Ron Meador — longtime and trusted environmental journalist — reported today on the latest study on honey bee die-offs, and the news is not good. The Harvard study adds to the evidence that neonicotinoid insecticides are the chief, and perhaps the only, factor in the die-offs known as Colony Collapse Disorder. Moreover, the neonicotinoids cause harm at a lower level than previously believed, and persist in soil and water for years.
You can read the whole six-page report of the study here. The evidence looks pretty damning: “six of twelve previously healthy neonicotinoid-treated colonies died and all progressed to exhibit CCD symptoms during the winter months,” while only one of the non-neonicotinoid-treated control colonies died.
Meador’s article is more readable than the researcher’s paper, and details both how the study was conducted and why its findings are so important.
The die-off of honey bees is alarming, not just because of the threat to the bees, but because of the threat to the global food system. Bees do far more than produce honey. They also pollinate plants, and that’s necessary to food production. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture:
“Bee pollination is responsible for more than $15 billion in increased crop value each year. About one mouthful in three in our diet directly or indirectly benefits from honey bee pollination. Commercial production of many specialty crops like almonds and other tree nuts, berries, fruits and vegetables are dependent on pollinated [sic] by honey bees.”
CCD began showing up in 2006. The USDA describes it:
“The main symptom of CCD is very low or no adult honey bees present in the hive but with a live queen and no dead honey bee bodies present. Often there is still honey in the hive, and immature bees (brood) are present. Varroa mites, a virus-transmitting parasite of honey bees, have frequently been found in hives hit by CCD.”
The use of neonicotinoid pesticides has been restricted in Europe, but not in the United States.