Monday, July 29, 2013

It’s Complicated

In my last post I wrote about pesticides and I noted that certain types are considered especially dangerous, but that all types should be viewed with great caution. A few days ago, a small wave of articles about bee death reinforced that point. 

The bee population has been declining rapidly over the past years. An article in Science World Report notes that beekeepers lost 31 percent of their colonies in late 2012 and early 2013. Scientists have been working hard to understand what's causing the decline because bees are an integral part of the food production cycle and if they're not available in large enough numbers to pollinate crops, results could be disastrous. Currently, it takes 60% of the country's bee population to pollinate California's almond crop alone.

In the most recent studyresearchers fed pollen from seven types of crops to healthy bees, which caused them to experience a significant decline in their ability to fight off a particular parasite. The pollen was found to be highly contaminated with agricultural products, with 35 different pesticides detected. On average, the samples were found to contain nine different pesticides and fungicides each, with one sample containing 21.Scientists were able to identify eight chemicals that were associated with increased risk of parasite infection in the bees.

The research makes several significant points:

  • Fungicides, which are designed to kill fungus rather than insects, were thought to be harmless to bees. The study found, however, that bees fed pollen contaminated with fungicides were three times more likely to be infected by the parasite.

  • Weeds and wildflowers, from which some bees collect pollen, were found to be contaminated with pesticides despite the fact that they were not directly sprayed.

  • A class of pesticides called neonicotinoids has been linked to bee deaths, but the new research shows that banning those chemicals is unlikely to solve the problem without additional steps. In an article entitled Scientists Discover What's Killing the Bees and It's Worse Than You Thoughta researcher is quoted as saying that  “The pesticide issue in itself is much more complex than we have led to believe. It’s a lot more complicated than just one product, which means of course the solution does not lie in just banning one class of product.”

Hopefully, the study's results will lead to some significant changes in the types and amounts of pesticides currently used. As I've said many times, however, none of us must wait for government action before making changes in our own use of pesticide products. Seemingly small decisions really can make a difference to the health of those who apply the chemicals and all who come in contact with them, whether they be of the honeybee or human variety.

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