Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The EPA Takes A Small Step To Protect Honey Bees - Should They Do More? Here's What You Can Do!

A local honeybee enjoys a calendula in my organic garden.

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Colony Collapse Disorder
Colony collapse disorder (CCD) describes the drastic decline of honey bees.  Although honeybee populations have had mysterious declines throughout history, recent dramatic declines have been alarming. Between 2012 and 2013, U.S. beekeepers lost 45 percent of their colonies. Scientists fear that this could lead to widespread crop failure in the very near future.

Why you should Care about the Honey Bees
I must admit, I didn't think much about honeybees while growing up in New York City. Most city people classify insects as annoying "bugs". Now that we living in a farming community, my views have certainly changed. But bee populations effect everyone. They are responsible for pollinating $15 billion dollars of crops - about one third of the food we eat, like certain berries, fruits, tree nuts, and vegetables.

Here's an example. Did you ever wonder why almonds are so expensive? Well, they are completely dependent on honeybees for pollination. In fact they use 60 percent of all managed honey bee colonies in the United States or 1.4 million colonies of honeybees! Colony collapse disorder has severely affected the almond industry. So if you enjoy eating almonds, putting almond milk on your cereal, or eating almond butter sandwiches, you should care about honey bees.
Other crops that require honeybee pollination include apples, oranges, lemons, limes, broccoli, onions, blueberries, cherries, cranberries, cucumbers, cantaloupes, carrots, and avocados, to name just a few.

Almonds are completely dependent on
 honey bees for pollination.

What Causes Colony Collapse Disorder?
Although no one is exactly sure what is causing CCD, the main culprits, according to the USDA,  are:
* Pathogens: Several pathogens have been linked to CCD. Nosema (a gut fungi) and Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus are two candidates although no one single pathogen has been found to cause the majority of CCD incidents.

* Parasites: Varroa mites have been identified in many of the affected honeybee colonies. It is not known if these mites contribute to CCD or if they are merely acting as a carrier of a pathogen.

* Management stressors: Yes, bees can be stressed out too! Because of local scarcity, bees are transported to locations throughout the country to pollinate crops. This, in addition to apiary overcrowding, creates stress for the bees.

* Environmental stressors: These can include poor nutrition due to the scarcity or lack of diversity of nectar and pollen and limited access to good, uncontaminated water. But the big spotlight, most recently, has been on their exposure to insecticides.

Insecticides - A Big Problem!
One particular class of pesticides, neonicotinoids, which include chothianidin, thiamethoxam, and imidacloprid, have been accused of causing CCD. More than 30 separate scientific studies linking neonicotinoids to falling bee populations prompted the European union to vote to ban the use of these pesticides.

Recently in a Portland suburb, the Daily Beast reported that more than 50,000 bumblebees died in a Target parking lot after being exposed to trees that were treated with neonicotinoids. Unlike the EU, the EPA took a much smaller action to address the toxic effect of these chemicals on bees.

Are you Kidding Me?
Rather than banning these pesticides, the EPA has developed new labels to warn users that some pesticides may kill honeybees (can you hear me yawning?) Yes, we know how few people read labels and, even if they did, wouldn't hesitate to use a product that they've grown familiar with just because it says that it "can kill bees and other insect pollinators." If they cared that much, they would already have an organic garden and wouldn't think of using these toxic chemicals to grow their food.

What you Can Do!

Representative Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and Representative John Conyers of Detroit introduced  a bill to put a temporary ban on all suspect insecticides until the EPA thoroughly understands pesticides' true effect on pollinators. It's no surprise that the GMO manufacturers (whose seeds were develop to withstand these toxic chemicals) are against this measure. And I'm sure the chemical companies who manufacture the pesticides are lining up.

Earl Blumenauer and John Conyers asks that everyone contact their representative and encourage them to include the "Save America's pollinators Act"  in the Farm Bill.

Help save me!
Contact your representative now!

More to be Aware of when you Shop for Plants
Are you shopping for bee-friendly plants like sunflowers for your garden? A report from the Earth and the Pesticide Research Institute claims that some garden plants sold at Home Depot, Lowe's, and other garden centers have already been pre-treated with these bee-killing pesticides! 

Products to Avoid
Here's a list of products that contain neonicotinoids. To avoid killing bees, the Center for Food Safety recommends you avoid these common home and garden products.

Is Organic Farming the Answer?
It's difficult to farm organically. I know that firsthand. My husband and I are one of the very few organic vineyards in Sonoma county (only 3 percent of the roughly 1,800 vineyards in Sonoma county are organic). It's a constant struggle fighting weeds, mildew and other problems that arise. Organic solutions to these issues are also more expensive. But in the end, it's worth it. Even though wine grapes don't require pollination, our land is just buzzing with bees! They like it here. They know our flowers and vegetable gardens are safe to buzz around because they are free of these horrible chemicals. 

So when you are selecting seeds or plants for your garden or buying fruits and vegetables in the store, select organic when you can. It encourages organic agricultural practices which is not only good for your health and the health of the planet, but it's good for the bees!

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