Pesticides still focus in worsening US bee crisis

26 June 2008 20:55  [Source: ICIS news]

US trying to find if pesticides cause bee colony collapseWASHINGTON (ICIS news)--Unexplained and widespread losses among US bee colonies are increasing and pesticides and other agrochemicals remain a top suspect, US government agricultural specialists told Congress on Thursday.


Edward Knipling, administrator of the US Agricultural Research Service (ARS), told a House subcommittee that so far this year the sudden decline of pollinating bee colonies is running at 36%, an increase from 2007 when 30% of managed bee colonies disappeared for no apparent reason.


The apparent epidemic - known as colony collapse disorder (CCD) - is characterized by a sudden disappearance of a colony’s bees and the absence of any dead bees.  For some unknown reason, a colony’s bees will fly off and never return.


Research into the mounting problem has been hampered by the fact that few if any of the bees afflicted by the mysterious disorder can be found and examined.


“Typically, all but a few bees disappear from a given colony’s population for no apparent reason,” Knipling told the House Subcommittee on Horticulture and Organic Agriculture.


Continuing yearly losses of more than 30% of some 2.4m managed bee colonies nationwide poses a serious risk to about $15bn (€9.6bn) worth of annual US agricultural crops that depend chiefly on bees for pollination.


ARS officials noted 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 honeybee colony collapse disorder.


Knipling said that research conducted by ARS and private universities has not found evidence linking pesticides or other agrochemicals to the colony collapse disorder, but neither can chemical causes be ruled out.


“Research has focused on determining whether pesticides, which remain a top concern among beekeepers, are associated with CCD,” Knipling said. 


“This research has yet to confirm such an association, but research will continue to analyze bee samples for pesticide exposure to definitely confirm or refute an alleged correlation,” he said.


Pesticides are part of the $15bn annual US market for crop protection products.


Also suspect in the CCD research are viruses and other pathogens, parasites, environmental stress, poor nutrition and transport stress, Knipling said.  Transportation stress arises when bee colonies are moved by truck among various farms to perform contracted pollination services.


($1 = €.64)


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