Agrochemicals remain focus in US bee colony crisis

05 May 2008 23:26  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS news)--Pesticides and other agrochemicals remain possible culprits in the ongoing decline of US bee populations but atmospheric pollution also is a potential cause, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) said on Monday.


The department’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) said its survey of beekeepers nationwide found that 36% of managed bee colonies were lost over the just ended North American winter period, an increase of about 13.5% from the previous winter’s losses.


The mysterious plague that has been afflicting US bee populations since late 2006 is known as colony collapse disorder (CCD).


The service said that more than one-third of surveyed bee keepers reported some lost colonies in which all adult bees had simply disappeared, the primary symptom of CCD.


Continuing yearly losses of more than 30% of some 2.4m managed bee colonies nationwide poses a serious risk to about $15bn (€9.75bn) worth of annual US agricultural crops that depend chiefly on bees for pollination.


ARS officials said that about one-third of the US diet - including most fruits, vegetables and vine crops - depend on bee pollination.  Major food staple crops, such as corn, wheat and rice, are wind pollinated and have not been affected by the honeybee colony collapse disorder.


Kim Kaplan, spokesperson for the research service, said that while scientists studying CCD still have not made major progress in identifying the cause, the hunt has narrowed to four primary categories: pathogens, parasites, environmental stress and management stress.


Environmental stress includes potential contamination from pesticides, herbicides and fertilizer, and it also could involve atmospheric pollution.


Air pollutants such as carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide, ozone, sulphur dioxide and others remain suspect, Kaplan said, even though the levels of those contaminants in US air samples declined in the 1980s, levelled off in the 1990s and showed a notable decline after 2002.


However, if air pollution is a potential cause of CCD, Kaplan said, “why did CCD start happening now when the air is cleaner than in the past?”


“Wouldn’t we have seen CCD break out when those pollutants were at higher levels in our atmosphere?”


Even so, Kaplan said, research scientists continue to focus on air pollutants along with agrochemicals, pathogens and management stress (mismanagement of bee colonies).


($1 = €.65)

By: Joe Kamalick
+1 713 525 2653

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