By Paul Woodward
The mealy-mouthed, equivocating, spineless New York Times reports on the devastating loss in bee populations caused by what is termed “colony collapse disorder.”
The insidious feature of this report is that while it highlights the magnitude of the problem, it implies that concern about the dangers from pesticides is prevalent mostly among beekeepers — as though scientists remain largely agnostic on how much harm derives from chemicals, as opposed for instance to naturally occurring viral epidemics.
The takeaway narrative is that humble beekeepers, perturbed by their losses are afraid of the chemicals, scientists are earnestly investigating the issue, while industry meekly awaits the results, happy to be guided by whatever science reveals.
But have no doubt, the manufacturers of chemicals such as imidacloprid — which are like liquid gold — will take every possible measure exercising their immense strength to lobby governments, tilt scientific research in their favor and obfuscate the issues in the media, all in the pursuit of profit.
A mysterious malady that has been killing honeybees en masse for several years appears to have expanded drastically in the last year, commercial beekeepers say, wiping out 40 percent or even 50 percent of the hives needed to pollinate many of the nation’s fruits and vegetables.
A conclusive explanation so far has escaped scientists studying the ailment, colony collapse disorder, since it first surfaced around 2005. But beekeepers and some researchers say there is growing evidence that a powerful new class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids, incorporated into the plants themselves, could be an important factor.
The pesticide industry disputes that. But its representatives also say they are open to further studies to clarify what, if anything, is happening.
“They looked so healthy last spring,” said Bill Dahle, 50, who owns Big Sky Honey in Fairview, Mont. “We were so proud of them. Then, about the first of September, they started to fall on their face, to die like crazy. We’ve been doing this 30 years, and we’ve never experienced this kind of loss before.”
In a show of concern, the Environmental Protection Agency recently sent its acting assistant administrator for chemical safety and two top chemical experts here, to the San Joaquin Valley of California, for discussions.
In the valley, where 1.6 million hives of bees just finished pollinating an endless expanse of almond groves, commercial beekeepers who only recently were losing a third of their bees to the disorder say the past year has brought far greater losses.
The federal Agriculture Department is to issue its own assessment in May. But in an interview, the research leader at its Beltsville, Md., bee research laboratory, Jeff Pettis, said he was confident that the death rate would be “much higher than it’s ever been.”
First posted on War in Context