(Beyond Pesticides, October 28, 2011) St. Louis-based chemical and seed giant Monsanto Co. has purchased a company called Beeologics, which has developed a product intended to counteract viral agents that plague honey bee colonies in an attempt to stem the effects of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). However, advocates wonder whether the antiviral agent will result in any significant decline of CCD when bees around the country and across the world continue to be exposed to highly toxic pesticides that are known to have serious effects on a range of pollinators, including honey bees.
Beeologics was founded in 2007 and is headquartered in both Florida and Israel. The company’s antiviral agent, called Remembee, is designed to fight a virus that is commonly thought to be a contributing factor to CCD. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Monsanto spokesperson Kelly Powers said that, “I don’t need to tell you how important bees are to farmers who rely on pollination, and Remembee has great promise, pending approvals.” The product is currently being reviewed for potential commercial sale by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Efforts to counteract CCD are commendable, as a range of factors, including viruses as well as colony invaders such as the Varroa mite, are thought to contribute to CCD. However, doubt remains as to whether Monsanto recognizes the significant role that agricultural chemicals, especially pesticides, have on bee colonies.
CCD has devastated bees and beekeepers around the country in recent years, a phenomenon that that many scientists have tied to the use of the systemic neonicotinoid insecticides widely used in agriculture and gardens. Over the past five years, since the discovery of CCD, annual winter colony losses have hovered near the 30% mark. A report released jointly by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and the Apiary Inspectors of America (AIA) shows that losses of honey bee populations over the 2010/2011 winter remained abnormally high. According to the survey, 30% of managed honey bee colonies across the country were lost over last winter. The United Nations (UN) also revealed in a report that the collapse of honey bee colonies is now a global phenomenon.
Some European and U.S. scientists postulate that losses of biodiversity and food resources, due to climate change, have intensified the problem. Others believe that a rise in single-crop farming and modification of landscapes, as well as pathogens causing diseases like foulbrood and varroasis are responsible for the problem. While CCD appears to have multiple interacting causes, a range of evidence points to sub-lethal pesticide exposures and pathogens as important contributing factors.
Neonicotinoids, the particularly suspect class of insecticides, especially in combination with the dozens of other pesticides, have been found in honey bee hives and the use of chemicals in agriculture has been found to damage bees by weakening their immune systems. Laboratory studies show that some insecticides and fungicides can act together to be 1,000 times more toxic to bees. They can also affect the sense of direction, memory and brain metabolism, and herbicides and pesticides may reduce the availability of plants bees need for food and for the larval stages of some pollinators.
In December 2010, after the discovery of a leaked memo from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) citing flawed and missing scientific data regarding the registration of the neonicotinoid pesticide clothianidin, Beyond Pesticides, along with beekeepers and other environmentalists, called on EPA to remove clothianidin from the market. EPA responded by defending clothianidin and the agency’s pesticide review process, saying that they “are not aware of any data that reasonably demonstrates that bee colonies are subject to elevated losses due to chronic exposure to this pesticide.” However, the emerging science finds that pesticides like clothianidin and others mentioned above do in fact harm bees. See Beyond Pesticides’ factsheet on the connection between clothianidin and CCD.
For more information, on honeybees and pesticides visit Beyond Pesticides’ Pollinators and Pesticides page.
Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.