Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Where Are The Bees?

"If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man." - Albert Einstein
Honeybees are disappearing from hives all across the country - Harvesters in 24 states report hive population rates have mysteriously fallen 30% to 70%.
It's alarming.

Apparently bees are flying off in search of pollen and nectar and never returning to their colonies. Researchers seem to think that the bees are presumably dying in the fields, perhaps becoming exhausted or disoriented and falling victim to the cold. All beekeepers know is that the hives are empty - like little ghost towns.

Aside from producing honey, bees pollinate a variety of plants that are in our food supply. Each year bees pollinate an estimated $14 billion worth of seeds and crops in the United States, largely fruits, vegetables and nuts. If there are no bees - then we will have an agricultural disaster on our hands.

So what is going on here?
We do know that bees are dying in such dramatic numbers across the country that the economic consequences could soon be dire. No one knows for sure what is causing the bees to perish, but some experts believe that the large-scale use of genetically modified plants in the US could be a factor.

Some point to GMO (genetically modified organisms) corn which is genetically engineered to kill moths, which is why there is also a decrease in the butterfly populations. They are now looking at the pollen from GMO Corn as the possible cause of the bee die off. There are many anti-GMO websites like this one and other websites that say that GMO grown foods are not a problem. Many European countries have banned importing some GMO grown agriculture.

Some point to an invasion of mites in the colonies which were reported 2 years ago. Mites have damaged bee colonies, and the insecticides used to try to kill the mites are harming the ability of queen bees to spawn as many worker bees. The queens are living half as long as they did just a few years ago.

Others point to overall bee stress.
Bees are being raised to survive a shorter off-season, to be ready to pollinate once the almond bloom begins in February. That likely lowers their immunity to viruses. Researchers are also concerned that the willingness of beekeepers to truck their colonies from coast to coast could be adding to bees' stress.

Beekeepers have fought regional bee crises before, but this is the first national affliction, and there are reports of similar problems in Germany.

One thing is for certain... any upset in the food chain can spell disaster.
Never mind global warming... we need to help bring back the bees.


Gem said...

How interesting! Last week as I was working out at Curves, one of the girls there was complaining about having been stung earlier in the week. Another member explained to me that she worked at a bee farm -- not for honey, but to raise bees for pollination. They truck them to farmers because there aren't enough 'native' bees to get the pollination done!

Blueberry said...

This is very interesting indeed.

Love your site Judy! Keep up the good work:-)

Laura said...

Being a once-in-a-while conspiracy theorist, I can see the possibility for big food corporations to have total control over our food availability because it all would have to be grown/manufactured in labs.

Judy Aron said...

Well - I have heard that companies like Monsanto are putting patents on seeds which are GMO and that farmers are unable to get any other seeds but the ones that are controlled with patents.. I think there was a huge gaffe about that in Afghanistan and Iraq..regarding the US programs that were supposed to "aid" their agriculture. If I recall, farmers there were angry that they couldn't grow the crops they wanted.. I'll have to go dig up the story.

I'm not entirely sold on conspiracies.. I just think things are just evolving a certain way with a push by powerful entities and the general public is really quite asleep at the wheel.

This honeybee thing really will really be quite devastating if GMO plants are the culprits.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Actually, climate change can contribute to changes in growing seasons (some longer and some shorter depending on where you are) which can in turn change the ecological nitch the bees are used to. This in turn adds to the stress the bees experience. It's all inter-related.

What mechanisms are being suggested for the GMO's killing the bees? Do you think the bees are ingesting a toxin caused by changes in gene expression? Or could it be transposons or viral transfer of genes into the bee genome that in turn is disrupting the normal expression of certain genes in the bee population?

There are so many ways that GMO could contribute to the crash of the bee population.

However, other factors might be responsible here, as well. Toxic substances used as herbicides might be the problem. Disease, as you suggested, due to seasonal stresses not present in the past...
This is a tough one.

Whatever the cause, I suspect that once again we a paying for the sin of arrogance when it comes to our relationship to mother earth. Unfortunately, it appears that the bees are paying, too.


Judy Aron said...

Well Elisheva - in the German article that I linked to it said this about the GMO corn and other plants:

According to Hans-Hinrich Kaatz, a professor at the University of Halle in eastern Germany and the director of the study, the bacterial toxin in the genetically modified corn may have "altered the surface of the bee's intestines, sufficiently weakening the bees to allow the parasites to gain entry -- or perhaps it was the other way around. We don't know."

Apparently the bees are experiencing something that is damaging their immune systems. They still don't really know..but the GMO plants are highly suspect.

Yup - worrisome... in fact that's an understatement.

The Factician said...

The Spiegel article points out that in Germany very little BT-corn is being grown (effectively none) whereas in the U.S. it is nearly all the corn being grown. They are also losing bees in Germany. That suggests that the culprit is not BT-corn.

I think most entomologists think the causes of the bee die off are fungal diseases and imported mites from Asia.

Judy Aron said...

It could be that the bee die off in the United States is from BT-Corn but the die off in Germany may be caused regionally by something else. I only suggest that because the decline in butterflies in the US has also been attributed to GMO Corn.

I think there are many factors at work here.. I guess we won't know until researchers figure out the puzzle.