"Our" EPA also has a hand in this

Arkansas Residents Sick From Exxon Oil Spill Are on Their Own


Ian Forrester said...

The US EPA, under orders from Monsanto, have just upped the allowable residue for glyphosate in feed and food.

Anyone reading that article and knowing the number of reports in the peer reviewed scientific literature concerning the negative health effects of glyphosate, both in laboratory studies and confirmed by actual health data collected from areas where glyphosate spraying is rampant, can only wonder in disbelief if the EPA has any health scientists at all.

This is a pathetic example of the influence that these corporations have on government decision makers that will affect our health and well being.

A short list of papers showing the negative health effects of glyphosate can be found here:

Anonymous said...

Ian, you may want to read all those articles, since several show/argue quite the opposite.


Ian Forrester said...

Marco, which papers exactly? Are you referring to the paper by Williams et al? Surely a scientist can see the mistakes (I'll be kind and call them "mistakes") in that paper.

To quote from the abstract:

"An evaluation of this database found no consistent effects of glyphosate exposure on reproductive health or the developing offspring. Furthermore, no plausible mechanisms of action for such effects were elucidated."

The authors have obviously not read any of the papers on the terrible rate of deformed fetuses found in areas in South America where glyphosate is widely used. They have obviously not read the papers showing the biochemical pathways which are disrupted by glyphosate which lead directly to the types of malformations found in the deformed fetuses.

Disruption of the retinoic acid signalling pathway leads to neural tube defects in vertebrates. That has been shown beyond argument except for those promoting the use of this technology.

Shame on you Marco for being so protective of these companies. Please read up on the independent science on the harmful effects of GMO technology, not the stuff you read in PR handouts.

That paper also has this ridiculous statement:

"To estimate potential human exposure concentrations to glyphosate as a result of working directly with the herbicide, available biomonitoring data were examined. These data demonstrated extremely low human exposures as a result of normal application practices."

Have you ever watched pesticides being sprayed, the operators are dressed as if they have just been involved in chemical or biological warfare. The poor peasants, in the case of South America, who are indirectly exposed via uncontrolled spray drift, have no such protection. This is a despicable abuse of human rights!

Anonymous said...

Ian, I asked you to read ALL papers. You will find several that don't fit your claim.

You've so far found one that doesn't fit your claim, and rather than admit that list does not just contain papers that show the purported negative effects of glyphosate, but also several that argue the opposite, you attack me of being a company shill. Well, that says a lot more about you than about me.

The reference to independent science is also quite funny. Last time I saw that used was by a climate pseudoskeptic, who was certain almost all climate scientists were just in it for the money. Before that I have seen it in the field of vaccine safety. Heck, if you read the papers on toxicity of aluminum, surely you'll never get your child vaccinated ever again! Right?


Ian Forrester said...

Marco, stop being so rude! You are the one who claimed that there were papers which disagreed with my premise. I showed one and why it was rubbish. If you are so concerned then please tell us which other papers do not agree with my premise. I long ago stopped being ordered around by people who are not following real science but only read corporate PR releases, it is a waste of time. You fall into that category, here and elsewhere, when you write about GMOs. I know enough about the biochemistry of glyphosate that I can document the deleterious effects.

By the way, who paid for the Williams study? Couldn't have been Monsanto by any chance since the paper is from a private consulting company and not from a recognized institution? You are aware of the frauds carried out by such companies in the past (Industrial Bio-Test Laboratories and Craven Laboratories)? I believe that glyphosate was one of the chemicals tested by one of those companies during that time. Academics have to list any conflict of interest but these private corporations do not.

Now, don't go saying I am accusing Exponent Inc or SNBL of conducting fraud, I am just saying that the authors of the paper are not up to date on the scientific literature on the mechanism of action of glyphosate and the medical finding of those exposed to it.

Anonymous said...

A little bit late back to this but Bug Girl has a suite of interesting and nuanced posts up on this subject that I think some bunnies should read.

You can pretty much skim-read the rant from the guest poster linked here but please go on to read the four posts linked to at the end for Bug Girl's slant on the matter:

Money quote (for me) is this:

"This is part of what makes teasing out the cause of CCD so difficult. It’s not that there are no smoking guns; there are hundreds of smoking guns, all of which plausibly contribute to the decline of bees. Here is the short list of contributors to CCD, ordered roughly in order of importance, based on the most recent literature:

•increased losses due to varroa mite;
•diseases such as Israeli Acute Paralysis virus and the gut parasite Nosema;
•pesticide poisoning through exposure to pesticides for in-hive insect or mite control
•habitat loss for foraging; inadequate forage/poor nutrition;
•Exposure to pesticides in the environment (including neonicotinoids)
•poor nutrition and migratory stress brought about by the increased need to move bee colonies long distances to provide pollination services."

Note that the two issues that get most traction in the press (and in certain non-specialist blogs) are the two at the bottom of the list.

But yeah, pesticide manufacturers aren't shy & it's all about the money, right?