The Silent Spring by Donald Sutherland
There is a beautiful old towering Chestnut tree on the land we lease to farm. One day in May I was commenting on how beautiful the flowering Chestnut tree was to Dick, the retired farmer whose land we lease.
“That tree used to be covered in bees in years past. I could barely hear anything but their buzzing when I was near it. Now there is hardly a bee on it,” he said in a remorseful voice.
I was stunned hearing that remark. What Dick said was very significant to whether Long Life Farm was going to be bountiful.
All our flowering vegetables, squash, tomatoes, eggplants, cucumbers aren’t self pollinating and require pollinators like bees to make fruit.
I noticed the other flowering Chestnuts in the neighborhood had hardly any bees on them. Wherever I looked, either at flowering azaleas, dandelions, rhododendrons, there was hardly any pollinators to be seen.
Bees pollinate one third of all the food crops in the United States and the world.
In the mid nineties they started dying in masses in Europe and by 2006 billions of bees were dying everywhere globally.
The phenomena became known as colony collapse disorder (CCD).
Researchers and scientists at first thought a blight of a bee mite and or a virus in combination with the stress of exposure to pesticides was the culprit.
Then French researchers targeted a new insecticide introduced in the European market by the Bayer company in the nineties called imidacloprid.
Imidacloprid is a neonicotinoid which is a class of insecticides which attack the central nervous systems of insects and are chemically related to nicotine.
It was developed along with other neonicotinoid substances to be less toxic to mammals compared to previously used insecticides and they are currently the most widely used insecticide in the world.
It’s used in treating soil, seeds, timber, animals pests, and as foliar treatments for most vegetable, fruit, berry, and nut crops.
Unlike previous insecticides neonicotinoids spread through the vascular tissues of plants and are toxic through the entire growing season, including flowering when bees consume pollen and nectar.
When over a third of French honey bees died imidacloprid was banned in 1999 for treatment of sunflowers and five years latter for corn.
In 2003 Bayer introduced a new neonicotinoid product clothianidin to the US.
Other companies followed with additional neonicotinoid insecticides such as
acetamiprid, dinotefuran, nitenpyram, thiacloprid, and thiamethoxam.
Endorsed by the United States Department of Agriculture, the US Environmental Protection Agency, State and university agricultural research divisions these neurotoxic insecticides and their products spread rapidly.
By 2005 most of the US corn and soybean crops representing a growing area larger then size of California was being treated with neonicotinoids.
Their use spread and today neonicotinoids are used extensively everywhere, in vegetable, fruit, berry, grain, and nut production, in treating lawn seeds and grass for grubs, and on flowers, bushes, and trees.
Then something ominous happened.
Beginning in October 2006 bee keepers began reporting losses of 30% to 90%.
These losses continue to date according to the USDA Agricultural Research Service.
“CCD has resulted in higher costs for pollination and could threaten the pollination industry if it becomes more widespread,” the USDA ARS states in their website.
Both the USDA and the US EPA (which regulates pesticides), believe CCD is due to a combination of many stresses including parasitic mites, poor nutrition, pollination of crops with low nutritional value, pollen or nectar scarcity, and migratory stress in being shipped cross country in the pollination bee industry.
The USDA Agricultural Research Service says pesticides may be having an unexpected impact, “but no common environmental agent or chemicals stand out as a causative”.
And the EPA states, “to date we’re aware of no data demonstrating that an EPA registered pesticide used according to the label instructions has caused CCD.”
But that isn’t true.
In January 2012 Purdue University scientists published results of their two year study showing the insecticides clothianidin and thiamethoxam, commonly used to coat corn and soybeans seeds, were killing pollinating bees.
“We know that these insecticides are highly toxic to bees: we found them in each sample of dead and dying bees,” quoted Christian Krupke, associate professor of entomology and co-author of the findings in the Purdue University News Service.
The Purdue Study sited the neonicotinoids as compounds that can persist for months or years with plants growing in the treated soil taking up the compounds in leaf tissue and or pollen.
In March 2012 in the journal of Science two teams of researchers, one in France and the other in Britain, published studies showing neonicotinoids have significant negative impacts on bee health and colony survival.
And in April 2012 the Harvard School of Public Health released their study to be published in the June issue of the Bulletin of Insectology, citing new research providing evidence linking imidaloprid and bee CCD.
The authors of this study proved bees exposed to imidaloprid in a plant’s pollen or through the high fructose corn syrup beekeepers use to feed their bees, and it resulted in CCD. Over 90 percent of conventionally grown corn in the US has been treated with neonicotinoids and it is in corn syrup.
The governments of France, Germany, and Italy are not waiting for more studies tying bee CCD with neonicotinoids. Since 2008 there have been bans on seed treatment using neonicotinoids in all of these countries.
In December 2013 the European Commission enacted a 2 year ban on three neonicotinoid pesticides — clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiametoxam — for treating seeds, soil and leaves on flowering crops attractive to bees. The European ban prohibits the use of these products by home gardeners.
Bee keepers and their associations recognize the agricultural pesticide threat but say a bigger danger contributing to bee CCD is with lawn and garden products being used by consumers.
“A more immediate threat is the lawn care companies that mix neonicotinoids into sprays and they are more widely distributed then talc on corn seed and other modes of distribution,” says Dan Conlon, President of the Massachusetts Beekeepers’s Association.
In a recent report on bee colony collapse by the environmental organization Xerces, a nonprofit that protects wildlife through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitat, their scientists found products approved for homeowners to use in gardens, lawns, and on ornamental trees have manufacturer-recommended application rates up to 120 times higher than rates approved for agricultural crops.
Still, none of the apiary organizations I contacted are petitioning the EPA or Congress for a ban on these neurotoxic insecticides which are threatening a collapse of the US agricultural crops requiring bees to pollinate.
“Studies in Europe have been going on for over 10 years in Germany, Italy, France, Scandinavian countries not just now. All US research is fairly new and has only been redundant on studies done there where neonics are banned in many forms,”
says bee keeper Jean-Claude Bourrut, Assistant Director at Natick Community Organic Farm.
Back on our farm where over two acres of field clover and ever present beautiful perfumed Wild Rugolisa are in bloom there is hardly a honey or bumble bee to be seen.
I told my wife after researching this story to call her favorite honey bee man and get him to put some hives on our farm quick.
As a consumer you can help by telling your neighbors and friends to boycott those home and garden products containing the bee killing neurotoxin neonicotinoids.
Read the ingredients and look for any of these substances: clothianidin, imidacloprid, acetamiprid, dinotefuran, nitenpyram, thiacloprid, and thiamethoxam.
Or better yet convince everyone to go organic.
(C) Donald Sutherland
Donald Sutherland is an organic farmer with his wife and two girls, and a freelance writer in Hopkinton, Massachusetts
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