Bee Disappearance: A Partial Explanation In The UK

Bee Disappearance: A Partial Explanation In The UK

The worldwide disappearance of honeybees is being blamed in part - in the UK at least - on the use of a pesticide which has been banned by the European Union.  The Telegraph is reporting that a new study by insect research charity Buglife and the Soil Association is putting the blame partly on neonicotinoids, a group of pesticides which is widely used on oilseed rape and potted plants for sale at greenhouses.

Neonicotinoids get into the cell walls of the plants themselves, and therefore are transmitted back to the hive in pollen.  Beekeepers protested  neonicotinoids in Europe, claiming that it was killing their bees.  The pesticide was then banned in the European Union, but continues to be used in Britain.

The report says that neonicotinoids "may be a significant contributing factor" in the disappearance of the bees, known more formally as Colony Collapse Disorder.  Neonicotinoids are sold in the UK under the brand names Chinook and Bayer UK 720.  

Colony Collapse Disorder was first reported in North America in 2006, and has since spread worldwide to every continent.  The specific cause is not yet known, although many researchers suspect a combination of problems may be to blame, including varroa mites, GM crops supposedly bearing pesticides in their pollen (this theory remains unsubstantiated), bee diseases, and environmental problems.  

(Interestingly, although most lay people and some media outlets blame cell phone usage, cell phone signals, cell phone towers, and other sources of supposed electromagnetic interference, there is precisely zero scientific evidence to support this theory, and ample scientific evidence discrediting it.  It seems to me that cell phones are the magic bogeyman of the new millennium, much as giant lizards were the bogeyman of the Atomic Age.)

Certainly one of the contributing factors to Colony Collapse Disorder is the modern honeybee's busy schedule.  The honeybee is responsible for pollinating most of the crops grown in the western world, and as such it has become a commodity in agricultural areas.  Bee trucks drive back and forth across the country, setting out colonies of honeybees in time for the pollination season.  After the honeybees have done their duty, the bees are picked up and shipped out to the next place where they are needed.

At the same time, due to the nature of the business travel involved in their lives, the bees are not allowed to keep the honey that they produce.  This means that over winter, when the bees would usually be eating their honey, they are instead fed an artificial mixture consisting typically of corn syrup and water.

It should be noted that Colony Collapse Disorder does not present a threat to North American wild honeybees, because there aren't any.  Interestingly enough, all of the honeybees in North America were brought here as domesticated insects.  Their usefulness in North America is limited to agricultural crops, essentially all of them.  The almond crop in California is particularly at risk, since it is pollinated exclusively by traveling honeybees.