Sunday, 27 July 2008

Will Colony Collapse Disorder Change Agriculture

A worrying trend has been sweeping across the USA, and its not Barack Obama. Bee Colonies are collapsing in half of all American states. The West Coast is thought to have lost 60 per cent of its commercial bee population, with 70 per cent missing on the East Coast. CCD has since spread to Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece. And last week John Chapple, one of London's biggest bee-keepers, announced that 23 of his 40 hives have been abruptly abandoned. Other apiarists have recorded losses in Scotland, Wales and north-west England, but the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs insisted: "There is absolutely no evidence of CCD in the UK." On the ball as always UK government.

Honey bees, which are not native to the U.S. incidentally (they were imported for crop pollination), are tasked with the pollination of approximately one third of all U.S. crops. Scientists are very worried, not least because, as there is no obvious cause for the disease as yet, there is no way of tackling it.

There's still no concrete evidence about what is killing the billions of bees around the world, but there are a lot of guesses. The phenomenon is recent, dating back to autumn, when beekeepers along the east coast of the US started to notice the die-offs. It was given the name of fall dwindle disease, but now it has been renamed to reflect better its dramatic nature, and is known as colony collapse disorder.

It is swift in its effect. Over the course of a week the majority of the bees in an affected colony will flee the hive and disappear, going off to die elsewhere. The few remaining insects are then found to be enormously diseased - they have a "tremendous pathogen load", the scientists say. But why? No one yet knows.

The disease showed a completely new set of symptoms, "which does not seem to match anything in the literature", said the entomologist. The few bees left inside the hive were carrying "a tremendous number of pathogens" - virtually every known bee virus could be detected in the insects, she said, and some bees were carrying five or six viruses at a time, as well as fungal infections. Because of this it was assumed that the bees' immune systems were being suppressed in some way. - The Independent

There are as many theories as there are members of the panel, but Mr Hackenberg strongly suspects that new breeds of nicotine-based pesticides are to blame. "It may be that the honeybee has become the victim of these insecticides that are meant for other pests," he said. "If we don't figure this out real quick, it's going to wipe out our food supply."

Urban sprawl and farming also have taken away fields of clover and wildflowers, as well as nesting trees. Pesticides and herbicides used in farming and on suburban lawns can weaken or kill bees. Caron said a new class of pesticides used on plants, called neonicotinoids, don’t kill bees but hamper their sense of direction. That leaves them unable to find their way back to their hives. Because these bees aren’t returning to their hives, researchers don’t have a lot of evidence to study.
Those dead bees that have been found nearby have only deepened the mystery. "They are just dirty with parts and pieces of various diseases," said Jim Tew, a beekeeping expert with the OSU Extension campus in Wooster. "It looks like a general stress collapse."

Similar disappearances have occurred over time. Tew said he remembers a similar phenomenon in the 1960s. Then, it was called "disappearing disease." "It was exactly the same thing," he said. But this one, Caron said, apparently causes hives to collapse at a much quicker rate and is more widespread. Cobey said it could be from too much of everything: bad weather, chemicals, parasites, viruses. "If you give them one of these things at a time, they seem to deal with it," she said. "But all of these things, it’s too hard. "I think the bees are just compromised. They’re stressed out." - Columbus Dispatch

Whatever the cause, some farmers are getting desperate, to the point of not bothering to plant their crops. "The squash crops that we grow have a male and female bloom, and the bee has to make it pollinate and produce," he said. "We're going to have a hard time finding rental bees to aid in this pollination and if it's as critical as it looks like it will be, I probably won't even plant anything this spring." - BBC

Huge monocrop farming systems and specialisations, and the spread of suburbia across natural habitat, are removing natural diversity. Bees have been lumped together in the millions, in a factory farm type environment not so unlike that of our chickens and other livestock animals. Many of these bees are transported across several states to perform pollinations in orchards and farms around the country. Today they are in contact with substances they shouldn't have to deal with - pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics, and pollen from genetically modified crops. Researchers are scrambling to find answers, and as the spring season is upon us, time is running out.

Evidence of dangers to people from mobile phones is increasing. But proof is still lacking, largely because many of the biggest perils, such as cancer, take decades to show up. Most research on cancer has so far proved inconclusive. But an official Finnish study found that people who used the phones for more than 10 years were 40 per cent more likely to get a brain tumour on the same side as they held the handset. Equally alarming, blue-chip Swedish research revealed that radiation from mobile phones killed off brain cells, suggesting that today's teenagers could go senile in the prime of their lives.

Studies in India and the US have raised the possibility that men who use mobile phones heavily have reduced sperm counts. And, more prosaically, doctors have identified the condition of "text thumb", a form of RSI from constant texting. Professor Sir William Stewart, who has headed two official inquiries, warned that children under eight should not use mobiles and made a series of safety recommendations, largely ignored by ministers.

Another thing ignored in all this is that organic farming may be the answer, if the monoculture of agribuisness proves unsustainable then we may see a vast increase in traditional farming. Recently fuel price increases have seen some farmers return to using a cart pulled by animal power to distribute feed. Perhaps this is the future.
excerpt from "A Spring Without Bees " by Michael Schacker,

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