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Finally, we know what's killing the honeybees

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
May 2nd, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

We finally think we know what's killing the honeybees, but the answer isn't very comforting. A new report by the USDA and the EPA suggests that honeybees are falling victim to a cocktail of poisons, diseases, and conditions that are causing unprecedented decline in populations.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Honeybees are critical to agriculture. Bees pollinate $20-30 billion in crops each year. Many of the natural foods we consume are reliant on honeybees for pollination. However, bees have been dying in unprecedented numbers since 2006.

Since 1940, the United States has lost a full 50 percent of its honeybee population, down from 5 million hives in 1940 to 2.5 million today. Bee pollination impacts about one -third of all the food produced in the United States.

Already, honeybee decline has contributed to higher food prices in the supermarkets with prices poised to climb further this fall.

Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) has been blamed for killing off as much as 90 percent of the bees in some populations. The causes of CCD have been largely unknown, however a new report suggests that CCD isn't caused by a single disease or pesticide, but rather a blend of factors which taken together continues to destroy vital honeybee populations.

The USDA and EPA report says parasites and diseases, pesticide exposure, poor nutrition, and a lack of genetic diversity, are all contributing to population declines.

The report finds that parasitic mites have developed a resistance to chemicals used by beekeepers to control them. The report also says that new strains of viruses have emerged among bee populations and are likely contributing significantly to CCD.

The report also calls for increased genetic diversity, saying that genetic variation can improve disease resistance and worker productivity.

The report blames poor nutrition as a factor, saying that honeybees are not getting the nutrients they need to stay healthy from their environment.

However, perhaps the greatest questions have surrounded the use of pesticides and exposure to them. The report will disappoint. It concludes that further research is required to determine if pesticides are playing a key role in CCD. It reads, "Further tier 2 (semi-field conditions) and tier 3 (field conditions) research is required to establish the risks associated with pesticide exposure to U.S. honey bee declines in general."

This carefully selected string of words amounts to "we don't know" and is particularly upsetting since pesticides are a major commonality across the country. Beekeepers have long suspected pesticides to be the prime culprit.

The report, now delivered to the Colony Collapse Disorder Steering Committee, led by the USDA, will be used to help shape policy over the next 5-10 years.

Too bad it falls short. Nobody can say for sure if the honeybees can sustain their losses for much longer.

Read the full report here.

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