Recently, beekeepers have been observing unusually high losses of honey bees. This phenomenon has been termed, “Colony Collapse Disorder” (CCD). The mysterious onset of decline in the honey bee population has been linked with the following causes: viruses, fungi, pathogens, parasites, and pesticides. Researchers also believe that bees are more susceptible to CCD when they are additionally exposed to stress by commercial beekeepers through seasonal trucking back and forth across the country.
The New York Times article, “Scientists and Soldiers Solve a Bee Mystery,”
described a “major” breakthrough. A group of scientists led by Jerry Bromenshenk, working with the Army’s Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, said in their jointly written paper that a virus and fungus were found in every killed colony the group studied; however, neither agent alone seemed able to devastate a colony.
It was later revealed that Dr. Jerry Bromenshenk was linked with Bayer
CropScience. Why is this so significant? Dr. Bromenshenk had received a significant research grant from Bayer to study bee pollination. Astonishingly, before receiving this funding, Dr. Bromenshenk had signed on to serve as an expert witness for beekeepers in the class action lawsuit against Bayer in 2003, ultimately dropping out and receiving the grant. Dr. Bromenshenk had also acknowledged as much that his company would profit more from finding that a disease, rather than pesticides, was harming bees. Recently, Bayer has come under a great deal of scrutiny for manufacturing and marketing the highly controversial pesticide clothianidin, a next-generation neonicotinoid, a toxic compound to honey bees.
The EPA originally planned to withhold registration of the pesticide because of concerns about the toxicity to bees; however, in April 2003, the EPA decided to give Bayer conditional registration. Bayer would be allowed to sell the product if they completed a study, which ultimately seemed fatally flawed. The study itself consisted of an open field with control and test plots of about two acres each. Bees typically go at least two miles out from the hive, so it was likely that the bees did not actually ingest much of the treated crop (Bayer also used canola, whereas corn is typically the pollen-producing crop that bees rely on for winter nutrition). In a statement to Pesticide Action Network, beekeeper Jeff Anderson stated, “It’s as if they designed the study to avoid seeing clothianidin’s effects on hive health.”
The study was later reviewed in 2007 and it was determined that it satisfied EPA’s field study guidelines. Currently, Clothianidin is fully registered under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act. The reevaluation of the study in question did not change the Agency’s conclusion that the registered uses of clothianidin meet the FIFRA risk/benefit standard for registration. In response, several groups have referred to the “imminent hazard” they believe clothianidin poses for bees and can be found in their December 2010 letter urging the EPA to issue a “stop use order” on clothianidin. The EPA’s response describes the legal requirements that must be satisfied to declare an imminent hazard and to issue a stop use order, which the EPA believes neither of which are satisfied by data currently available to the Agency.
The EPA should be aiding in the protection and preservation of our environment, including honey bees, an important part of our ecosystem. Instead of viewing the larger picture and taking into account the overall health of the planet and its habitats, the EPA seemingly is siding with businesses and their destructive products, ignoring any sign of an imminent threat. Regardless of what the EPA does, each individual can help in one or more ways, in order to achieve a collective effort and enable positive change so we can preserve these precious honeybees.