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(Cutting the) Bee's Knees (out from under them)
March 18, 2012 7:45 AM   Subscribe

Honeybees are responsible for pollinating 1/3 of all our food crops, and represent 80% of all insect pollination. But honeybees have been dying off in huge numbers in the last few years. We've discussed Colony Collapse Disorder here before, but now scientists may have found the cause.
posted by Benny Andajetz (92 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh corn, is there nothing about our agricultural system you can't screw up?
posted by jedicus at 7:48 AM on March 18, 2012 [44 favorites]


PubMed link to the paper cited in the Yahoo News article.
posted by haltingproblemsolved at 7:50 AM on March 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


Who would have thunk that insecticides would kill bees?
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 7:51 AM on March 18, 2012 [52 favorites]


Here's the wiki on neonicotinoid insecticideswiki. It goes without saying that Monsanto is behind the efforts to stop it from being banned. France has banned it, some other smaller countries did as well, but Monsanto was able to get bans lifted in them.
posted by dejah420 at 7:54 AM on March 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Could have seen this one coming.
posted by Amplify at 7:58 AM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


The paper that is mentioned in the article is actually available as a full-text PDF through Google Scholar. Here's an HTML abstract as well, though haltingproblemsolved seems to have gotten to that first.

I haven't the time to read it myself right now (not that this sort of stuff is my personal specialty or anything anyway, though pesticide use is an interesting and important topic in ecology) but I thought that folks might appreciate having the primary source made available. This does seem eminently plausible to this non-expert, though.

If true, this kind of research is the sort of thing that has a chance of actually making real pro-ecology policy change. Honeybees play a commercially important role in the ecosystem (rather than just an ecologically important role, which basically nobody gives a crap about because there's no money in it) and their loss would hit a lot of rich people right in the pocketbook. That's why there's been so much research being done on this issue, of course. If honeybees only pollinated some unpalatable tree whose fruits supported three species of endangered neotropical primate then there'd be little grant money to be had. Lucky for honeybees, their work supports a different sort of primate.
posted by Scientist at 7:58 AM on March 18, 2012 [21 favorites]


Oh, Monsanto had a hand in lifting the bans on these chemicals? I guess that means that I can look forward to corn jam on my toast in the morning and corn marinara over my spaghetti. Who needs all those extra fruits and vegetables anyway?
posted by Currer Belfry at 7:59 AM on March 18, 2012 [9 favorites]


According to the article abstract the connection between this insecticide and bee colony death has long been suspected. What seems to be new in the study is a better understanding of exactly how the bees get exposed to the insecticides.
posted by yoink at 7:59 AM on March 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


but now

And even earlier!

"Do people know perfectly well what’s killing bees?" (Jan 2011):
Many people don't think that the collapse of bee populations is as big a mystery as it's made out to be. An EPA memo, leaked last month, reveals that a commonly used pest-control chemical can disrupt bee colonies.

This substance, sold in the USA as clothianidin, disrupts the nervous system of insects, and it's been a suspect in the mass death of honey bees for years. It's still available widely. Recent documents intimate that the EPA has known for a long time the chemical could be harmful to bees, but has kept it on the shelves while bee populations plummet.
posted by pracowity at 8:02 AM on March 18, 2012 [17 favorites]


Just think, if Monsanto can successfully drive bees to extinction, then develop and patent a new way to pollinate crops, they would basically control the world's food supply!

I, for one, welcome our new insect corporate overlords!
posted by Huck500 at 8:03 AM on March 18, 2012 [8 favorites]


Also here's a non-mobile-site link to that wikipedia article that dejah420 linked. And if you have an interest in sensibly-banned-but-still-widely-used insecticides, have a look at atrazines which are pretty damn nasty for amphibians but which don't conclusively hurt humans enough to warrant banning in the U.S. Maybe if we could get some more research done then we could find that conclusion and see if we're really causing extra birth defects by using this stuff (though I'd argue that it should be banned for its effects on amphibians alone) but then you run into that whole issue that Blasdelb was talking about last week.

Oh, humans.
posted by Scientist at 8:03 AM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I guess that means that I can look forward to corn jam on my toast in the morning and corn marinara over my spaghetti.

I hate to break it to you, but, commercial jams and pasta sauces already contain HFCS.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:06 AM on March 18, 2012 [11 favorites]


This substance, sold in the USA as clothianidin, disrupts the nervous system of insects, and it's been a suspect in the mass death of honey bees for years. It's still available widely. Recent documents intimate that the EPA has known for a long time the chemical could be harmful to bees, but has kept it on the shelves while bee populations plummet.

Wouldn't you love to have been a fly on the wall during meetings of lobbyists and top government officials about this?
posted by jayder at 8:08 AM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I highly recommend watching the documentary "The Vanishing Of The Bees" (available on Netflix).
posted by briank at 8:09 AM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Monsanto executives should get the Nic Cage Wickerman treatment.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:12 AM on March 18, 2012 [21 favorites]


You know, you can actually still avoid HFCS if you're semi-disciplined and if you're able to spend a little bit more money on your food. I basically consider the stuff an adulterant so I try to avoid it as much as possible. The key is that you have to look for it in the ingredients of any processed food you are buying at the grocery – jam and pasta sauce definitely included, as well as anything that comes in a can or any other hermetically-sealed container, basically anything that has ingredients instead of just being "chicken" or "asparagus" or whatever – and then find the one the doesn't have it. Usually this will also be the one that looks like it's probably the most tasty, and it'll probably cost a bit more.

Also if you move away from heavily processed foods (buying your bread from the grocery's bakery instead of some of the industrial bread on the shelves, for instance) and stop drinking soda and most juice (those frozen cans of juice concentrate are usually A-OK, by the way) then you're most of the way there, and that's the name of the game. It's all about mitigation.

Sorry for the derail, but I thought it might be worth mentioning.
posted by Scientist at 8:14 AM on March 18, 2012 [13 favorites]


Wouldn't you love to have been a fly on the wall during meetings of lobbyists and top government officials about this?

I can't think of a more dangerous place for a fly.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:17 AM on March 18, 2012 [24 favorites]


In a cornfield?
posted by cjorgensen at 8:19 AM on March 18, 2012 [8 favorites]


I thought the cause was going to be gay bee marriage.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 8:22 AM on March 18, 2012 [17 favorites]


We'll just have to make glass bees.
posted by TwelveTwo at 8:23 AM on March 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


I guess that means that I can look forward to corn jam on my toast in the morning and corn marinara over my spaghetti.

And being cornholed by the corn men every day.
posted by pracowity at 8:30 AM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


WAIT, CHEMICALS DESIGNED TO KILL INSECTS KILL BEES?

Who could have guessed!?
posted by delmoi at 8:30 AM on March 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


I will point out that the last two times they "had it figured out" they changed their minds. The last one was a bee fungus or something. I forget what it was prior to that (maybe warming climates?).

I do kind of think it's cool we live in a world where you wouldn't think it'd be that hard to figure out. Have a theory? Let's test it in France. Anther theory? Let give that one a go in the US. See where the bees bounce back and do that in all the countries.
posted by cjorgensen at 8:30 AM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


That said, is there a direct correlation between when this chemical first came on the scene, and when the bees started having problems? Didn't CCD suddenly come out of nowhere a few years ago? Did use of this chemical ramp up at that time?
posted by delmoi at 8:32 AM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


At least this would make some sense, as opposed to some of the "OMG CELL PHONES" nonsense we've heard before.
posted by jcreigh at 8:32 AM on March 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


I thought the fungus was the problem. Maybe we should just be giving the poor little things more antibiotics, like the Chinese?
posted by sammyo at 8:41 AM on March 18, 2012


You know, you can actually still avoid HFCS if you're semi-disciplined and if you're able to spend a little bit more money on your food.

...or you can live in Europe and eat our ever-so-sophisticated beet sugar instead.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 8:47 AM on March 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


Well, aside from all the other health, ecological, and ethical considerations behind Chinese honey, (and aside from the fact that you were joking to begin with) antibiotics don't kill fungus. You want antifungals for that.
posted by Scientist at 8:47 AM on March 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm sure once the Monsanto and DOW chemical PR machine rolls out their experts enough uncertainty will remain to keep te products in the shelves. Eventually Monsanto will roll out a resistant super bee.
posted by humanfont at 8:48 AM on March 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


So, basically, Monsanto? Again?
posted by Catblack at 8:49 AM on March 18, 2012 [6 favorites]


The Pollination Men came today, in thier yellow and black outfits, cost more than ever but were not legally allowed to touch the crops ourselves. They look so awkward and uncomfortable bending over the flowers and pollen collectors, but Ma says they're looking into nano it's to do the whole thing for them. Bet it'll cost even more. Looking at them made me tired, so I went inside for a cup of Near Coffee and toast with strawberry CornHaven.
posted by The Whelk at 8:55 AM on March 18, 2012 [47 favorites]


So, is the prospect of an ecological collapse something that is more of an actual possibility than a green platform boogeyman? At what point will the decrease in bee populations impact the actual harvests? And if we see it actually happening can we actually do something about it prior to a catastrophe?

Is it just North American bees? So we pay higher prices for Chilean fruit?
posted by sammyo at 8:56 AM on March 18, 2012


I am heartened by the fact that people are paying more attention to our food production systems to the point where Walmart is now the U.S.'s biggest seller of organic produce, produce co-ops are growing in popularity and accessibility, urban gardens are becoming more common, and my local "farmer's market" (not really a farmer's market in the traditional sense, but a store that buys directly from mostly local sources) is labeling meat, fish, and poultry according to source and method (free-range, grass-fed, etc.). This shows that consumers are demanding better food options, and demand is the one thing that can truly make a difference in the marketplace when regulation fails to do so.

That and, as others have pointed out, honeybees make a massive difference directly to humans which cannot (yet) be bypassed even by the likes of Monsanto. They may push the bees to the brink of extinction, but they will have to relent on this one.
posted by notashroom at 8:58 AM on March 18, 2012


The race between the slow decline of our bodies in middle age and the collapse of the environment and anticipated inflation will mean that most adults will barely notice.
posted by humanfont at 9:03 AM on March 18, 2012


...or you can live in Europe and eat our ever-so-sophisticated beet sugar instead.

We have that in the US, too. If you buy a bag of sugar in the US, unless it's specifically labeled as "cane sugar" it's usually beet sugar.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:05 AM on March 18, 2012


The hate in this thread is a little too narrowly focused on Monsanto. Of the neonicotinoids in the study, clothianidin is made by Bayer, thiamethoxam is made by Syngenta, and the fipronil tested in the study is made by BASF.

Neonicotinoids are powerful and useful insecticides provided they're not used on or anywhere near plants that are bee-pollinated. Soybeans, for example, which are almost universally planted near corn, are both self-pollinating and bee-pollinated. In this case I don't know why they don't just coat the seeds en masse at a well-controlled factory rather than coating them at the planting site (and thus spraying a bunch of pesticide all over the area).

I think a complete ban on the stuff for a few years in order to allow bee populations to recover, followed by a stringently-regulated reintroduction (e.g. only usable in a particular area and in a particular way after testing to show that it wouldn't affect bees), might be a practical compromise.
posted by jedicus at 9:07 AM on March 18, 2012 [17 favorites]


I will point out that the last two times they "had it figured out" they changed their minds. The last one was a bee fungus or something. I forget what it was prior to that (maybe warming climates?).

I do kind of think it's cool we live in a world where you wouldn't think it'd be that hard to figure out. Have a theory? Let's test it in France. Anther theory? Let give that one a go in the US. See where the bees bounce back and do that in all the countries.


Something as simple as changing the structure of bee boxes has apparently yielded significant improvements in South America.
posted by FreelanceBureaucrat at 9:19 AM on March 18, 2012 [10 favorites]


Sugar beets have a long and crazy history in the US. Anyone interested in the sugar beet industry and by extension the state of Colorado should check out Michener's epic sugar beet novel Centennial.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:25 AM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


what's wrong with beet sugar? Given the horrific working conditions associated with cane sugar, I would happily consume beet sugar given the choice. Sugar cane is one of the nastiest plants to grow and harvest - even worse than cotton (notoriously back-breaking).

And as much as I dislike the massive corn monocropping in North America, HFCS still doesn't have the same poor working conditions that cane sugar does. Healthwise, there is also no practical difference between HFCS and sugar from sugar cane - both are equally unhealthy. The economics of HFCS have led to an increase in fructose-glucose consumption, which has been terrible for our diet, but cheap sugar would have had the same effect.

as for people who feed their children fructose or anything from 100% fruit juice - that's just crazy. It's the fructose in sugar/HFCS which has been implicated in the obesity crisis. You'd be better off feeding your kid's sugar cubes than candies from 100% fruit juice.

Of course, that has nothing to do with fruit itself, which is full of water and also fibre (which inhibits fructose absorption).
posted by jb at 9:29 AM on March 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


Sugar cane is one of the nastiest plants to grow and harvest - even worse than cotton (notoriously back-breaking).

I'm pretty sure Murder Legendre primarily uses zombie labor to harvest his sugar.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 9:33 AM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think a complete ban on the stuff for a few years in order to allow bee populations to recover, followed by a stringently-regulated reintroduction (e.g. only usable in a particular area and in a particular way after testing to show that it wouldn't affect bees), might be a practical compromise.

Which means it has no chance in hell of passing though our corporate owned Congress. Food Corp Inc. might post a Y/Y decline in share price, and what's a few extinctions when there's profits at stake?

Besides, once all the natural bees are dead, there will be a market niche for the new GM designed Round-up Resistant Bee 2.0 Pollinator. Just pay the yearly licensing fee and associated patent usage fees, plus the daily rate of course, and a Round-up Ready Pollinator crew can show up at your fields in 7-10 business days.
posted by T.D. Strange at 9:49 AM on March 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


Most of monsanto's business is agricultural, or at least focused on agriculture.

I can see them covering up this insecticide as a cause of these colony deaths but at least off hand I would think the profits from one insecticide would be pretty insignificant compared to their overall losses from it's damage to agriculture in general.
posted by PJLandis at 9:52 AM on March 18, 2012


Is there really any viable pollination alternative to bees? It's hard for me to imagine what could replace them in large commercial farming operations.
posted by PJLandis at 9:56 AM on March 18, 2012


If honeybees only pollinated some unpalatable tree whose fruits supported three species of endangered neotropical primate then there'd be little grant money to be had.

Or maybe if they were mammals, instead of insects ...
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:09 AM on March 18, 2012


Goddamnit I hate Science Journalism. I should be used to it by now but this shit still pisses me of. I no longer really care whether the problem is that journalists cannot read a fucking paper, can't listen to a researcher and hear what the actually mean, if it is some kind of bizarre selective amnesia, or if they just don't fucking care. What really bugs me is that people still uncritically eat this shit up. This same fucking article has been published over and over and over again and it hasn't really gotten much better.

Most of us should be able to come up with a list of sensible hypotheses as to why this might be happening, namely selective breeding leading to a loss of diversity, novel viral and fungal infections, malnutrition effects from consuming monocultures of commercial crops, novel pesticides, weird downstream microbial effects of using antibiotics, and the novel system of traveling apiaries. It seems many of us can also come up with laughably dumbass ones like EM radiation, GM crops, and insufficient Purity Of Essence. However, if you learn a bit about beekeeping and get out a big map of the world with affected areas highlighted you'll be able to see pretty clearly how it couldn't only be selective breeding because CCD affected multiple strains of bee at the same time, it was unlikely to only be a microbial thing because there was no pathogen that was isolated from all of the affected colonies in every affected country, it was unlikely to be only malnutrition because it was happening to bee populations that consumed multiple crops simultaneously, it was unlikely to be only pesticides because there was no pesticide that was universal to all of the affected areas, it was unlikely to be only antibiotic use because CCD occurred in antibiotic free colonies too, and that it was unlikely to be only the new traveling apiaries because CCD happened in countries that didn't have them. EM radiation should look really absurd because apiaries in cities seemed to if anything be better protected, and so should GM crops because DNA is scary isn't a valid theoretical model and Europe without GM was really hard hit.

The answer that should become really fucking obvious is that CCD is likely the result of a complex combination of at least most of these factors. Each factor making the population more vulnerable to the others.

To be clear, corn planting does not happen in all of the areas affected by CCD globally, this is not the one true answer the the whole mystery. However, that said, the actual paper presents evidence which is pretty convincing that any bee colonies within 100 meters of a drilling machine planting seeds with this insecticide would present with symptoms like CCD as a result of the planting, and that this is likely a major contributing cause of CCD in Europe. This is great news because, while discontinuing the use of the insecticide will cause serious economic damage, it is still something that can be addressed with immediate action to stop CCD. So, yay science!
posted by Blasdelb at 10:12 AM on March 18, 2012 [30 favorites]


Is there really any viable pollination alternative to bees? It's hard for me to imagine what could replace them in large commercial farming operations.

Monsanto Nano-Beez! Autonomous micro-drones carrying a powerful crop-specific payload of Monsanto Pur-Pollen, ready to pollinate your crops, anywhere, anytime!*
*Requires planting of Monsanto Pur-Pollen-Ready seed stocks. See dealer for details.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:14 AM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Besides, once all the natural bees are dead, there will be a market niche for the new GM designed Round-up Resistant Bee 2.0 Pollinator. Just pay the yearly licensing fee and associated patent usage fees, plus the daily rate of course, and a Round-up Ready Pollinator crew can show up at your fields in 7-10 business days."

Roundup is a herbicide.
posted by Blasdelb at 10:15 AM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


You know, someday when we reach critical mass, and go beyond any hope of surviving on earth because of our inability to care about things that keep us alive, humans will act truly surprised that is is happening.
posted by Senator at 10:18 AM on March 18, 2012 [7 favorites]


"Healthwise, there is also no practical difference between HFCS and sugar from sugar cane - both are equally unhealthy."

Both are very unhealthy, but not equally so for a number of important reasons
posted by Blasdelb at 10:18 AM on March 18, 2012


The cause of this problem is what everyone wanted it to be.
posted by hellslinger at 10:19 AM on March 18, 2012


In Victorian times glass house plants were hand pollinated by people wielding rabbit tails on sticks. Perhaps we have a blessing in disguise here, an answer to unemployment and our excess of rabbits.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:23 AM on March 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


"Who would have thunk that insecticides would kill bees?"

Really this should read as, who would have thunk that an insecticide shoved into the ground with a seed would kill bees, it really isn't that intuitive. Though with hindsight and a knowledge of how the drillers work it does end up making some sense that it would contribute to the recent problems, the paper cited in the article is a pretty elegant demonstration of the effect.
posted by Blasdelb at 10:26 AM on March 18, 2012


Ah, crap.

Give me bugs on my apples, but leave the birds and the bees, now.
posted by mule98J at 10:32 AM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


OK, I was aware that Monsanto was evil in a "faceless agribusiness shoveling crap down our gullets" kinda way, but I hadn't fully realized that they'd reached twirling-mustache, strapping-maidens-to-train-tracks cartoonish levels of mind-boggling evil.

Like all hard problems, this looks so simple to solve: End corn subsidies. But simply saying that aloud causes flocks of lobbyists to circle like cackling crows. Frustrating.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 10:40 AM on March 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


My dad runs a couple hives and is friendly with a keeper who travels up and down the East coast with his stock to help farms pollinate crops and ensure the country's food supply. CCD is pretty devastating: the bees fly out and never come back, and the queen is left behind with a few just-hatched workers and some honey. This particular keeper was hit very hard two years ago, losing two-thirds of his hives.

If bees go extinct, there will be much much less food to go around, and our lifestyle as we know it today will hit a brick wall very quickly.

The question isn't whether governments will get motivated to control this, it is how soon, and whether action taken will be sufficient to prevent further devastation. Being able to feed people is one of those national security issues that gets people at the highest levels of a country's military interested.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:42 AM on March 18, 2012 [4 favorites]




Ah, yes. Better Things for Better Living Through Chemistry.

aka the "shoot the stuff all over the place and let god sort it out" industry. "Silent Spring" is 50 years old this year, fer crissakes.

I was not amused to find out the other day that tests for drug interactions are just getting out of the stone age.
posted by Twang at 11:09 AM on March 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


hellslinger: "The cause of this problem is what everyone wanted it to be."

We disapprove approvingly because it fits our world view. If instead the cause was found to be cow poo fungus from too many organic farms we would be more skeptical. This is the nature of things. But sometimes Monsanto really is evil.
posted by stbalbach at 11:12 AM on March 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


I can't be sure this is related, but I keep two hives. A couple of weeks ago, they were OK, getting ready for the next season's brood, plenty of honey in reserve, no signs of problems.

Yesterday, both hives were dead. One was completely empty, only a few corpses on the baseboard, plenty of honey, the other had a couple of hundred corpses, but no honey, the queen surrounded by her guard still clinging to the comb.

On reading this, I drove around the neighborhood. Yep, some farmers a half mile down the road had taken advantage of the mild winter and spring, planting corn or something. It looks like he's been at it for about a week.

Long enough.
posted by Blackanvil at 11:22 AM on March 18, 2012 [22 favorites]


Oh corn, is there nothing about our agricultural system you can't screw up?

So it is Corn's fault that the seed companies add poison to the outside?

opposed to some of the "OMG CELL PHONES" nonsense we've heard before.

Sticking a cell phone next to a hive will cause problems for a creature that uses magnetism for part of its navigation.

Maybe we should just be giving the poor little things more antibiotics, like the Chinese?

Such is already done in the US of A - but usually its anti fungals.

Something as simple as changing the structure of bee boxes has apparently yielded significant improvements in South America.

That article and your summary buries the lead.

A long time ago, bee experimenters figured out if you made foundation of certain cell sizes you got bigger bees that had bigger stomachs. Bigger bee stomachs meant more bee vomit (aka honey).

The bigger cells play with the organ size and weight of the bees and keep the bees in the cells just that much longer. The longer time lets the parasite mites get established. Too big a cell - the queen lays drones. (hence the 'drone comb' products that are supposed to help de-mite a hive) All plastic foundation will get laying in if you have 8 VS 9 combs in a Langstom hive. All plastic seems to kill off mites due to interruption of their life cycle.

The buried lead? He's letting the bees make cells to their own size. That cuts down on mites and organ stress with the bees.

Being able to feed people is one of those national security issues that gets people at the highest levels of a country's military interested.

And that is how the beekeepers will get their change - get the military interested.
posted by rough ashlar at 11:28 AM on March 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


Sticking a cell phone next to a hive will cause problems for a creature that uses magnetism for part of its navigation.

I can't imagine why this would be the case. Can you explain the mechanism behind that?
posted by Scientist at 11:42 AM on March 18, 2012


"Sticking a cell phone next to a hive will cause problems for a creature that uses magnetism for part of its navigation."

Magnetoreception in honeybees is really cool, but it is no more affected by cell phone radiation than a compass would be, which is to say, not at all. Besides, if RF radiation had anything to do with CCD we would not see apiaries in cities being largely unaffected, and we would not see rural apiaries in the middle of nowhere being totally devastated. Incidences of CCD in fact negatively correlate with RF intensity.
posted by Blasdelb at 11:50 AM on March 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Recent documents intimate that the EPA has known for a long time the chemical could be harmful to bees, but has kept it on the shelves while bee populations plummet.

This is not a rare thing. You can still find people to this day who think the furor over DDT was overblown.
posted by JHarris at 11:54 AM on March 18, 2012 [7 favorites]


Roundup is a herbicide.

Sometimes things do more than just what they say on the tin. DDT was an insecticide, but nevertheless wound up driving condors -- which, I think you'll find, are not insects -- to the brink of extinction.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:04 PM on March 18, 2012 [6 favorites]


How Bayer money kept pesticides out of NY Times bee collapse reporting.

That's pretty sad. Checking financial conflicts of interest is basic science journalism 101, especially where agriculture and agribusiness are concerned. Is the NY Times still hiring people out of clown college?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:10 PM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sometimes things do more than just what they say on the tin.

I think the current fashion is to call them biocides.
posted by fistynuts at 12:14 PM on March 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


I thought that had been pointing the finger at that Israeli Cricket Acute Paralysis virus?
posted by Slackermagee at 12:34 PM on March 18, 2012


This is a well-timed FPP for me, in that I found yesterday that my hive at home didn't successfully winter over, which is annoying, because they were well-stocked for the winter, I'd provided a fair amount of winter feed, and it was a busy, thriving colony.

Posted a note on the subject on my facebook and everyone immediately started asking about colony collapse disorder, which is just silly, because CCD is a problem of industrial scale agribusiness, not hobbyist and urban beekeeping. I know exactly why my hive failed, which was starvation brought on by the warm snaps over the winter that broke my colony's winter cluster, causing them to become active in the dead center of winter and burn food stores like mad. I also use Kenya top bar hives, which can't be opened to feed in the winter, in the configuration I was using. My hive in Baltimore is going gangbusters, so I'm only partly out of the bee buzz this year, but I'll miss watching my hive at home. In the meantime, I'm going to strip and rebuild the hive to make it possible to change out feed in the winter, which might have saved my hive. You live and learn.

Those of us keeping bees in urban environs don't really have the problems of business beekeepers, because we're in regions where there's not a lot of pesticides (or farming), and cities are amazingly good places for honeybees to do their thing (lots of flowers, lots of flowering trees, virtually no pesticides, and lots of us using alternative hive types).

I guess I get a little irked by the coverage and the conspiratorial hysteria about CCD because people who should know better point out the "vanishing bees" as a harbinger of an ecological crash, despite the fact that honeybees of the apis mellifera variety aren't native to the Americas and there's not a single native plant here that requires them for pollination. One might as well talk about the vanishing cows or any number of other introduced species—honeybees are a non-native agricultural stock used to pollinate non-native agricultural plants and, where there's colony collapse, it's the agribusiness crashing itself. Before bees were trucked from one side of the country to another, we didn't have things like small hive beetles or the parasites we've so efficiently trafficked from sea to sea in the US.

Extinction of honeybees isn't really a thing—they do just fine where they come from. Screwing up our own idiotic system of monocultured, chemical-saturated, GMO bullshit agribusiness, on the other hand? Well, you sort of get what you ask for in that regard.

Making it out to be a global ecological disaster, though, just makes our side look stupid, because we end up flailing about in a sort of "think of the children" froth when we really need to say "hey, if we want to grow and eat alien plants in North America, we need to not kill our alien pollinators."

In the meantime, bringing beekeeping back out of the industrial milieu, getting regular people to set up a nice, natural TBH or Warre hive (instead of stupid, complicated, manipulative plastic-fantastic industrial Langstroth hives) in their backyards would be a good step. It's easy, it's relatively simple, and the zen rewards are notable. When the economy was crashing, we started building kitchen gardens again, and taking up DIY projects like keeping bees and backyard chickens and such, and there's a lot we can do while we're waiting for Bayer and Monsanto to stop living up to their ugly histories.
posted by sonascope at 1:35 PM on March 18, 2012 [26 favorites]


Making it out to be a global ecological disaster, though, just makes our side look stupid

sonascope, those of us in Europe would appreciate the bees not dying, though.
posted by gakiko at 2:10 PM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


But simply saying that aloud causes flocks of lobbyists to circle like cackling crows.

Crows are harmless and intelligent animals. Only the most stupid and vicious of birds, like geese, deserve comparison to lobbyists.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 2:35 PM on March 18, 2012 [6 favorites]


Is there really any viable pollination alternative to bees? It's hard for me to imagine what could replace them in large commercial farming operations.

There are lots of other pollinators— non-honeybee bees, non-bee insects, birds, wind, etc.— and although usually a given plant is adapted to a specific pollinator, frequently another pollinator will do the trick, just less efficiently. Looking at this list, there are few plants listing only honeybees.
posted by hattifattener at 2:36 PM on March 18, 2012


In this case I don't know why they don't just coat the seeds en masse at a well-controlled factory rather than coating them at the planting site (and thus spraying a bunch of pesticide all over the area).

See Monsanto, this is how you should channel your evil and make money. Instead of using corruption to overturn bans, use corruption to ban field-use, so the only way to buy seeds is buy the seeds from YOU from your special insecticiding facility. (Said seeds undermined with your terminator genes, naturally)

The farmers are still your string puppets, just how you like them, thanks once more to rampant corruption, but at least the pollination system doesn't break down, so other farmers can stay in business and keep sending you their money!
posted by -harlequin- at 2:50 PM on March 18, 2012


See Monsanto, this is how you should channel your evil and make money. Instead of using corruption to overturn bans, use corruption to ban field-use, so the only way to buy seeds is buy the seeds from YOU from your special insecticiding facility. (Said seeds undermined with your terminator genes, naturally)

Aside from the insecticide part, this is already how Monsanto operates. Monsanto doesn't let you grow their crops (even by accident) unless you buy their seeds directly from them every season.
posted by Sys Rq at 3:01 PM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


getting regular people to set up a nice, natural TBH or Warre hive (instead of stupid, complicated, manipulative plastic-fantastic industrial Langstroth hives)

From looking at pictures online, it seems the only different between a Warre and a Langstroth hive is that when you get it open and lift a top bar out, on the langstroth, the bar has two sides and a bottom attached to make a simple frame for the comb, while on the warre, the bar has no frame for the comb, just comb.

I read that the frame enables centrifuge extraction if you want to go that way, but presumably it doesn't make it mandatory. So what is the advantage to a warre? It seems like the same thing to this laypeson.
posted by -harlequin- at 3:06 PM on March 18, 2012


The big distinction with Warre and TBH hives is that the comb structures are all determined by the bees. The thing about Langstroth hives that was a major advance for industrial beekeeping was that you provide them not just a frame, but a plastic matrix called "foundation" that's actually scaled in such a way that you trick the bees into building the kind of comb you want by artificially imposing the cell size you want. They standardized, manipulated, and pushed more efficiency out of a hive, and they are, as a result, the biggest honey producers. In a top bar hive (the Kenya-type TBH uses just a bar, while the Warre has a bar with little descending sides), the bees decide for themselves how to build, and when you harvest, you take a fillet knife and just cut the whole comb, rather then emptying the cells out with a centrifuge. It's messier to harvest, but there's the additional benefit that you don't get so many diseases, either, because old wax on foundation harbors icky stuff and because the smaller cells bees build on their own are a natural defense against varroa destructor, etc.

I run top bar hives because they don't need the medicating, manipulating, special tools, and constant fussing that Langstroths need, and because I don't care that I'm getting a smaller harvest. I'm getting free honey, free beeswax and propolis, my bees are relaxed, and I get the contentment of wu wei in (in)action. My girls give me enough, and I give them what they need, too. I've never had to smoke a hive (a sprayer with a bit of cider vinegar works if I need them to settle), and with one fool exception that turned out to have a therapeutic ending (big mass sting that helped out measurably when I was having a chronic pain issue), I don't get stung, even when I go without my veil. I have to do a bit of management with small hive beetles (thank you industrial apiaries), and had a single comb with wax moth once, but otherwise, I'm good. Lost one hive due to a knucklehead mistake (fed a weak hive I was attempting to requeen and brought on robbers), lost one to a hard freeze, and just lost my home hive to the warm winter problem, but for a farm animal, bees are remarkably easy to live with.

Of course, trying to push TBH and natural foundationless keeping on a large scale is an uphill battle. The industry is conservative about new things, and there's an inertia that comes from an established system that's been functional and profitable until recently. The business is also very, very broken when it comes to bullshit like mass shipping of hives all over the country, and that's because beekeepers don't make their money from honey—they make it renting hives to huge agribusiness farms for pollination, and the honey is just a peripheral reward. That said, the reason my hive dying over the winter sucks is that the explosion in small scale beekeeping means there's no package bees available this time of year unless you reserved 'em in January. I'll have a quiet summer, tending the hive in the city, but it's just a blip. Next year, I'm going to start two hives—a Warre (my first venture there) and an improved Kenya TBH with a view window and a feeder that I can change in the winter without cooling the cluster.
posted by sonascope at 3:48 PM on March 18, 2012 [10 favorites]


BASF.

We don't make your bees die.

We make your bees die faster.
posted by odinsdream at 3:59 PM on March 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


A while back in Home Depot, a new version of Weed N' Feed appeared that also had an insecticide to kill the bugs in your lawn. That pretty much coincided with hive death in Utah.
posted by Oyéah at 5:02 PM on March 18, 2012


...I was aware that Monsanto was evil in a "faceless agribusiness shoveling crap down our gullets" kinda way...

Monsanto is evil, does evil, and is working hard to screw up the world.

In any sane society we would not have let them get away with the evil they've done. Google Monsanto pollution. Or Monsanto corruption. Or Monsanto environment. Then as yourself who runs the world.
posted by BlueHorse at 6:48 PM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


In the interests of balance it is my understanding that the roundup ready crops are actually better from a soil conservation and reduced fertilizer/ co2 perspective than traditional till techniques. It is alsoy understanding that the rapid evolution of resistant weeds is a major problem affecting food supplies.
posted by humanfont at 7:32 PM on March 18, 2012


But simply saying that aloud causes flocks of lobbyists to circle like cackling crows.

Crows are harmless and intelligent animals. Only the most stupid and vicious of birds, like geese, deserve comparison to lobbyists.


Except that geese are both delicious and legal to eat.
posted by toodleydoodley at 8:11 PM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


In the interests of balance it is my understanding that the roundup ready crops are actually better from a soil conservation and reduced fertilizer/ co2 perspective than traditional till techniques. It is alsoy understanding that the rapid evolution of resistant weeds is a major problem affecting food supplies.

The problem is the patent issue. Roundup-ready crops are not the farmer's property, nor are the seeds that the crops produce. Unlicensed use of the crops carries severe penalties. If a neighboring farmer gets those seeds mixed with their non-roundup-ready crop they face legal action.

Roundup and the roundup-ready crops are actually very clever from a technical perspective. It's the associated fucked up intellectual property laws that make things go wonky.
posted by odinsdream at 8:15 PM on March 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Roundup is a herbicide

and contains the elecrolytes that plants crave!
posted by flabdablet at 2:31 AM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


The only cases of mixed seeds causing problems is when the farmer then adopts the no till roundup practice. Monsanto has a business method patent for the use of roundup in this manner.
posted by humanfont at 4:57 AM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Monsanto executives should get the Nic Cage Wickerman treatment.

Because the Nic Cage Wickerman is the HFCS version of the original.
posted by srboisvert at 8:03 AM on March 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


The lesson that I learn from this is that bees, who are natural allies to agriculture, are being sacrificed at the altar of monoculture.

Monoculture is the antithesis of the way nature works; nature uses the shotgun approach of diversity and evolution to support the whole spectrum of life. Monoculture is a more focused approach that increases the risk/reward ratio. Sure, you can increase yields. But at what cost? One thing is for sure - the risk of catastrophic failure goes up. The defensive postures agriculture takes to defend the monoculture also has ripple effects that no one can foresee. I submit that if the method kills pollinators wholesale, then the method is not acceptable.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 8:41 AM on March 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


while discontinuing the use of the insecticide will cause serious economic damage

Just in cold cash, how much are bees worth (including pollination and honey production) compared to the corn that would be lost from insect damage? And what other damage is this insecticide doing that is not as publicized because it doesn't take money directly out of someone's pocket? None flew over the cuckoo's nest: A world without birds:
All over Europe, many species of bird have suffered a population crash. [snip]

Ornithologists have been trying desperately to work out what is behind these rapid declines. Urban development, hermetically sealed houses and barns, designer gardens and changing farming practices have all been blamed, but exactly why these birds have fallen from the skies is still largely unexplained.

However, Tennekes thinks there may be a simple reason. "The evidence shows that the bird species suffering massive decline since the 1990s rely on insects for their diet," he says. He believes that the insect world is no longer thriving, and that birds that feed on insects are short on food.

So what has happened to all the insects? In the Nineties, a new class of insecticide – the neonicotinoids – was introduced. Beekeepers were the first people to notice a problem, as their bees began to desert their hives and die, a phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).
No honeybees, no ladybirds, no butterflies, no songbirds, ...
posted by pracowity at 10:11 AM on March 19, 2012


Just in cold cash, how much are bees worth (including pollination and honey production) compared to the corn that would be lost from insect damage?

This seems a bigger issue than a bees vs corn cost-benefit analysis. Can one put a dollar amount on the survival of the human species? I'm not trying to be glib here, honest, but I have a difficult time visualizing how to make that calculation in any objective way, except, perhaps, by summing the total economic production of the world's population since the beginning of recorded history. Pollinators play a critical role in our food supply, and we live and die on the bounty of the ecological system we're in.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:35 PM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


This seems a bigger issue than a bees vs corn cost-benefit analysis.

I thought it was pretty obvious from the rest of my comment that I would agree with that. But for those who think other species only matter if people can directly exploit them, I was looking for a starting point: that bees are actually a positive force in the agricultural economy, not just buzzy little bugs that make the timid quiver.
posted by pracowity at 2:43 PM on March 19, 2012


odinsdream writes "We make your bees die faster."

Which amazingly is actually a step back, evil wise, for BASF.
posted by Mitheral at 6:53 PM on March 19, 2012 [2 favorites]




Many bee-keepers have turned to high-fructose corn syrup to feed their bees, which the researchers say did not imperil bees until U.S. corn began to be sprayed with imidacloprid in 2004-2005. A year later was the first outbreak of Colony Collapse Disorder.

Oh, HFCS! Is there nothing you can't do?
posted by flabdablet at 11:40 PM on April 7, 2012


So if the HFCS fed to bees was made from corn sprayed with imidacloprid, and that is the same HFCS fed to all the humans in America, we're supposed to rely on not having anything in common with insects?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:09 AM on April 8, 2012


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