David and Goliath: Bees in the Balance

Honeybee in the garden corn, Goose Creek 2003

Germany has banned a family of pesticides that are blamed for the deaths of millions of honeybees. The German Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) has suspended the registration for eight pesticide seed treatment products used in rapeseed oil and sweetcorn.

The move follows reports from German beekeepers in the Baden-Württemberg region that two thirds of their bees died earlier this month following the application of a pesticide called clothianidin. link

This insecticide is a neonicitinoid previously implicated in bee die-offs and suspected as part of the Colony Collapse mystery.

Philipp Mimkes, spokesman for the German-based Coalition Against Bayer Dangers, said: “We have been pointing out the risks of neonicotinoids for almost 10 years now. This proves without a doubt that the chemicals can come into contact with bees and kill them. These pesticides shouldn’t be on the market.”

And this from the New York Times

Chris Mullin, a Pennsylvania State University professor and insect toxicologist, recently sent a set of samples to a federal laboratory in Raleigh, N.C., that will screen for 117 chemicals. Of greatest interest are the “systemic” chemicals that are able to pass through a plant’s circulatory system and move to the new leaves or the flowers, where they would come in contact with bees.

One such group of compounds is called neonicotinoids, commonly used pesticides that are used to treat corn and other seeds against pests. One of the neonicotinoids, imidacloprid, is commonly used in Europe and the United States to treat seeds, to protect residential foundations against termites and to help keep golf courses and home lawns green.

And so will it come to a showdown between l’il David, the desperate beekeepers fighting for their livelihoods, versus Goliath, the giant AgroChemical industry (Bayer and others)? Given the odds, who do you pick to win? And will the playing field be leveled in the years to come as we evolve beyond the “bigger chemical hammer” approach in our relationship with nature?

(This image from our garden in 2003. I haven’t seen honeybees on the corn since then.)

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Bees? And what happens to people who come in contact with it? When it builds up in our systems, will we slowly die out? or all at once?

  2. My next-door neighbor just put two hives in her backyard. It was fascinating watching the professional beekeeper helping get everything set up. Hope they’ll be happy in the neighborhood — and that my neighbor will be willing to share the honey!