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Hullabaloo


Saturday, January 14, 2012

 
More proof the system is broken, bee colony collapse edition

by David Atkins

That the panicked news stories about it have died down doesn't mean that the honeybee die-offs due to "colony collapse disorder" have gone away. It's still happening with a vengeance, and it's almost certain that pesticides are to blame:

Although news about Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) has died down, commercial beekeepers have seen average population losses of about 30 percent each year since 2006, said Paul Towers, of the Pesticide Action Network. Towers was one of the organizers of a conference that brought together beekeepers and environmental groups this week to tackle the challenges facing the beekeeping industry and the agricultural economy by proxy.

"We are inching our way toward a critical tipping point," said Steve Ellis, secretary of the National Honey Bee Advisory Board (NHBAB) and a beekeeper for 35 years. Last year he had so many abnormal bee die-offs that he'll qualify for disaster relief from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

In addition to continued reports of CCD -- a still somewhat mysterious phenomenon in which entire bee colonies literally disappear, alien-abduction style, leaving not even their dead bodies behind -- bee populations are suffering poor health in general, and experiencing shorter life spans and diminished vitality. And while parasites, pathogens, and habitat loss can deal blows to bee health, research increasingly points to pesticides as the primary culprit.

"In the industry we believe pesticides play an important role in what's going on," said Dave Hackenberg, co-chair of the NHBAB and a beekeeper in Pennsylvania.

Of particular concern is a group of pesticides, chemically similar to nicotine, called neonicotinoids (neonics for short), and one in particular called clothianidin. Instead of being sprayed, neonics are used to treat seeds, so that they're absorbed by the plant's vascular system, and then end up attacking the central nervous systems of bees that come to collect pollen. Virtually all of today's genetically engineered Bt corn is treated with neonics. The chemical industry alleges that bees don't like to collect corn pollen, but new research shows that not only do bees indeed forage in corn, but they also have multiple other routes of exposure to neonics.

So obviously something must be done. It's one thing for the fossil fuel industry to get in the way of doing something about a problem as lacking in immediate impact as climate change. It's quite another when the problem has not only immediate urgency, but immediate impact that people can easily get their heads around.

But will something be done this year? Not likely. Too much legalized bribery in the system during an election year:

Since this is an election year -- a time when no one wants to make Big Ag (and its money) mad -- beekeepers may have to suffer another season of losses before there's any hope of action on the EPA's part. But when one out of every three bites of food on Americans' plates results directly from honey bee pollination, there's no question that the fate of these insects will determine our own as eaters.

Ellis, for his part, thinks that figuring out a way to solve the bee crisis could be a catalyst for larger reform within our agriculture system. "If we can protect that pollinator base, it's going to have ripple effects ... for wildlife, for human health," he said. "It will bring up subjects that need to be looked at, of groundwater and surface water -- all the connected subjects associated [with] chemical use and agriculture."

Future generations will look back at this country and its system of legalized bribery of politicians one day in the same way that they look back on slavery and say: "why did people not revolt in moral outrage?"

The answer is the same today as it was then: power, money, and a whole lot of regular people who just don't give a damn or think they can't do anything about it.

Also, the people like Scalia and Roberts who perpetuate and glorify the system know that by the time the public is ready to scorn them as much as they scorn the authors of the Dred Scott decision, they'll be long gone from this world, and their comfortable progeny will be safe from the consequences of their rulings.


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