As an expert in his field, Arroyo Grande beekeeper David Maislen can explain the bee crisis known as Colony Collapse Disorder far better than I can. So here he is, in his own words. Thank you , David, and thank you Tribune for running the article two weeks ago.
I’m a beekeeper. I’ve been keeping bees since 1996, first in Southern California and then in Arroyo Grande since we moved here in 2003.
I started losing bees to colony collapse disorder in 2006, lost all of my hives in 2007 and 2008 and have experienced smaller losses in 2009 and 2010. I have carefully read all that I can about colony collapse disorder, followed the research being done worldwide and I think I’m finally getting a practical handle on it.
The light went on when I saw the DVD “Nicotine Bees,” directed by Kevin Hansen. The Bayer Chemical Co., headquartered in Germany, started producing a group of synthetic nicotine-based pesticides called neonicotinoids in 2004. The most popular trade name is imidacloprid.
These pesticides are used to coat seeds when planted in the ground to protect the seeds from insects. They are also used in systemic pesticides and things like Ortho Rose Food. (If you read the fine print, the box lists Bayer Chemical Co. as the source of their systemic pesticide.)
There are many things that bees fight in our environment: diseases, mites, beetles, ants and wax moths. However, the biggest threat to bees is pesticides used by farmers and homeowners alike. They are sold in big box and farm supply stores. People don’t even think about how they will impact the environment, they just don’t want aphids on their roses, insects in their lawns or pests in a field of broccoli or lettuce.
These pesticides have been banned in 26 countries in Europe. They were already banned in six countries when the Environmental Protection Agency approved this class of chemicals for use in the United States. The EPA is not protecting our bees. It is being heavily lobbied by commercial farming interests and pesticide manufacturers making these chemicals.
How did I come to this conclusion, despite scientists not being able to figure out the cause of colony collapse disorder? About three years ago, Jerry Rutiz started selling my honey on his organic farm. He had a need for bees and I placed a hive there. It was doing so well that I added a second hive, and I will soon add a third.
During this same time, I kept losing bees at my apiary. Rutiz farms 60 acres, so the bees have plenty to forage on without going off property. I only have five acres, so my bees forage as far as three miles away and bring pollen and nectar back to the hive from all around my apiary.
The bees on the Rutiz farm aren’t exposed to anything toxic as long as they stay on his farm. I use no chemicals and am organic in the apiary, but can’t control what goes on around my property.
Scientific research has shown that very small amounts of pesticides will kill larvae when they are fed pollen that has come from a systemically treated plant. There is no doubt that these nicotine-based pesticides are deadly to bees.
It seems pretty clear to me that colony collapse disorder is primarily caused by nicotine-based pesticides being brought back to the hive. Since bees are responsible for the production of one-third of what we eat, we need to be better protectors of them.
Each of us can avoid using pesticides, especially ones that include nicotine-based chemicals. Read the label before you buy. Write the EPA and your Congress members. If we don’t take a more responsible attitude toward what pesticides we use, we’ll wonder where the food went when all of the bees are gone. Visit www.nrdc.org/action and see what you can do.
David Maislen has been a beekeeper since 1996 and has lived in Arroyo Grande since 2003.
Cotton growers typically use many of the most hazardous pesticides on the market including aldicarb, phorate, methamidophos and endosulfan. Cotton pesticides are often broad spectrum organophosphates–pesticides originally developed as toxic nerve agents during World War II–and carbamate pesticides. (from the Pesticide Action Network)
Five of the top nine pesticides used on cotton in the U.S. (cyanide, dicofol, naled, propargite, and trifluralin) are KNOWN cancer-causing chemicals. All nine are classified by the U.S. EPA as Category I and II— the most dangerous chemicals.
In the U.S. today, it takes approximately 8-10 years, and $100 million to develop a new pesticide for use on cotton. It takes approximately 5-6 years for weevils and other pests to develop an immunity to a new pesticide.
600,408 tons of herbicides, insecticides, fertilizers, fungicides, and other chemicals were used to produce cotton in 1992 in the 6 largest cotton producing states. (Agricultural Chemical Usage, 1992 Field Crops Summary, USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service)
Number of pesticides presently on the market that were registered before being tested to determine if they caused cancer, birth defects or wildlife toxicity: 400. (US EPA Pesticide Registration Progress Report, 1/93)
Amount of time it takes to ban a pesticide in the U.S. using present procedures: 10 years. (US EPA Pesticide Registration Progress Report, 1/93)
Number of active ingredients in pesticides found to cause cancer in animals or humans: 107.(After Silent Spring, NRDC, 6/93)
Of those active ingredients, the number still in use today: 83.(After Silent Spring, NRDC, 6/93)
Number of pesticides that are reproductive toxins according to the California E.P.A.: 15. (After Silent Spring, NRDC, 6/93)
Most acutely toxic pesticide registered by the E.P.A.: aldicarb (frequently used on cotton). (After Silent Spring, NRDC, 6/93)
Number of states in which aldicarb has been detected in the groundwater: 16. (After Silent Spring, NRDC, 6/93)
Percentage of all U.S. counties containing groundwater susceptible to contamination from agricultural pesticides and fertilizers: 46%. (After Silent Spring, NRDC, 6/93)
The Sustainable Cotton Project estimates that the average acre of California cotton grown in 1995 received some 300 pounds of synthetic fertilizers or 1/3 pound of fertilizer to raise every pound of cotton. Synthetic fertilizers have been found to contaminate drinking wells in farm communities and pose other long-term threats to farm land.
One of the commonly used pesticides on cotton throughout the world, endosulfan, leached from cotton fields into a creek in Lawrence County, Alabama during heavy rains in 1995. Within days 245,000 fish were killed over 16 mile stretch. 142,000 pounds of endosulfan were used in California in 1994.
In California’s San Joaquin Valley, estimates are that less than 25% of a pesticide sprayed from a crop duster ever hits the crop. The remainder can drift for several miles, coming to rest on fruit and vegetable crops, and farm- workers. One year more than one hundred workers fell ill after a single incident of such drift onto an adjacent vineyard.
In California, it has become illegal to feed the leaves, stems, and short fibers of cotton known as ‘gin trash’ to livestock, because of the concentrated levels of pesticide residue. Instead, this gin trash is used to make furniture, mattresses, tampons, swabs, and cotton balls. The average American woman will use 11,000 tampons or sanitary pads during her lifetime.
The problems with clothing production don’t stop in the field. During the conversion of conventional cotton into clothing, numerous toxic chemicals are added at each stage— silicone waxes, harsh petroleum scours, softeners, heavy metals, flame and soil retardants, ammonia, and formaldehyde— to name just a few.
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