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Sunday, April 22, 2007

Bumbling Bee Science, or What the Media Doesn’t Want You to Know

What do disappearing bees mean for people? We’ve seen toad species disappear for years, and scientists warn that the great toad die-off is a warning sign of ecological disaster. Now, the sudden inexplicable disappearance of millions of honey bees is taking place -- something called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). One of the freaky things is that parasites and pests that normally move into an abandoned beehive seem to be shunning the newly abandoned beehives.

Some facts …

==> 3/4 of the 250,000 + species of flowering plants on the planet rely on mobile animal partners -- pollinators – to reproduce.

==> Close to 100 crop species in the U.S. rely to some degree on pollination services provided by one species, the honey bee — collectively, these crops make up approximately 1/3 of the U.S. diet, including the majority of high-value crops that contribute to healthy diets.

==> Some food plants that depend on bees to reproduce – nuts, tomatoes, berries, pretty much all your fruits and flowering plants. Most grains do not depend on honey bees.

==> Disappearing bees isn’t exactly new – between 1947 and 2005, colony numbers nationwide declined by over 40%, from 5.9 million to 2.4 million. But these declines were often associated with a seemingly unrelenting series of devastating problems for the beekeeping industry, including pests and parasites, microbial diseases, pesticide drift, and competition with Africanized bees. CCD is the latest problem, and also inexplicable, at least if you get your news from the mainstream media.

==> Even before CCD came to light, honey bee numbers were declining at a fast clip, documented from 1989 to 1996, government scientists managed honey bees would cease to exist by 2035. CCD is accelerating that process. Unless something changes, honey bees will disappear within YOUR LIFETIME.

Now for the good news (sort of). Honey bees aren’t native to America – they’re European bees. There are other bees (bumble bees, mason bees, etc.) and other pollinators. If honey bees disappear, the affect on our food supply will be disastrous, and could last for a number of years – but eventually, other pollinators will increase to fill the gap. However, these other pollinators don’t make wax, and don’t make honey. And by the time nature rebalances, the price of almonds could soar by 1,000%.

Potential causes. Is it cell phones? Not likely. That’s disinformation and scare-mongering. CCD has been detected in the hinterlands of Poland and Croatia – hardly cell phone festivals. Cell phones may be giving you brain cancer, but that’s another story, and not one I’m worried about right now. Bees don’t use cell phones.

The probable cause is pesticides. That is, we are poisoning the bees by accident. And that’s why pests aren’t moving into the abandoned hives – for an insect, that’s like moving into a toxic dump.

It’s probably a new pesticide that is having unintended consequences. For example, 'Merit' 'Gaucho' 'BayerAdvanced' 'Admire,' 'Gaucho,' 'Genesis,' 'Platinum,' 'Provado,' 'Leverage' and 'Actara' are all insect killers you use on trees and plants. They all contain the active ingredient Imidacloprid, a systemic insecticide. Systemic means it poisons the entire system, and this pesticide also lasts a long time – up to 12 months.

And here’s the funny thing about imidacloprid. It was banned in France after beekeepers staged an angry protest in Paris. Apparently, imidacloprid kills bees!

The maker of imidacloprid pesticides, Bayer CropScience, paid many millions to the french beekeepers and voluntarily withdrew the product without admitting that it was the culprit.

So why haven’t you heard about this in your news media? Because the news media is owned by giant corporations that survive on advertising … advertising by giant consumer companies like Bayer. The parent of Bayer CropScience is the pharmaceutical giant Bayer corporation. Bayer's products in the U.S. include Alka-Seltzer, Bayer Aspirin, Aleve and One-A-Day Vitamins. In 2005, Bayer spent over $200 million on advertising.

Bayer has a history of playing tough. Remember when we were all panicked about anthrax? That was when an anthrax terrorist was mailing the stuff to Congress and tabloids (a good friend of mine, Bob Stevens, was killed by the anthrax terrorist). The anthrax killer has never been brought to justice.

There is a treatment for anthrax called Cipro. It’s made by Bayer. When the anthrax crisis hit, Bayer offered Cipro to U.S. authorities at its usual government price of $1.77 a pill-- half the retail price, but still too high for a country seeking to secure enough medicine to protect 12 million people for 60 days in the event of an anthrax outbreak. That would have resulted in $600 million in profits if the US government had gone along with the scheme. But that was way too much pork for U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson. He bargained hard with Bayer executives. He threatened the company's U.S. patent by suggesting he would buy generic substitutes and eventually forced them to whittle the price to $.95 a pill.

This moral of our story: Bayer always puts profits ahead of people.

Now, back to the bees. I am not a bee or an insecticide expert, but it seems our bee problem is what happened in France all over again, and on a much larger scale. It would seem that imidacloprids are a likely candidate for the poisoning of the bees that is causing CCD. You would think the news media might connect the dots. But remember, “journalists” work for giant corporations that need their slice of the $200 million in advertising revenue. They aren’t going to tick off Bayer. Bayer also contributed heavily fund front groups that lobbied against capping or otherwise allowing the government to negotiate drug prices. One of those groups, "Citizens for Better Medicare", wielded a well-stocked $50 million advertising budget in its fight against fixed drug prices. And there was more than one front group.

So how much will Bayer spend to hide, muddle and obfuscate the truth about imidacloprids poisoning bees? I don’t know. But I’ll bet that Bayer has enough money to outlast the honeybees.

UPDATE: While I don't believe it is cellphones that are wiping out the bees, other people believe differently. I don't mean to shrug off other theories. I'm not a bee scientist. Here is the cell phone theory:

And here is a long post with theories galore on another blog:

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