Thursday, 12 April 2012

Imidacloprid linked to bee colony collapse

Harvard scientists recently tested the effects of the pesticide imidacloprid on bee colonies in situ, meaning out in the field instead of in a laboratory.  At each site, four hives were treated with four different amounts of the pesticide.  Beginning with the hives that received the highest doses, and continuing to the hives that received low doses, the bees died in a fashion symptomatic of colony collapse disorder (CCD).

Reactions: The scientists say their findings show that even low doses of imdacloprid, similar to those used in real agriculture, can cause CCD.  The pesticide's manufacturer, Bayer, says the low doses used in the study remained too high to be realistic.  The EPA still considers CCD to result from a mix of factors, possibly including pesticide exposure as just one factor.  That may still be a reasonable summary of the balance of current evidence, but the new study strengthens the case that pesticides -- imidacloprid in particular -- have a big role.

I follow this issue in part because my father-in-law is a retired scientist and a beekeeper.  He tracked the decline and later half-hearted recovery of his hives in lab notebooks.  In 2010, when I took a cross-country drive, visiting sites of food and agricultural interest all along the way, my starting point was his hives in Carlisle, MA.  After reading the Boston Globe article on the recent Harvard Study, he wrote a letter to the editor, which was published this week:
ONE THING we can all do is to put pressure on our elected leaders to have the Environmental Protection Agency do a better job of regulation (“Study links pesticide to bee deaths; Harvard scientists make case,’’ Metro, April 6).

The EPA does not test for the low-level chronic effects of pesticides such as those addressed in the recent studies. It also does not test for interactions between pesticides and other agricultural chemicals - and yet it is known that there are powerful synergies between some of these chemicals.

Furthermore, the EPA farms out its testing to the very companies that are producing the pesticides - kind of like the fox guarding the chicken coop.

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