Friday, December 16, 2011

The Dying of the Bees

The greatest happiness of my translation work is the successful communication between two parties who have important information to share.

Here in the U.S., I had the pleasure to assist Dr. Lawrence DuBose - known locally as the Bee Man or Dr. Du Bees - in communicating with a French beekeeper whom I had met by chance in the south of France this past September. Dr. DuBose had long been seeking confirmation of the beekeeping situation in France, in support of his theories on threats to bees around the world. Honey bees perform essential, life sustaining work on the planet. Napolean chose the bee as the industrious symbol of his empire.

With Dr. Du Bose' permission, I have attached the paper he recently completed and which he hopes to circulate at an upcoming convention in Las Vegas. I hope you will find his message as deeply compelling as I have.

By Dr. Lawrence DuBose, Ph.D. Retired
November 2011

Beekeepers must become aggressive in finding positive answers why their bees continue to be killed. Another research grant, with more input by beekeepers, is needed to identify what is killing our honey bees. The random list of possibilities presented by university studies funded by chemical companies is not acceptable.

Since 1979, 1 have been associated with beekeeping continuously. In my youth, I had my first hive at age 13; overall I have been associated with beekeeping for more than 40 years. Excluding winter losses, all ten of my hives were lost at two locations in Southern Illinois when either a pesticide or a herbicide was used near the bee hives. Two neighbors also lost their colonies at the same time.

At Kline Creek Farm in DuPage County, Illinois I have had bees die five times in the last three years during the months of September and October. I realize that bees may die for multiple reasons but during these months it was certainly not diet nor travel stress.


1. The American Beekeeping Federation must be prompt in responding to misleading articles, reports, and studies.
2. The ABF must demand unbiased studies of the possible impact of pesticides on birth defects. Some believe ADHD, autism, asthma, and other children's ailments have increased with the use of pesticides which are sprayed on our food as it is growing.
3. The ABF must push for a study of gardening chemicals and their possible relationship to Parkinson's Disease.
4. The incident of cancer by golf course managers is greater than those not so employed, according to the book A Spring without Bees. ABF should request further investigation on this matter.
5. Beekeeping programs should facilitate communications and recording of information about beekeepers who have suffered large colony losses.
6. U.S. beekeepers should follow the lead of France and the United Kingdom by sending petitions to our representatives in Washington, D.C. We must become more vocal.
7. Pesticides are blamed for killing small pets. Is that not a clue that our children playing on the same treated grass are at risk? Soccer parents in New England successfully banned certain pesticides from use on their children's playing fields. The same concerns should be echoed in Illinois, Texas, California, and other states. Emphasis should be placed upon adhering to guidelines such as those of Midwest Ecological Landscaping Association.


A person reviewing early beekeeping literature - Langstroth’s Hive and the Honey Bee
by Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth (1810-1895), and Fifty Years Among the Bees by Dr. C. C. Miller (1830-1920) - will find no mention of pesticides killing bees. In the 1930s, there were two professional beekeepers in my hometown of Falfurrias, Texas. I once helped Mr. Richardson take off supers of honey and was involved in extracting honey in Mr. Bowen's honey house. Neither beekeeper lost bees to pesticides in the 1930s.

One of my uncles had started keeping bees before 1920 and had 40 hives in 1930. After he sprayed his cotton crop in 1934, he had boxes with dead bees. I had taken two of my bee hives to another uncle's farm in hopes of getting some clover honey. He sprayed a crop with an insecticide, and I had two boxes of dead bees. A third uncle kept bees in the small town of Pharr, Texas in the Rio Grande Valley. His bees were in an urban area where pesticides were not used and his bees survived.

Keeping bees in the 1930s was quite simple. I never fed nor medicated my bees. The brood foundation was never changed. Re-queening was taken care of by the bees. In 1950, the remaining four hives were still producing honey. At that time, the main problems for the beekeeper were the foulbrood disease and wax moths that would generally kill weak hives.

Concerns about pesticides killing bees were developing in the 1930s. The April 1935 issue of National Geographic Magazine pointed out that with the tractor replacing the horse, forests being cut down and wetlands being drained, more land was being farmed. These factors would result in more insects; consequently more insecticides were being used, and these new chemicals made no distinction between harmful and beneficial insects.

With the United States preparing for World War II, war materials took priority over agricultural chemicals. With fewer pesticides and more demand for honey because of a sugar shortage, the number of bee hives in the U.S. reached almost six million in 1946 - an all-time high. After WWII ended, more agricultural pesticides were produced and the bee colony population began to decline.

In the USDA Handbook 335 - first issued in 1967 - this statement was made: "One of the major problems faced by beekeepers in the United States and other major countries with highly developed agriculture is the poisoning of bees by pesticides."

The American Bee Journal of December 1976 told of 2,500 colonies being lost near Lewiston, Idaho because of pesticides. Then in May 1977, the same magazine told of 5,000 colonies being lost in Kerr County, California from aerial spraying of crops. The killing of bees from pesticides was considered normal at that time and routinely accepted and reported. We did not have university researchers telling us pesticides were not killing bees.

During the period 1967 to 1978, there was a honey bee subsidy program where a beekeeper could receive $20 for colonies killed by approved pesticides. Now, we spend billions of dollars to subsidize corn, wheat and many other crops but not on colonies being killed.

With many concerns about the new chemicals in the marketplace, the Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) was formed in 1970, and the law was amended in 1972. The primary purpose of the EPA was to regulate pesticides and other chemicals " insure that these products do not pose adverse effects on humans and the environment." According to "Pesticides" from Wikipedia, "Complex and costly studies must be conducted to indicate whether the material is safe for use and effective against the intended pest."

In 1988, the Bayer Chemical Company patented new pesticides with a nicotine base.
These new pesticides were advertised as affecting the nervous system of a termite, thus making it unable to find its way home. The honey bee is an insect, and there are those who say it is also having a problem finding its way home.

Imidacloprid (IMD) is now the most widely used of the new neonicotinoid pesticides and has many negative properties, such as:
• Killing small birds and fish and causing eggshell thinning and lower egg production
• Causing health problems with laboratory test animals
• Polluting streams and the groundwater
• Killing many thousands of bee colonies


France was the first country to experience problems with the pesticide IMD. In the 1990s, the French beekeepers observed bees dying shortly after the sunflowers bloomed. One year, the sunflowers bloomed two weeks later than usual; the bees also died two weeks later. Some of the Frenchmen were intuitive enough to believe that there was a relationship between the dying of the bees and the use of IMD. Tests performed using very small amounts of IMD confirmed their suspicions. Bayer performed tests using large amounts of the pesticide and claimed the French were wrong. The French claimed the bees were repelled by the larger dosages of the pesticide and stayed away from the blossoms. This may be something like a non-drinker refusing whiskey on the rocks but enjoying a smooth cocktail. The French did ban the pesticide and were followed by Slovenia, Italy, and Germany. The Cooperative in the United Kingdom, which manages 96 square miles of farmland, banned all eight of the neonicotinoids.

Some researchers in the United States have pointed out that the French bees "... did not come back..." after IMD had been banned. There may be several reasons for this alleged possibility. First, the stocks of IMD in France were permitted to be used. Then, Fipronil, another neonicotinoid, was permitted to be used before it was banned. IMD was found to be more persistent in the soil than had been claimed by Bayer. An even bigger concern was the fact that the pesticide had the ability to break down in the environment, combine with another chemical, and produce a product many times more toxic than the original pesticide.

Beekeepers in Paris, where pesticides are prohibited, have been producing more than 100 pounds of honey per hive. Henry Clement, President of the National Union of French Beekeeping, suggested that the higher honey production could be that beekeepers were avoiding sunflower fields where large numbers of colonies had been lost in previous years.

Concerns pertaining to the new pesticides continued in Europe. An article in Buzz About
Bees, dated January 24, 2011, announced a victory against authorization of the Syngenta pesticide - Cruise - which is a neonicotinoid thiamethoxam. In the UK, Martin Caton proposed an Early Day motion to suspend neonicotinoids, pending more exhaustive tests and the development of international methodologies for assessing long term effects of systemic pesticides on invertebrate populations.

The Urban Farm and Beehives posted the article "A Million Strong Swarm to Save the
Bees" on April 19, 2011. More than one million people, including 200,000 in France, signed an explosive petition to ban pesticides that are mass-killing bees the world over. The campaign continues!

The above references are certainly current with the dates of 2011. What was done in the United States during this period? One may be inclined to say "nothing", but that is not really true. There were many articles explaining why bees were dying - some maybe plausible, others not really. But was any conscientious research done to relate pesticides to the dying of bees? What was happening in Europe was basically either ignored or misrepresented.


According to Michael Schacker in A Spring without Bees, Imidacloprid was first used in the United States in 1997 on crops in seven states. Before the year 2006 ended, this pesticide had been used in 24 states. European experiences were ignored by the EPA, and IMD was given "temporary emergency authorization". No complex and costly testing was done.

Lobbying — $50 million — by chemical companies one year and deregulation of the chemical industry during the recent Bush administration may help explain how some of these events happened. Now, the chemical companies help decide how they are to be regulated. Once a product is given "temporary emergency authorization", removal becomes very difficult.

U.S. beekeepers began to experience losses after the new pesticides started to be used on an increasingly larger scale. Not only was their use increasing, but their toxicity also was increasing. The treatment for some genetically engineered seeds was increased from 0.25 mg/seed to 1.25 mg/seed. These seeds became available in 2004-2005. Starting about 2004, some of the commercial beekeepers began losing large percentages of their colonies. Examples would be John Miller from Blackfoot, Idaho who lost 40 percent of his 14,000 hives and David Hackenberg from Pennsylvania who lost 2,000 out of 2,900 colonies. There were many others.


Shortly after David Hackenberg reported his large losses, research papers began to appear and there were talks before Congress and the USDA, usually by university researchers. First to be blamed were cell phones - ignoring the fact that bees seemed to do well in cities where there were many cell phones and no pesticides - and Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus (IAPV) until it was discovered the virus was in the United States before Australia was accused of importing it.

Travel stress continues to be mentioned as a possible cause of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). The shipment of bees in small wire cages has been going on for more than one hundred years; it was an efficient way of moving small packages using the Postal Service until employees became abusive in the way they handled the shipments. Packages of bees are still shipped in wire cages by trucks every spring. Today, moving a colony in a Langstroth-type hive with a food supply, their mothers and sisters should be less stressful than being shipped in a wire cage. Of course, there can always be unusual weather — a blizzard or heat wave — and bees may be stressed. Usually, travel stress is presented in such a way that the reader expects the bee to do a lot of traveling. Actually, most bees will make one leg of the trip from Florida to California and then back to Florida or to North Dakota, Washington, or some other place. As David Mendes, past president of the ABF, once said, "I never had a problem transporting healthy bees."

No one questions that parasitic mites (tracheal and varroa) have killed and will continue to do so, but the mite problem was with us long before CCD was ever reported.

Some claim the disease nosema ceranae has caused CCD. A French scientist, working for the National Institute for Agronomic research in Avignon, concluded that Imidacloprid significantly weakens bees and stated, "Thus the interaction between imidacloprid and, nosema are not only responsible for an increase in the mortality rate, but also for weakening the colony." The September 2011 issue of the American Bee Journal carried an article where the researcher reversed the French conclusions and claimed nosema ceranae weakens the bee's resistance to pesticides. Apparently, this researcher was not aware of the honey bee subsidy program.
Poor nutrition also has been cited as the cause of CCD. Two different explanations have been given. One is that bees being prepared for a trip to California were fed high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) as their only food. After reaching the almond orchards, hives suddenly collapsed. However, there were hives that had never been fed HFCS, and some of these also collapsed. In order for this hypothesis to have validity, one must know the condition of the hives when feeding started. Some articles suggest that there was no other food available in the hives. Is it responsible beekeeping to remove all honey from hives before winter begins? Also, whether or not these colonies had been exposed to pesticides should be known.

Suppliers of high fructose corn syrup claimed their product was not causing problems.
One supplier explained to me, in a phone call, "We have been feeding HFCS to beekeepers for 25 years and we are not aware of problems."

Another hypothesis was published in Scientific American about two years ago. The writer blamed poor nutrition and, subsequently CCD, on mega-farming. With the sixteen row planters and cultivators, along with huge harvesting machines, that appeared on the farm scene about 40 years ago, fence rows were removed. The diversity in plants was thus eliminated. The writer seemed to have ignored the fact that, in most areas, the honey bee will travel about two miles from the hive. The area available for foraging will be major parts of 16 sections of land which may have 17 to 18 miles of roads with ditches on both sides of most roads. In these strips of land beside the road would not a person expect to find the diversity of plants missing from fence rows? One should ask, "Why did it take more than 40 years for this to happen?" Pheasants, which had been plentiful enough in Central Illinois for a hunting season, disappeared in only a few years. CCD is more likely due to pesticides than it is to mega-farming practices.

Recently, Dr. Jeff Pettis of the USDA stated that it now appears that the cause of CCD can be narrowed to diet and pathogens. Then why not conduct research in non-farm areas and see if one or more of the above can be eliminated? The 4300 registered organic beekeepers must keep bees three miles from farm land and claim no problems -except one questionable case.


Near the end of 2010, there were many headlines stating, "EPA Document Shows It
Knowingly Allowed Pesticide that Kills Bees". The document, which was leaked to a Colorado beekeeper, tells us that warnings about the use of clothianidin were ignored. The main risk of clothianidin, which is used to treat corn, is to non-target insects, especially the honey bee. Clothianidin is a neonicotinoid insecticide that is toxic on both a contact and oral basis. EPA staff were ignored.


Beekeeping is not a job for a lazy man. Work must be done on schedule, and the commercial beekeeper cannot wait for better weather, even if it means working all night in the rain. Seasonal, qualified help can be a problem. After the almond pollination season, John Miller trucks his bees to North Dakota and uses summer help from South Africa. Some "old" beekeepers retire; others have reduced their number of colonies; and others have quit as a result of expensive losses. Some children do not wish to take over their father's business. It is expensive to start a commercial bee business. Rich uncles usually have other uses for their money. Banks consider beekeeping a risky business. Those with the necessary money may find it more entertaining to watch the ponies run or spend time in Las Vegas.


Each year, the American Beekeeping Federation sponsors a Honey Queen and a Honey Princess contest. These two young ladies do a tremendous job for one year with countless appearances where they speak to thousands of people, telling them about the importance of the honey bee.

A few of the more dedicated, professional beekeepers have met with USDA personnel and some members of Congress and have even made trips to Europe. There are times when one wonders if they have been talking to deaf ears in the United States.

There are films available that tell much about the current problems of the honey bee. Films such as Nicotine Bees, Vanishing of the Bees, Queen of the Sun, COLONY- The Endangered World of Bees, and The Last Beekeeper are available. These films have been seen by only a small percentage of the beekeepers and almost none of the general public. They tell stories that everyone should be aware of. The World According to Monsanto and how they were able to get certain products approved should receive more publicity.

The film Vanishing of the Bees, produced by George Southworthy and Maryam Heifien (both English), certainly ends with a sobering statement: "When the last tree has died, the last stream poisoned, the last fish caught, then we will realize money cannot buy everything."


My hypothesis is there can be a parallel between the excessive use of tobacco and the increased use of pesticides. Some readers may be old enough to recall when the tobacco industry began an aggressive campaign in the mid 1930's to encourage women to smoke. I still remember the attractive large bill board showing grandma sitting in her rocking chair, and while reaching for a cigarette, saying, "I think I'll try one." Women did begin smoking in large numbers.

Only a few years passed before doctors began to see an increase in lung cancer, throat cancer, and other health problems they related to the use of tobacco - both directly and as "second hand smoke."

We must thank Congress for acting about 40 years ago and we can now enjoy smoke-free environments while enjoying public transportation (airplanes, trains, buses) dining in restaurants, attending meetings and theaters, and just working in an office. The October, 2011 issue of National Geographic discusses a reduction in cancer rates and makes this sobering statement:

"About a third of U.S. cancer deaths are still related to tobacco." And we still have researchers who do not blame pesticides with nicotine for killing bees?

On or about September 26, 2011, hundreds of bee colonies were wiped out in Brevard
County, Florida after an area was sprayed by helicopters for mosquitoes. The mass dying took place immediately following the spraying. Of course, the officials responsible for the spraying denied their chemicals had killed the bees. Haven't we heard this story before? "We don't know what killed the bees, but it wasn't the pesticides!"


After four unsuccessful attempts over three years, with the help of a French-English
Translator & Interpreter, I was finally able to receive a latter from a French beekeeper. On
December 5, 2011 Dominique Meglioli did write to me.

Dominique introduced himself as not only the founding Director of the magazine Volez! dedicated to aerial sports, but an amateur beekeeper with about 20 years’ experience. While discussing the mite, disease, and the Asian hornet problems, I believe the important conclusions one can draw from this letter are:

1) Colony losses in urban areas, where there is little or no use of pesticides, are about five percent.
2) Colony losses in rural areas where chemicals are used are about 30 percent.
3) A pesticide, relatively harmless by itself, produces deadly results in connection with Nosema Cernae.
4) In lobbying against the ministry in charge of regulating pesticide uses, the industrial and large farm groups are much more powerful than the beekeepers.


There are those who contend the CCD problem is no longer with us. However, bees are still dying and the same people claim the neonicotinoid pesticides are not a problem. Yet, they tell us to replace the brood foundation every two or three years and to re-queen more often. The problem has not disappeared, but there may be fewer cases as the beekeepers are more careful where their bees are kept.

Our principal concern should be what chemicals may do to people, especially young children, pets, beneficial insects, the environment, streams, and fragile ground water systems. Unfortunately, these concerns may be of secondary consideration when EPA compares the benefits of producing a few more bushels of corn or soy beans (both highly subsidized) to the killing of honey bees and other beneficial insects. ALREADY SOME HAVE DISAPPEARED!


Beekeeping and Pesticides by Lawrence A. DuBose, Ph.D. November 2011

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