Scientists isolate one cause of "colony collapse disorder"

Scientists in Spain isolated a parasitic fungus as the cause of “colony collapse disorder” in some honeybee hives, and were able to treat the affected colonies successfully with anti-fungals. That’s good news for the human race, since we depend on bees to pollinate a wide variety of food crops.

It’s too early to say “case closed” on the honeybee die-offs. In all likelihood more than one factor has contributed to colony collapse disorder. Devilstower laid out seven possibilities in this diary.

Several European countries have banned the use of neonicotinoid pesticides in order to protect honeybees. Beyond Pesticides and Pesticide Action Network North America sent an open letter to President Barack Obama earlier this year calling for more regulation of pesticides, putting a high priority on protecting bees and other pollinators.

To my knowledge, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has not taken any steps in this direction–that is, I have been unable to find any reports on new USDA plans to fund research regarding pesticides and pollinators. The Bush USDA refused to halt or even thoroughly study the use of neonicotinoid pesticides.

I did find out that the “USDA will be providing two types of parasite-resistant honey bees developed by USDA scientists” to pollinate plants in the organic White House garden.

On a related note, the “people’s garden” that Vilsack ordered to be planted by the USDA headquarters is shaping up nicely. Well done, Mr. Secretary!

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USDA to bees: Drop dead

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is taking no steps to halt or even thoroughly study the use of pesticides that have been implicated in massive die-offs of honeybees, according to a press release from the Sierra Club. The release circulated on the Iowa Sierra Club e-mail loop yesterday.

Germany has suspended the use of neonicotinoid pesticides after agricultural research found that “poisoning of the bees is due to the rub-off of the pesticide ingredient clothianidin from corn seeds.”

Not only do many American farmers spray neonicotinoids on their crops, “Bayer and Monsanto have acquired patents to coat their proprietary corn seeds with these neonicotinoids,” the Sierra Club notes. The group has called on the USDA to impose “a precautionary moratorium on these powerful crop treatments to protect our bees and our food,” pending thorough studies of their effects.

This New York Times article from February 2007 discusses the threat that “colony collapse disorder” poses to approximately $14 billion worth of seeds and crops that honeybees pollinate in the U.S. every year.

Other articles discussing the possible link between pesticides and bee die-offs are here, here and here. The neonicotinoids may be affecting the bees’ memory, making them unable to find their way back to their hives.

The full text of the press release from Sierra Club is after the jump.

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