Sunday, July 29, 2012

Bee Declines & Fishy Mercury

"Dave Hackenberg makes a living moving honeybees. Up and down the East Coast and often coast to coast, Hackenberg trucks his beehives from field to field to pollinate crops as diverse as Florida melons, Pennsylvania apples, Maine blueberries and California almonds.
As he has done for the past 42 years, in the fall of 2006 Hackenberg migrated with his family and his bees from their central Pennsylvania summer home to their winter locale in central Florida. The insects had just finished their pollination duties on blooming Pennsylvanian pumpkin fields and were now to catch the last of the Floridian Spanish needle nectar flow. When Hackenberg checked on his pollinators, the colonies were "boiling over" with bees, as he put it. But when he came back a month later, he was horrified. Many of the remaining colonies had lost large numbers of workers, and only the young workers and the queen remained and seemed healthy. More than half of the 3,000 hives were completely devoid of bees. But no dead bees were in sight. 'It was like a ghost town,' Hackenberg said."
-By Diana Cox-Foster and Dennis vanEngelsdorp, Scientific American, March 2009

Bees are cool.
I've always liked bees even though a couple of them have stung me when I was a kid. I think I accidentally stepped on one once.
I even had a pet bee I named Aibreann Dòmhnallaidh, but except for queens, bees don't live very long. Aibreann passed away after a couple of months. That's her head shot at the top of the post, may she rest in piece.
If you don't want to be seen by a bee dress up head to toe in a red body stocking. Bees can't see red. I don't know why.
Bees are related to wasps and ants. This does not surprise me as all three species are extremely socialized (which is why Republicans like Michelle Bachmann don't like them and often claim Congress and the State Department are being infiltrated by socialist insects who are also members of the Muslim Brotherhood) and live in colonies, or hives. All three species also fly, ants only when queens and males swarm to found other colonies. That's how we got the giant bus sized, radioactive ants that live in the storm drains of the nearby Los Angeles River, which is also why it is not wise to sleep on the 6th St. Bridge at night).
In Indonesia bee babies are eaten as a companion to rice.
Queens and drones (male bees) primarily exist to make baby bees, after which the Indonesians come and eat them. Worker bees, who are all women (how typical), go out and work for a living. They make the hive, they bring back food, they repel invaders.
Bees are very important to other living things, like plants and flowers. Bees like to eat nectar and pollen (if they aren't allergic). Flowers and plants know this and therefor produce nectar and pollen. Pollen is like flower seeds, and since, except for triffids and tumbleweeds, plants and flowers can't move around a great deal, they have this deal going on with bees who come around and spread their pollen, thereby fertilizing other plants and flowers. This is called pollination.
Bees are very good at this. As a matter of fact us humans depend on them to do that. If it were not for bees one to two thirds of our natural crops would not be propagated. That means one to two thirds of the grown food that you and I eat and make other products from, would not exist. which would major suck.
Here's a list of crops that rely on insects (mostly bees) for pollination:
I would have written it out for dramatic effect but there's just too many of them!
As was quoted from the second clip above, the famous entomologist, Albert Einstein once said: “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!”
That's a pretty strong statement, and may or may not be true. However, I certainly would not like to test that hypothesis.
Accordingly, any decline in bee populations should be cause for concern, as Dave Hackenberg was concerned in the example above.
And it appears that since 1972 the populations of both feral and domesticated bee colonies have declined.
Wikipedia tells us: "This decline includes the cumulative losses from all factors, such as urbanization, pesticide use, tracheal and Varroa mites, and commercial beekeepers' retiring and going out of business. However, in late 2006 and early 2007 the rate of attrition reached new proportions, and the term colony collapse disorder was coined to describe the sudden disappearances. After several years of research and concern, a team of scientists headed by Jerry Bromenshenk published a paper in October 2010 saying that a new DNA-based virus, invertebrate iridescent virus or IIV6, and the fungus Nosema ceranae were found in every killed colony the group studied. In their study they found that neither agent alone seemed deadly, but a combination of the virus and Nosema ceraneae was always 100% fatal.
In 2009 some reports from the US suggested that 1/3 of the honey bee colonies did not survive the winter, though normal winter losses are known to be around 25%. At the end of May 2012, the Swiss government reported that about half of the bee population had not survived the winter. The main cause of the decline was thought to be the parasite varroa.
Apart from colony collapse disorder, many of the losses outside the US have also been attributed to other causes. Pesticides used to treat seeds, such as Clothianidin and Imidacloprid, have been considered prime suspects."
Don't take my or Wikipedia's word for it. Take our lovely little Canadian actress and entomologist friend Ellen Page's. Surely, she would not lie to us:
I don't think I saw potatoes on the list of crops that need pollination. I guess we can all live off of those if need be.
This is important! But like climate change (which also may be a factor in declining bee populations), the damage done is so subtle politicians are unlikely to do anything about it until it is too freaking late.
And we've already tried.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was created (by a Republican, Richard Nixon)  for the purpose of protecting human health and the environment by writing and enforcing regulations based on laws passed by Congress.
But check this out:
"...a number of beekeepers and environmental groups from around the U.S. came together this past March to petition the EPA to cease sales of clothianidin, a neonicotinoids (neonics) class of pesticides that is suspected of being harmful to honeybees.  The EPA rejected the petition due to failure to demonstrate a case for “imminent harm,” or harm that will occur “within the one to two years necessary to complete cancellation proceedings.” The agency also downplayed the science connecting clothianidin to bee decline, acknowledging that the chemical effects bees but not on a widespread scale."
Considering the EPA is charged with protecting human health and the environment, they must know what they're talking about... right?
Probably... except for this:
In a Wiki-Leak release in 2010, it was revealed that the EPA was well-aware of the toxicity of clothianidin but failed to act responsibly in banning its use.
"Clothianidin's major risk concern is to non-target insects (that is, honey bees). Clothianidin is a neonicotinoid insecticide that is both persistent and systemic. Acute toxicity studies to honey bees show that clothianidin is highly toxic on both a contact and oral basis. Although EFED does not conduct RQ assessments of non-target insects, information from standard tests and field studies, as well as incident reports involving other neonicotinoids insecticides (e.g., imidacloprid) suggest the potential for long term toxic risks to honey bees and other beneficial insects. An incident in Germany already illustrated the toxicity of clothianidin to honey bees when allowed to drift off-site from treated seed during planting."
And if that wasn't clear enough:
"This compound is toxic to birds and animals. Treated clothianidin exposed on soil surface may be hazardous to birds and mammals. Cover or collect clothianidin seeds during loading."
And if that wasn't specific enough:
"This compound is toxic to honey bees. The persistence of residues and potential residual toxicity of Clothianidin in nectar and pollen suggests the possibility of chronic toxic risk to honey bee larvae and the eventual instability of the hive."
Wow! This is pretty damning evidence that the EPA is not looking out to protect human health and the environment as much as it is the business interests of pesticide makers like Bayer, the manufacturer of clothianidin, Monsanto, Dow Chemicals, Syngenta and BASF, who actively lobby to ensure their agricultural chemicals remain in use.
And all this during an Obama administration!
This also demonstrates how important whistle-blower organizations like Wikileaks are for the general welfare of humankind, and why governments hate them so.
This whole situation shockingly reminds me of how the Food and Drug Administration (The FDA is responsible for protecting and promoting public health through the regulation and supervision of food safety, tobacco products, dietary supplements, prescription and over-the-counter pharmaceutical drugs (medications), vaccines, biopharmaceuticals, blood transfusions, medical devices, electromagnetic radiation emitting devices (ERED), and veterinary products... supposedly) is being sued by the Center for Biological Diversity and allies who challenge the FDA’s failure to implement stricter standards to protect the public from mercury in seafood.
It is not without a certain sense of irony that I report the EPA reports the number one source of mercury exposure for people in the United States is contaminated seafood. The EPA calculates that 15 percent of newborns (630,000) in the United States are at risk each year to  neurological defects from mercury contamination.
Alex Ralston of the Center for Biological Diversity reports: "Mercury contamination of seafood is a widespread public-health problem, especially for women of childbearing age, pregnant and nursing women and children. Mercury ingestion can lead to memory loss, developmental and learning disorders, vision loss, heart disease and, rarely, death."
As you can see with the chart above we all should think twice about opening that next can of tuna.
“By ignoring its own standards and allowing seafood that is high in mercury to be sold, the FDA is putting hundreds of thousands of unsuspecting Americans at risk of permanent nerve damage and cognitive disorders,” said David McGuire of “The FDA is putting Americans in harm's way through its lack of advisories, enforcement and testing of our nation’s seafood supply.”
On the surface it would appear that the FDA is looking out for the interests of volcanoes,  operators of coal burning power plants and mines, like perhaps Charley and Dave Koch, before the health of the American public.
And all this during an Obama administration!
Both of these dire situations raise some very important and immediate questions, like who is government supposed to serve, and who does it actually serve, irrespective of politics.
And that raises the problem I have put before you so many times, dear readers, that money in politics, rather it be through lobbying, or campaign contributions from volcanoes, coal burning power plant operators, mine owners, and insecticide manufacturers (not to mention oil, banking, pharmaceutical industries, etc.), is the single greatest problem this country faces.
And this problem needs to be addressed, because if it isn't other, natural forces, may address it for us.
The last picture above is of the lovely one-eyed actress Joanna Frank in the 18th episode of the 1964 series, "The Outer Limits." The episode is entitled "ZZZZZ" (the entire episode can be seen through the third link at the top of this post, via Hulu) and Joanna plays Regina, a giant mutant queen bee in human form who is searching for a human mate to evolve her species.
"Don't let giant mutant queen bees take over our species." Buy Direct TV and tell the EPA and the FDA to get their priorities straight and protect people instead of big business.
As the omnipresent Outer Limits announcer reminds us:

"Human life strives ceaselessly to perfect itself, to gain ascendancy. But what of the lower forms of life? Is it not possible that they, too, are conducting experiments and are at this moment on the threshold of deadly success?"

We shall see.

Addendum: 8-30-15: Culprit found

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