There is a foreboding occurrence afoot in the natural world that is distressing even to write about. Two species associated with beauty and love are being driven to extinction right before our eyes.
Even worse: it’s happening quickly.
One we need desperately to pollinate our food, the other our hearts need for their elegance and splendor.
When we were young the birds and the bees were symbols of fertility. Majestic butterflies captured our imaginations, representing transformation and hope.
But they have always been more than just metaphors. And now they are harbingers of a place and system out of balance.
Honeybees in Peril
Much has been written in the media about their decline worldwide due to a mysterious sounding disease called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Last year beekeepers reported a 40% die-off among their hives in the US.
The acronym CCD explains what’s happening but not why.
The full story is honeybee populations are declining because of climate change, pests, and pesticide exposure.
One specific culprit is a class of pesticide known as neonicotinoids. These insidious pesticides are known to weaken, disorient and kill honeybees. The Guardian sums up many of the issues related to neonicotinoids and the demise of bees.
Last year millions of Greenpeace supporters and concerned citizens spoke up for the bees in Europe. The European Union took quick action and suspended the use of neonicotinoids pesticides for two years so further studies could be done.
In the US, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has refused to ban these pesticides. In fact, they recently approved a new pesticide called sulfoxaflor,( from Dow Chemical) which their own research showed was “highly toxic” to bees. Neonicotinoid pesticides can be found on many home garden plants and in lawn and garden pesticides sold at stores with no warning to consumers.
Bees pollinate about 2/3 of our world food production and we are adding to their demise in our gardens and our food production systems.
Butterflies in Jeopardy
The news about butterflies hasn’t been as prolific but is equally profound. A Washington Post article highlights the numbers in Mexico where Monarchs have spent their winter migration for thousands of years. The article notes “In the 20 years since environmentalists began keeping detailed records of the monarch’s winter habitats, the butterflies have covered as much as 45 acres of forest in the Mexican state of Michoacán… the most recent winter count showed how far the migrating monarch population has fallen: As of December, they blanketed just 1.6 acres of forest, the smallest area yet.”
The demise of the Monarch is again complex and includes climate change and loss of habitat. The biggest culprit identified, once again, is industrial chemical agricultural practices. In the United States and Canada, herbicides have destroyed the milkweed plants where they lay their eggs. The use of the herbicide glyphosate (the active ingredient in Monsanto’s best-selling product, Roundup) on genetically engineered (GE) corn and soybeans has decimated milkweed plants in North America. I remember abundant Milkweed plants flourishing in Iowa as a girl. But now that almost all the corn and soybean varieties are engineered to withstand heavy applications of glyphosate the milkweed has little chance of survival. Researchers tell us that the number of milkweeds in Iowa corn and soybean fields has decreased by 98.7% between 1999 and 2012. Do we choose Monsanto or Monarchs?
Can these beauties be saved from the beast of Industrial Agriculture?
The Center for Food Safety thinks there is plenty to be done! You can help by signing their petition to the EPA, USDA and President Obama. Tell your elected officials it’s time to stop approving pesticide-promoting crops. The Center for Food Safety will be working with Members of Congress to introduce legislation to preserve and restore milkweed and protect the iconic Monarchs. You can read more in their blog: “New report shows record decline in Monarch Butterflies: Monsanto a major culprit”
Last year the Center for Food Safety filed a legal brief on behalf of numerous environmental, consumer and sustainable agriculture organizations in support of a lawsuit by the nation’s major beekeeping associations against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Greenpeace has a petition you can sign that demands the EPA ban the toxic new pesticide sulfoxaflor brought to us by Dow Chemical.
Pesticide Action Network has some enlightening information on pollinator decline. Their article describes the problem in depth and exposes the real culprit, which is industry funded research that often influences the decisions of the EPA. The UNFI Foundation just recently made a grant to PAN to support science, education and sustainable farming practices that protect bees.
Bees and butterflies are key indicators that something has gone deeply awry in our agricultural system. It is likely that their decline points to broader environmental degradation that will produce a ripple effect of environmental problems. The beast of chemical agricultural is threatening more than these beauties. It threatens the very food, water and soil we depend on. Decisive action is needed if we are to reverse these trends. How will you save the beauty from the beast?
For further reading on this subject reference my past blogs Goodbye Butterfly: Adios Mariposa and Holy honeybees! Where have all my almonds gone?
6 thoughts on “Beauty and the Beast; and the Dow Chemical/Monsanto Feast!”
Melody—I have written you before on the subject of CCD and shallow bee genetics contribution to the problem. This is a conversation I have had recently with the head of Armstrong Garden Centers, a very large retailer in CA and expanding to the Southeast. Their usage of neonics at their growing grounds as a soil drench and not disclosing this persistent poison to their customers is egregious in the extreme. There are links below to recent research finding on these chemical treatments and the very troubling revelations about toxicity of so-called “inert ingredients” to the developing brood of pollinators (baby bees) and interactions between various chemicals that are NOT tested for by pesticide manufacturers before introduction. This is very important information for the understanding of public and policymakers.
Susan Rudnicki, Manhattan Beach CA
HI, Mr Jones—-
Yes, it is a well known fact in the beekeeping world that CCD is a multiheaded Hydra of a problem. That is one of the problems with the research and the media messages—including Armstrong’s messaging—they keep saying they don’t know “what” is causing CCD. It is disingenuous in the extreme to try to pretend that the 60,000 new chemicals that have flooded the agricultural and homeowner markets since the end of World War 2 have little to do with the decline in all sorts of organisms, such as fish, amphibians, arthropods, soil microbes, birds, and mammals. The synergenistic effects of almost ALL of these chemicals, representing the ACTUAL experience of organisms in the environment (including humans) is rarely tested for when determining toxicological effects. The fact that our Federal agency, the EPA, should award the exclusive contract for investigating the effects of neonics to the very company making huge profits from that class of chemicals, is illustrative of the corruption of the independent research initiative.
Just to address one thing in your policy—your research information is flawed if it is failing to explain that systemics (soil drenches of imidicloprid and the like) do not transfer the active ingredient to the pollen, nectar, and water exudate that often is collected by foraging bees from plants as a source of water for use in the hive.
The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation has researched and documented this angle of neonicotinoid usage and the group has no ax to grind for profit motives. Please read this file—-
Also, below is some very troubling late research to add to your knowledge base. It goes to the heart of the inadequacies and scientific modeling that have been exploited by chemical companies and agriculture to insist there is little to worry about. In fact, the general formula that would test ONLY the adult bee response, not that of the brood, sounds very much like the same fatal flaws of toxicological research that fails to address the ill effects of hormone mimickers, fire retardants, plastics, coatings, paints and a plethora of other background chemicals encountered by children and their developing immune, neurological, and hormone systems.
This ezine is also available online at http://home.ezezine.com/1636/1636-2014.01.28.08.18.archive.html
CATCH THE BUZZ
Miticides, Ag Chems and Inert Ingredients A Deadly Mix In A Beehive.
Disturbing new research finds four pesticides commonly used to kill mites, insects and fungi – fluvalinate, coumaphos, chlorothalonil and chlorpyrifos – are also killing honey bee larvae within their hives.
A team from Penn State and University of Florida also found that N-methyl-2-pyrrolidone (NMP) – an inert, or inactive, chemical commonly used as a pesticide additive — is highly toxic to honey bee larvae.
“We found that four of the pesticides most commonly found in beehives kill bee larvae,” says Penn State’s Jim Frazier. “We also found that the negative effects of these pesticides are sometimes greater when the pesticides occur in combinations within the hive.
“Since pesticide safety is judged almost entirely on adult honey bee sensitivity to individual pesticides and also does not consider mixtures of pesticides, the risk assessment process that the Environmental Protection Agency uses should be changed.”
The research was funded by the National Honey Board, the U.S. Department of Agriculture-National Institute of Food and Agriculture-Agriculture and Food Research Initiative-Coordinated Agricultural Projects and the Foundational Award programs. Frazier says the team’s previous research demonstrated that forager bees bring back to the hive an average of six different pesticides on the pollen they collect. Nurse bees use this pollen to make beebread, which they then feed to honey bee larvae.
To examine the effects of four common pesticides – fluvalinate, coumaphos, chlorothalonil and chlorpyrifos – on bee larvae, the researchers reared honey bee larvae in their laboratory. They then applied the pesticides alone and in all combinations to the beebread to determine whether these insecticides and fungicides act alone or in concert to create a toxic environment for honey bee growth and development.
The researchers also investigated the effects of NMP on honey bee larvae by adding seven concentrations of the chemical to a pollen-derived, royal jelly diet. NMP is used to dissolve pesticides into formulations that then allow the active ingredients to spread and penetrate the plant or animal surfaces onto which they are applied.
The team fed their treated diet, containing various types and concentrations of chemicals, to the laboratory-raised bee larvae.
“We found that mixtures of pesticides can have greater consequences for larval toxicity than one would expect from individual pesticides,” Frazier says.
Among the four pesticides, honey bee larvae were most sensitive to chlorothalonil. They also were negatively affected by a mixture of chlorothalonil with fluvalinate. In addition, the larvae were sensitive to the combination of chlorothalonil with the miticide coumaphos.
In contrast, the addition of coumaphos significantly reduced the toxicity of the fluvalinate and chlorothalonil mixture.
Penn State professor of entomology Chris Mullin says the pesticides may directly poison honey bee larvae or they may indirectly kill them by disrupting the beneficial fungi that are essential for nurse bees to process pollen into beebread.
“Chronic exposure to pesticides during the early life stage of honey bees may contribute to their inadequate nutrition or direct poisoning with a resulting impact on their survival and development,” he says.
The researchers note that fluvalinate and coumaphos are commonly used by beekeepers in their hives to control Varroa mites, and are found to persist within beehives for about five years if not removed by beekeepers.
Chlorothalonil is a broad-spectrum agricultural fungicide that is often applied to crops in bloom when honey bees are present for pollination because it is currently deemed safe to bees. Chlorpyrifos is a widely used organophosphate in crop management.
“Our findings suggest that the common pesticides chlorothalonil, fluvalinate, coumaphos and chlorpyrifos, individually or in mixtures, have statistically significant impacts on honey bee larval survivorship,” Mullin says.
“This is the first study to report serious toxic effects on developing honey bee larvae of dietary pesticides at concentrations that currently occur in hives.”
The team also found that increasing amounts of NMP corresponded to increased larval mortality, even at the lowest concentration tested.
“There is a growing body of research that has reported a wide range of adverse effects of inactive ingredients to human health, including enhancing pesticide toxicities across the nervous, cardiovascular, respiratory and hormone systems,” Mullin says.
“The bulk of synthetic organic chemicals used and released into U.S. environments are formulation ingredients like NMP, which are generally recognized as safe. They have no mandated limits on their use and their residues remain unmonitored.
“Multi-billion pounds of these inactive ingredients overwhelm the total chemical burden from the active pesticide, drug and personal-care ingredients with which they are formulated. Among these co-formulants are surfactants and solvents of known high toxicity to fish, amphibians, honey bees and other non-target organisms. While we have found that NMP contributes to honey bee larvae mortality, the overall role of these inactive ingredients in pollinator decline remains to be determined.”
The entire concept of the “generally recognized as safe” is a grab-bag of grandfathered in give aways to the chemical companies by our United States Congress. There is a dark and corrupt history to that issue that I won’t go into here, as it is very involved, but it amounts to the chemical industry not having to PROVE their products cause no harm BEFORE introduction, but the burden of the proof lies with injured parties later down the road having to prove they have been harmed—a much more difficult and expensive proposition.
As you may guess, your letter does not bring me much comfort. This sentence—“supply home gardeners with the products needed to be successful.” —-begs the observation— in a pursuit that is inextricably tied to the abundance, diversity, and intricacy of Nature—the notion of “successful” being a perfect, blemish free, controlled Nature is inherently hypocritical. So many organisms—birds, reptiles, mammals, other arthropods— rely on the very “bugs” that “success” seeks to annihilate and commerce is so avid to encourage the public to want such a situation. I had to laugh ruefully at the little mechanical butterfly toy, going in circles ’round a potted plant at the checkout counter in the Torrance store. That is just the sort of ‘acceptable’ insect that we may be left with if we keep on the trajectory we have been treading the last few decades.
I hope you pass this information on to the rest of the group. If you are only a businessman, you may not be able to process the biological significance of what I am writing you. These issues are technically arcane but the fact remains, only the blind insist we are not messing with fundamental processes we barely understand.
Sincerely, Susan Rudnicki, beekeeper and gardener, Manhattan Beach CA
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