Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Dan Rather: Bee Aware -- More bee deaths and collapses of colonies

There have been numerous reports, including on our program, Dan Rather Reports, about the decline of the honeybee. They've been dying off in huge numbers. The cause has been lumped under a title called "Colony Collapse Disorder" or CCD. But now scientists are telling us the danger is worse than they feared.

We were researching an update on how honey bees were faring after years of unexplained colony deaths. Beekeepers are now losing an average of 30-50% of their hives each year from all kinds of symptoms. But our investigations found evidence that has led all the way back to the people who regulate our country's pesticide program at the Environmental Protection Agency.

OK, so we all like honey, but why should we care exactly? To paraphrase scientists: the entire food chain is at risk. One in three bites of food we eat is directly dependent on insect pollination: apples, cucumbers, pumpkins, avocado, almonds, zucchini and blueberries to name a few. And it's not just here in the United States. With losses being reported from all over Europe, the Middle East and some parts of Asia, the worldwide economic value of pollinators to agriculture, estimated to be over $200 billion dollars, is in the balance.

So what's going on? One of the suspects, according to beekeepers and scientists, is relatively new on the market. Remember these words: systemic pesticides. Systemics work differently than any other pesticide. These chemicals, derived from nicotine, are called neonicotinoids. How they got onto the market illustrates, according to several scientists we spoke to both inside and outside the EPA, the real deficiencies of pesticide regulation in this country, and the questionable role of industry in these decisions.

Systemic pesticides have changed the game of insect control since they were introduced in the mid-90s. They have since become the fastest growing class of any insecticide in history, and among the most widely used in the world, now approved for use on three quarters of all U.S. farmland.