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Evicted from the hives

 Hecho en Buenos Aires (Argentina) 18 March 2019

They may pollinate crops, make honey, produce royal jelly and bring innumerable benefits to the ecosystem through their painstaking work, but the hardworking bees are under threat. The extermination of the creatures is linked to a pesticide produced by German pharmaceutical giant Bayer. (2061 Words) - By Angeles Alemandi



Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jacky Naegelen

Something is happening to the bees in Greece, England, Germany, Portugal and Taiwan. In Chile and Uruguay as well.   And in Argentina too.   Actually, all over the world. In some parts of the globe, up to 30% of the bees are disappearing every year. Some species have already vanished, whereas for others, barely 4% of their original population remains. They're calling it "Colony Collapse Disorder". The hives are empty. The bees are leaving, with food reserves and all. Sometimes only the Queen remains. Worse still, some get disoriented and die, far away from their hives.  
At first, it was considered a mystery. Amongst the list of supposed culprits was climate
change, and even an alleged bee-killing single-celled fungus known as Nosema Ceranae. While the mystery was being unravelled, the bees continued to be swept off the face off the earth as if by magic. But there was nothing magic about it.
Recent reports released simultaneously from various academic and scientific sources assert that what is killing workers, drones and queen bees in equal measure is a kind of neurotoxin present in the pesticides used for certain crops. It destroys the insects by attacking their nervous system. For years now, the main producer of the pesticide is Bayer Crop Science, a subsidiary of the German pharmaceutical giant Bayer AG - the same one that has been drumming their slogan into us for years that Si es Bayer, es bueno (If it's Bayer, it's good).
At the end of January, The Independent revealed that the Bee Investigation Laboratory at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) had been hiding this information for almost two years. The investigation carried out by the US Laboratory questions the use of neonicotinoids, a relatively new component in insecticides which mimics the chemical properties of nicotine in order to kill the insects.
Almost simultaneously, "Wiki-bees" was published: American beekeeper Tom Theobald obtained a classified document (in the style of Wikileaks' Assange) that explained the mysterious disappearance of bees and proved that the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hid - covered-up in a deliberate manner - the damage that the Bayer pesticide clotianidina causes to the bees and the fact that it is causing their disappearance. The company saw profits of 260 million dollars in 2009 from sales of this product, assuring that it was completely safe. Phrases such as: "high risk of long-term intoxication for honey bees" or "studies of acute toxicity for bees show that clotianidina is highly toxic" are in certain passages of the confidential report.
Clotianidina , which is used for pre-treated corn seeds and provokes neurotoxic effects in the bees' brains, prevents them from orienting themselves correctly in order to return to the hive. The pesticide also happens to be used for soya, sunflower and wheat crops. On their web page, Bayer (who have already faced various trials from German beekeepers), state that its use is approved by the European Union's Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health.
Amongst all the toing and froing involved in uncovering the disappearance of the bees, an article published in November 2010 by The New York Times asserted that the mystery had been solved: according to an investigation carried out by doctor Jerry Bromenshenk and the experts at the Biological Centre in Baltimore, what was killing the bees was a mixture of viruses and bacteria. They failed to mention the pesticides or the clotianidina, nor the fact that Dr Bromenshenk had been financed in his investigations by Bayer Crop.
Beekeepers on the verge of a nervous breakdown  
Beekeepers are becoming desperate with their empty hives, and have to keep adapting to the new paradigms in the beekeeping business. Uruguayan beekeeper Daniel Campanella explains: "In their attempts to survive, some beekeepers have begun migrating. They do a season in the South in September, October, November and December, then in January they take their colonies North. It is a known fact that for a while now we have been suffering because of the brutal use of agrochemicals, brought about by the phenomenon of large-scale soya farming. In agribusiness now, anonymous companies and foreign businesses are starting to buy up land and cover huge areas due to technical advancements allowing the seeds to be sown directly using planes and helicopters. Bees are creatures of habit. When a colony is close to a crop of orange blossoms, they know when the nectar will be ready and they prepare for it. Bees were here on the planet before us, they know something about weather, climate changes…And so they prepare themselves. When the poisonous insecticide is released, it kills them. If a colony has been preparing itself for certain crops it has been watching in the area and suddenly from one day to the next all the blossoms are gone because someone has sprayed herbicide on them then, the colony becomes stressed. It is well known that it's because of the agrochemicals that the bees are disappearing, the figures are alarming," says Daniel Campanella.
Why are agrotoxins used?
Vast monocultures, as is the case with soya crops, are treated with intense, noxious agrotoxins that are applied either by covering the seeds directly with a super-combo of insecticides and fungicides, or by adding them during irrigation. The idea is to save and protect the crops from pests, without caring for anything else. "When it comes to taking measures to make sure you get the harvest and secure its export, you use everything you can. This involves the mass usage of agrotoxins to prevent or fight diseases that could attack the crops," says María Isabel Cárcamo from the Red de Acción en plaguicidas en América latina (RAP-AL), a network of organisations and individuals that oppose the indiscriminate use of pesticides.
So, to achieve large-scale production, they jeopardise ecosystems, including the bees. In their eagerness to gather pollen, the bees end up visiting infected fruit and flowers, over and over again, poisoning themselves. At the same time, the proliferation of monocultures forces the bees to consume pollen from only one kind - in the majority of cases, one deficient in nutrients - which causes problems for pollinisation. Death comes slowly, and the damage has a domino effect, since if they make it back to the hive, they also contaminate the colony. This is because neonicotinoids  are systematic: they are absorbed by every part of the plant, including the pollen and nectar sucked up by the bees.
Excuse me, have you seen a hive around here?
It is believed that the worst damage to the bees' health is caused by the neonicotinoids that attack the nervous system; it alters their memory and makes communicating difficult. The worst part is that it disorients them and that often means they cannot find the way back to the   hives. A report by the European Beekeeping Coordination published in November 2010 states that Bayer's imidacloprid - a type of neonicotinoid - is seven thousand times more toxic to bees than the DDT (a synthetic pesticide) that it replaced.
The report demands an appropriate evaluation of the risks posed by pesticides. The European Union (EU), for its part, is currently studying the effect of pesticides on bees. How is it done? Experts are measuring the extent of the damage - amongst them, employees of BASF, Bayer Crop Science, Dow Chemicals, Syngeta and other phytosanitary businesses.
Hardworking bees
Dr. Vallat, director of the World Organisation for Animal Health, declares: "Honey and royal jelly are examples of valuable foodstuffs that bees give us, but most of all we owe our abundant fruit and vegetable crops to them, since they carry out the job of pollination and increase the productivity of the crops".
This simple act of searching for nectar in one plant and carrying it to another on the hairs of its legs is vital for humanity: it fertilises the seeds that allow the plant to multiply. For example, bee pollination increases sunflower production by 40%.
Could you imagine Barry Benson, the animated bee from Bee Movie in his black and yellow stripey suit, searching desperately for his hive and not being able to find it? Doesn't it make you sad, dear readers, to think of a world without bees?
Worldwide Avaaz campaign - save the bees
More than a million people have already signed the petition started by the worldwide network of campaigns Avaaz that hopes to avert one of the most serious ecological disasters that could result in a world without bees. Through the petition, they demand that those in charge in the United States and the countries of the EU "ban with immediate effect the use of neonicotinoid pesticides until new independent scientific studies are carried out and prove that they are safe." Latin America should also take heed and join the campaign. To sign:
Alternatives and other herbs
The Latin American Network of Action on Pesticides and their Alternatives (RAP-AL) is a network of organisations and individuals who oppose the mass indiscriminate use of pesticides, creating proposals to reduce and eliminate their use. RAP-AL promotes alternatives for the development of socially just, ecologically sustainable and economically viable agriculture, which would allow places to catch up in terms of mastering their own food supply. They likewise object to genetically modified crops, as they pose a threat to health and biodiversity.
At the same time, RAP-AL raises awareness of the dangers of using pesticides on an urban and rural level, informs civil society of its negative impact, and pushes for political and legal action to erradicate pesticides and use alternatives which do not contain harmful chemicals. Instead they are based on the eco-friendly use of soils, pests and diseases and the recreation of biodiversity. With strategies adapted to each particular situation, they value traditional practices like crop rotation, the use of organic fertilisers and autoproduction of local seeds.
Albert Einstein already said it: "If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live. No more bees, no more pollination … no more men!". Bees not only produce honey; they are also a hardworking army responsible for a huge amount of work on a worldwide scale, pollinating 90% of the plants grown on Earth. Bees are essential to life on the planet: Every year they pollinate plants and crops worth more than 40 thousand million dollars. Without immediate action to save the bees, we could end up losing certain fruits, vegetables and greens, nuts and cotton.
Sidebar: What's your poison?
By Silvia Ubal
It has been scientifically proven that certain herbicides used in the process of planting monocultures are extremely toxic to bees. Such is the case with imidacloprid, fipronil, endosulfan, and cypermethrin, among others, whose use has increased substantially.
Regarding imidacloprid, German honey producers have brought Bayer - who produce this insecticide and lead the market in agritoxins - to justice. The beekeepers believe that this insecticide is responsible for the deaths of millions of bees. Right now, sales of this substance have been suspended in various European countries since it is well known it is highly toxic to bees.
Fipronil is another insecticide well known for being toxic to bees. Endosulfan is highly toxic for all types of organisms, and particularly for bees. It is dispersed by the wind, rivers and sea currents, making its way to all corners of the globe.
Cypermethrine is another dangerous insecticide, toxic for aquatic organisms and fish, and for bees. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies it as a "possible human carcinogen". The use of this insecticide is restricted and in some cases prohibited because of its toxicity. However, it continues to be used in Uruguay and Argentina. Monocultures are damaging pollination and therefore agriculture. Shrinking natural habitats, the logging industry, paper companies, and monocultures mean that the negative effects are being introduced into natural ecosystems. Cultivating species which are not attractive to - or of no use to - bees is causing the perpetual decrease in environments suitable for beekeeping.
(*) Silvia Ubal is a journalist and environmental investigator.

Originally published by Hecho en Buenos Aires ©