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Are GM Crops Killing Bees?

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SPIEGEL ONLINE - March 22, 2007, 06:21 PM



Are GM Crops Killing Bees?

By Gunther Latsch

A mysterious decimation of bee populations has German beekeepers worried, while a similar phenomenon in the United States is gradually assuming catastrophic

proportions. The consequences for agriculture and the economy could be enormous.

Is the mysterous decimation of bee populations in the US and Germany a result of GM crops?

Walter Haefeker is a man who is used to painting grim scenarios. He sits on the board of directors of the German Beekeepers Association (DBIB) and is vice president of the European Professional Beekeepers Association. And because griping is part of a lobbyist's trade, it is practically his professional duty to warn that "the very existence of beekeeping is at stake."

The problem, says Haefeker, has a number of causes, one being the varroa mite, introduced from Asia, and another is the widespread practice in agriculture of spraying wildflowers with herbicides and practicing monoculture. Another possible cause, according to Haefeker, is the controversial and growing use of genetic engineering in agriculture.

As far back as 2005, Haefeker ended an article he contributed to the journal Der Kritischer Agrarbericht (Critical Agricultural Report) with an Albert Einstein quote: "If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man."

Mysterious events in recent months have suddenly made Einstein's apocalyptic vision seem all the more topical. For unknown reasons, bee populations throughout Germany are disappearing -- something that is so far only harming beekeepers. But the situation is different in the United States, where bees are dying in such dramatic numbers that the economic consequences could soon be dire. No one knows what is causing the bees to perish, but some experts believe that the large-scale use of genetically modified plants in the US could be a factor.

Felix Kriechbaum, an official with a regional beekeepers' association in Bavaria, recently reported a decline of almost 12 percent in local bee populations. When "bee populations disappear without a trace," says Kriechbaum, it is difficult to investigate the causes, because "most bees don't die in the beehive." There are many diseases that can cause bees to lose their sense of orientation so they can no longer find their way back to their hives.

Manfred Hederer, the president of the German Beekeepers Association, almost simultaneously reported a 25 percent drop in bee populations throughout Germany. In isolated cases, says Hederer, declines of up to 80 percent have been reported. He speculates that "a particular toxin, some agent with which we are not familiar," is killing the bees.

Politicians, until now, have shown little concern for such warnings or the woes of beekeepers. Although apiarists have been given a chance to make their case -- for example in the run-up to the German cabinet's approval of a genetic engineering policy document by Minister of Agriculture Horst Seehofer in February -- their complaints are still largely ignored.

Even when beekeepers actually go to court, as they recently did in a joint effort with the German chapter of the organic farming organization Demeter International and other groups to oppose the use of genetically modified corn plants, they can only dream of the sort of media attention environmental organizations like Greenpeace attract with their protests at test sites.

But that could soon change. Since last November, the US has seen a decline in bee populations so dramatic that it eclipses all previous incidences of mass mortality. Beekeepers on the east coast of the United States complain that they have lost more than 70 percent of their stock since late last year, while the west coast has seen a decline of up to 60 percent.

In an article in its business section in late February, the New York Times calculated the damage US agriculture would suffer if bees died out. Experts at Cornell University in upstate New York have estimated the value bees generate -- by pollinating fruit and vegetable plants, almond trees and animal feed like clover -- at more than $14 billion.

Scientists call the mysterious phenomenon "Colony Collapse Disorder" (CCD), and it is fast turning into a national catastrophe of sorts. A number of universities and government agencies have formed a "CCD Working Group" to search for the causes of the calamity, but have so far come up empty-handed. But, like Dennis vanEngelsdorp, an apiarist with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, they are already referring to the problem as a potential "AIDS for the bee industry."

One thing is certain: Millions of bees have simply vanished. In most cases, all that's left in the hives are the doomed offspring. But dead bees are nowhere to be found -- neither in nor anywhere close to the hives. Diana Cox-Foster, a member of the CCD Working Group, told The Independent that researchers were "extremely alarmed," adding that the crisis "has the potential to devastate the US beekeeping industry."

It is particularly worrisome, she said, that the bees' death is accompanied by a set of symptoms "which does not seem to match anything in the literature."

In many cases, scientists have found evidence of almost all known bee viruses in the few surviving bees found in the hives after most have disappeared. Some had five or six infections at the same time and were infested with fungi -- a sign, experts say, that the insects' immune system may have collapsed.

The scientists are also surprised that bees and other insects usually leave the abandoned hives untouched. Nearby bee populations or parasites would normally raid the honey and pollen stores of colonies that have died for other reasons, such as excessive winter cold. "This suggests that there is something toxic in the colony itself which is repelling them," says Cox-Foster.

Walter Haefeker, the German beekeeping official, speculates that "besides a number of other factors," the fact that genetically modified, insect-resistant plants are now used in 40 percent of cornfields in the United States could be playing a role. The figure is much lower in Germany -- only 0.06 percent -- and most of that occurs in the eastern states of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Brandenburg. Haefeker recently sent a researcher at the CCD Working Group some data from a bee study that he has long felt shows a possible connection between genetic engineering and diseases in bees.

The study in question is a small research project conducted at the University of Jena from 2001 to 2004. The researchers examined the effects of pollen from a genetically modified maize variant called "Bt corn" on bees. A gene from a soil bacterium had been inserted into the corn that enabled the plant to produce an agent that is toxic to insect pests. The study concluded that there was no evidence of a "toxic effect of Bt corn on healthy honeybee populations." But when, by sheer chance, the bees used in the experiments were infested with a parasite, something eerie happened. According to the Jena study, a "significantly stronger decline in the number of bees" occurred among the insects that had been fed a highly concentrated Bt poison feed.

According to Hans-Hinrich Kaatz, a professor at the University of Halle in eastern Germany and the director of the study, the bacterial toxin in the genetically modified corn may have "altered the surface of the bee's intestines, sufficiently weakening the bees to allow the parasites to gain entry -- or perhaps it was the other way around. We don't know."

Of course, the concentration of the toxin was ten times higher in the experiments than in normal Bt corn pollen. In addition, the bee feed was administered over a relatively lengthy six-week period.

Kaatz would have preferred to continue studying the phenomenon but lacked the necessary funding. "Those who have the money are not interested in this sort of research," says the professor, "and those who are interested don't have the money."

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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That's quite interesting; I hope further research goes into discovering the cause. I generally support GM agriculture, but we have to make sure that we have not unintentionally tampered with a delicate process.

I'd be grateful if you keep us up to date on this Doug, and I'll repost it at a science forum I belong to.

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That's quite interesting; I hope further research goes into discovering the cause. I generally support GM agriculture, but we have to make sure that we have not unintentionally tampered with a delicate process.

I'd be grateful if you keep us up to date on this Doug, and I'll repost it at a science forum I belong to.

Collapse of Honey Bees in U. S., Canada and 9 European Countrie

by Linda Moulton Howe


"We’re seeing that some beekeepers have lost fairly high levels

of bees over the winter – one beekeeper as high as 90% loss."

- Brent Halsall, Pres., Ontario Beekeepers Assoc., Canada

Honey bees working a hive. Albert Einstein said, ” If honey bees become extinct,

human society will follow in four years.” .

April 6, 2007 London, England - When hives in Toronto and Saskatchewan, Canada, were opened up in the last week of March, at least 40% had either disappeared – or in another twist of the mystery – in some Canadian hives, thousands of bee bodies were found dead.

In addition to the United States and Canada, in Europe at least nine countries are now reporting massive disappearances of honey bees – similar to the Colony Collapse Disorder that has affected American beekeepers since the fall of 2006. The European countries reporting bee disappearances are:

1) Spain

2) Poland

3) Greece

4) Croatia

5) Switzerland

6) Italy

7) Portugal

8) Germany

9) And England.

To everyone’s surprise, in the U. K. where genetically modified crops have been resisted and beekeeping is on a smaller scale with less pesticide use than in the United States, honey beekeepers in London who opened hives the end of March found at least half of their hives empty.

On April 4, 2007, I talked with the Chairman of the London Beekeeping Association, John Chapple, about the missing bee phenomenon.


John Chapple, Chairman,

London Beekeepers Association, London, England.

John Chapple, Chairman, London Beekeeping Association, London, England: “In London, we normally expect to have 10% to 20% losses every winter in our bees. But this year, at the last meeting of London members, loads of people reported far more than the normal percentage. And in talking around, they all came up with the same thing that is happening: the bees just disappeared. There were no dead bees to look at, so we could not examine anything. And they all had plenty of stores (of honey) left. And a phenomenon that we can’t understand is that they don’t appear to be robbed out by other bees.


Normally, when a hive is deserted, robber bees from other colonies come and take the stored honey away. They would much rather get it from there than go looking in flowers. But for some reason this year, it hasn’t happened.


Yes. And we don’t know why.



[ Editor’s Note: John Chapple estimates there are 8,000 to 10,000 hives in London, of which at least half mysteriously disappeared in the winter of 2006 to 2007.]

Half of my stock are gone and I cannot explain why they disappeared.


Yes. I’ve lost 23 hives this year (out of 40), which I can’t explain why they died.


They disappeared, yes. That’s the bit I can’t explain.


Yes, I find anything I can’t explain frightening, you know?


Yes, that’s true. I can’t find anyone. I chatted with one of our senior beekeepers who has been keeping bees for 60 years and he’s known nothing like it. He lost his bees as well.


Anything like this, no. And he can’t explain it.

"Pesticide Cocktails" Too Much for Bees?


Well, talking with other beekeepers, we all think it is some how varroa mite-related. All the chemicals over the years that we have been pouring into the hives might have messed up the bees’ senses. But we don’t know the answer. We are only guessing. We’ve been tipping our hives with loads of chemicals for years, thinking we could control this varroa mite. Obviously, we can’t.


Yes, they are banned there, but the thing in London is we don’t have large rural areas. It’s an urban environment, so the amount of pesticides you get is very small. So we don’t think it’s that. We think it might be something with the chemicals we’ve been using to control the varroa mite over the years.


Yes. Something has happened that we cannot explain. DEFRA, which is our (Dept. of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) agricultural body, has taken samples from some of my live hives and let’s hope they can find something.




It became clear to me in January 2007 and that’s when I started asking questions. Then we had our February 2007 meeting at the beginning of the month and that’s when people came in reporting losses of bees.

Bee Research Has Been Low

On Government Priority and Budget Lists


Yes, we have no source for excellent research left in the country now.


Well, you know what government bodies are like. They like to save money and beekeeping is an easy thing to save money on.


It is vital, but when you’re explaining to a politician the importance of bees, they can’t understand what you’re talking about. They can only see rows of figures on charts. And it’s easy to say, we just cut staff by cutting bee research out. And that saves money.


Among educated people, yes. But amongst the general public, I don’t think they understand what bees do. Most people think that bees just produce honey. They don’t realize that their main function in life, the most important thing to us, is pollination. People don’t realize that without pollinating insects, we won’t have berries on trees and so won’t have birds. If we don’t have birds, it just works up the food chain.


Yes, it is. Some how or other, the ecosystem has been messed around with and my good bet is that mankind has messed around with it somehow or other."

House Subcommittee Hears

About Colony Collapse Disorder

Finally Congress is beginning to pay attention to the Colony Collapse Disorder.

On March 29th, the House Subcommittee on Horticulture and Organic Agriculture held a meeting in Washington, D. C., with several of the scientists, beekeepers and other agencies involved in researching the phenomenon. Diana Cox-Foster, Ph.D. and Prof. of Entomology at Penn State in College Park, Pennsylvania, told me that Ontario and Saskatchewan, Canada, had been added to the list of locations reporting massive disappearances of bees.

[ Editor's Note: For more details and coming transcripts of the House Subcommittee meeting, see: "News from the House Agriculture Committee." ]

But complicating the picture, are some beekeepers in Ontario who have opened hives recently to find thousands of dead bees – some dry and desiccated as if dead for weeks – and others fresh, as if dead only days.

Brent Halsall, President of the Ontario Beekeepers Association in Greely, Ontario, said he and his beekeeping colleagues in Canada were shocked when their hives were opened the end of March.


Brent Halsall, President, Ontario

Beekeeper's Assoc., Greely, Ontario, Canada.

Brent Halsall, President, Ontario Beekeepers Association, Greely, Ontario, Canada: "We were quite surprised this spring when we started opening up our hives. And I should mention that we’ve only just opening our hives, so we don’t have a real good handle on it yet. But we’re starting to see a bit of a pattern. We’re seeing that some beekeepers have lost fairly high levels of bees over the winter – one beekeeper as high as 90% loss.

On March 29, 2007, Brent Halsall opened his hives

and found about 40% of all his bees dead - some dried up;

others fresh as if not long dead.


Yes, there are. Our colonies are not completely empty by any means. I know the colonies I have looked through on my own are full of bees. The bottom boards are covered with bees and there are bees all over the place. I don’t normally find dead colonies with bees all over the place in them.


Yes, but they are not always dry and desiccated. Usually I would assume dry, desiccated bees had been dead for quite a while. In some cases, they are nice, plump juicy ones, so they haven’t been dead that long.


Well, at this point it certainly is. In Ontario, we have a Tech Transfer team, it’s a research team of three researchers who work for us. I think they are as surprised as anyone at what they are finding right now. But again, they have just started looking and who knows where it’s going to go?


That’s right. We’re all wondering what’s going on here? I think one of the big concerns with the bee hives is that anything the bees are bringing back into the hives, the wax in there is like a fat and it will absorb various chemicals. So, whatever the bees are exposed to can end up being in the colony on a long-term basis.


That’s right. It’s a big mystery and we have a large distribution network here with articles coming around, but no answers."

Microarray Analysis:

Compare Dead Bee Genome with Healthy Bee Genome

On October 25, 2006, a research consortium supported by the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), announced the publication of a high-quality draft genome sequence of the western honey bee (Apis mellifera), finding that its genome is more similar to humans than any insect sequenced thus far. There are approximately 260 million DNA base pairs in the honey bee genome.

Although only 9 percent the size of the 3 billion base pairs in the human genome, the honey bee contains nearly half as many genes as the human genome, more than 10,000 in the bee compared to around 20,000 genes in the human.

When compared to other insects, the honey bee genome contains fewer genes involved in innate immunity, detoxification enzymes, and gustatory (taste) receptors. But the honey bee genome contains more genes for olfactory receptors and novel genes for nectar and pollen utilization. Interestingly, the honey bee genome shows greater similarities to vertebrates than insects for genes involved in circadian rhythm, as well as biological processes involved in turning genes on or off.

New "whole genome" Oligo Array for gene expression studies,

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

The newly decoded honey bee genome will now be applied in the challenge to find out what is causing the Colony Collapse Disorder. Researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana

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I hadn't heard of this before Douglas. Thanks for posting it.

It has the potential to be the most alarming topic ever raised in this forum, IMO.

Let's hope it isn't.

I'm flabbergasted that this is the first report I've seen on the topic. Is the mass media, in general, really so incompentent it can't appreciate the significance of this story?

A Google News search on "bee population CCD" urned up a mere 20 references (compared with 769 for Kylie Minogue, or 15,431 for Saddam Hussein).

When species suffer population crashes as swift as some of these reports suggest, it is very alarming indeed. While we can survive in a world without Passenger Pigeons (however impoversished by their loss), the end of bees would certainly put the mockers on this round of civilization - if not humanity itself, as Einstein so succinctly ponted out.

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I hadn't heard of this before Douglas. Thanks for posting it.

It has the potential to be the most alarming topic ever raised in this forum, IMO.

Let's hope it isn't.

I'm flabbergasted that this is the first report I've seen on the topic. Is the mass media, in general, really so incompentent it can't appreciate the significance of this story?

A Google News search on "bee population CCD" urned up a mere 20 references (compared with 769 for Kylie Minogue, or 15,431 for Saddam Hussein).

When species suffer population crashes as swift as some of these reports suggest, it is very alarming indeed. While we can survive in a world without Passenger Pigeons (however impoversished by their loss), the end of bees would certainly put the mockers on this round of civilization - if not humanity itself, as Einstein so succinctly ponted out.

Mysterious disappearance of US bees creating a buzz

by Jean-Louis Santini

Fri Apr 6, 10:54 PM ET

Agence France Presse (AFP)

US beekeepers have been stung in recent months by the mysterious disappearance of millions of bees threatening honey supplies as well as crops which depend on the insects for pollination.

Bee numbers on parts of the east coast and in Texas have fallen by more than 70 percent, while California has seen colonies drop by 30 to 60 percent.

According to estimates from the US Department of Agriculture, bees are vanishing across a total of 22 states, and for the time being no one really knows why.

"Approximately 40 percent of my 2,000 colonies are currently dead and this is the greatest winter colony mortality I have ever experienced in my 30 years of beekeeping," apiarist Gene Brandi, from the California State Beekeepers Association, told Congress recently.

It is normal for hives to see populations fall by some 20 percent during the winter, but the sharp loss of bees is causing concern, especially as domestic US bee colonies have been steadily decreasing since 1980.

There are some 2.4 million professional hives in the country, according to the Agriculture Department, 25 percent fewer than at the start of the 1980s.

And the number of beekeepers has halved.

The situation is so bad, that beekeepers are now calling for some kind of government intervention, warning the flight of the bees could be catastrophic for crop growers.

Domestic bees are essential for pollinating some 90 varieties of vegetables and fruits, such as apples, avocados, and blueberries and cherries.

"The pollination work of honey bees increases the yield and quality of United States crops by approximately 15 billion dollars annually including six billion in California," Brandi said.

California's almond industry alone contributes two billion dollars to the local economy, and depends on 1.4 million bees which are brought from around the US every year to help pollinate the trees, he added.

The phenomenon now being witnessed across the United States has been dubbed "colony collapse disorder," or CCD, by scientists as they seek to explain what is causing the bees to literally disappear in droves.

The usual suspects to which bees are known to be vulnerable such as the varroa mite, an external parasite which attacks honey bees and which can wipe out a hive, appear not to be the main cause.

"CCD is associated with unique symptoms, not seen in normal collapses associated with varroa mites and honey bee viruses or in colony deaths due to winter kill," entomologist Diana Cox-Foster told the Congress committee.

In cases of colony collapse disorder, flourishing hives are suddenly depopulated leaving few, if any, surviving bees behind.

The queen bee, which is the only one in the hive allowed to reproduce, is found with just a handful of young worker bees and a reserve of food.

Curiously though no dead bees are found either inside or outside the hive.

The fact that other bees or parasites seem to shun the emptied hives raises suspicions that some kind of toxin or chemical is keeping the insects away, Cox-Foster said.

Those bees found in such devastated colonies also all seem to be infected with multiple micro-organisms, many of which are known to be behind stress-related illness in bees.

Scientists working to unravel the mysteries behind CCD believe a new pathogen may be the cause, or a new kind of chemical product which could be weakening the insects' immune systems.

The finger of suspicion is being pointed at agriculture pesticides such as the widely-used neonicotinoides, which are already known to be poisonous to bees.

France saw a huge fall in its bee population in the 1990s, blamed on the insecticide Gaucho which has now been banned in the country.

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The Guardian chimes in..

Wots 'appenin to our bees?

Let's hope that, for once, British Government reassurances are based on competent and truthful assessments of reality.

It would make a nice change and our future may depend on it.

Put another way, is there any real intelligence left in HMG, or have the spooks wasted it all with inducements, threats or assassination?

Threat to agriculture as mystery killer wipes out honeybee hives

John Vidal, environment editor

Thursday April 12, 2007

The Guardian

When John Chapple, one of London's largest keepers of honeybees, opened his 40 hives after the winter, he was shocked: 23 were empty, seven contained dead bees, and only 10 were unaffected by what seemed to be a mystery plague.

Beekeepers are used to diseases sweeping through their colonies, and, nationally, nearly one in seven colonies dies naturally each winter. But this seemed very different to Mr Chapple, who is head of the London Beekeepers Association and has 20 years' experience with the insects and their diseases.

Article continues

"The problem was that most of the bees had just disappeared. It was like the Marie Celeste. There was no chance they had been stolen," he said yesterday. "The ones that were left did not seem to have been attacked by varroa [the tiny parasitical mite that beekeepers have learned to live with since it arrived from Asia 15 years ago]. I really do not know what happened".

Mr Chapple's experience has chimed with other beekeepers. "Many colleagues and bee clubs tell me that they are experiencing something similar. The Pinner and Ruislip beekeepers' group told me only this morning that they have lost 50% to 75% of their bees. I don't know what is happening, but the bees are just going," he said.

Many British beekeepers fear they are witnessing the start of an alarming phenomenon which is sweeping the US and Europe. Colony collapse disorder (CCD) is possibly the most serious disease yet faced by bees.

According to the national bee unit, a branch of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, its "symptoms appear to be the total collapse of bee colonies, with a complete absence of bees or only a few remaining in the hive". The unit says no one has any idea what is causing CCD. Theories in the US, where 24 states are affected and losses of 50% to 90% of colonies are being reported, include environmental stresses, malnutrition, unknown pathogens, the use of antibiotics, mites, pesticides and genetically modified crops.

Because bees pollinate millions of hectares of fruit trees and crops, the implications for agriculture are enormous. "Approximately 40% of my 2,000 colonies are currently dead and this is the greatest winter mortality I have ever experienced," Gene Brandi, a member of the California State Beekeepers Association, told the US Congress recently.

In Spain, thousands of colonies are said to have been lost, and up to 40% of Swiss bees are reported to have disappeared or died in the past year. Heavy losses have also been reported in Portugal, Italy and Greece.

Government bee inspectors met yesterday, but Mike Brown, head of the national bee unit based in York, reported no signs of CCD in Britain. "There is no evidence in the UK right now of colony collapse disorder," he said in a statement. "The majority of inspectors said that they can put the current mortalities in honeybee populations around the UK down to varroa or varroasis."

"I just don't know where they get their information," said Mr Chapple. "They took away some of my bees but I have heard nothing. All I know that something is very wrong with our bees."

Edited by Sid Walker
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That's quite interesting; I hope further research goes into discovering the cause. I generally support GM agriculture, but we have to make sure that we have not unintentionally tampered with a delicate process.

I'd be grateful if you keep us up to date on this Doug, and I'll repost it at a science forum I belong to.

Are mobile phones wiping out our bees?

Scientists claim radiation from handsets are to blame for mysterious 'colony collapse' of bees

By Geoffrey Lean and Harriet Shawcross

Published: 15 April 2007

The Independent (U.K.)


It seems like the plot of a particularly far-fetched horror film. But some scientists suggest that our love of the mobile phone could cause massive food shortages, as the world's harvests fail.

They are putting forward the theory that radiation given off by mobile phones and other hi-tech gadgets is a possible answer to one of the more bizarre mysteries ever to happen in the natural world - the abrupt disappearance of the bees that pollinate crops. Late last week, some bee-keepers claimed that the phenomenon - which started in the US, then spread to continental Europe - was beginning to hit Britain as well.

The theory is that radiation from mobile phones interferes with bees' navigation systems, preventing the famously homeloving species from finding their way back to their hives. Improbable as it may seem, there is now evidence to back this up.

Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) occurs when a hive's inhabitants suddenly disappear, leaving only queens, eggs and a few immature workers, like so many apian Mary Celestes. The vanished bees are never found, but thought to die singly far from home. The parasites, wildlife and other bees that normally raid the honey and pollen left behind when a colony dies, refuse to go anywhere near the abandoned hives.

The alarm was first sounded last autumn, but has now hit half of all American states. The West Coast is thought to have lost 60 per cent of its commercial bee population, with 70 per cent missing on the East Coast.

CCD has since spread to Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece. And last week John Chapple, one of London's biggest bee-keepers, announced that 23 of his 40 hives have been abruptly abandoned.

Other apiarists have recorded losses in Scotland, Wales and north-west England, but the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs insisted: "There is absolutely no evidence of CCD in the UK."

The implications of the spread are alarming. Most of the world's crops depend on pollination by bees. Albert Einstein once said that if the bees disappeared, "man would have only four years of life left".

No one knows why it is happening. Theories involving mites, pesticides, global warming and GM crops have been proposed, but all have drawbacks.

German research has long shown that bees' behaviour changes near power lines.

Now a limited study at Landau University has found that bees refuse to return to their hives when mobile phones are placed nearby. Dr Jochen Kuhn, who carried it out, said this could provide a "hint" to a possible cause.

Dr George Carlo, who headed a massive study by the US government and mobile phone industry of hazards from mobiles in the Nineties, said: "I am convinced the possibility is real."

The case against handsets

Evidence of dangers to people from mobile phones is increasing. But proof is still lacking, largely because many of the biggest perils, such as cancer, take decades to show up.

Most research on cancer has so far proved inconclusive. But an official Finnish study found that people who used the phones for more than 10 years were 40 per cent more likely to get a brain tumour on the same side as they held the handset.

Equally alarming, blue-chip Swedish research revealed that radiation from mobile phones killed off brain cells, suggesting that today's teenagers could go senile in the prime of their lives.

Studies in India and the US have raised the possibility that men who use mobile phones heavily have reduced sperm counts. And, more prosaically, doctors have identified the condition of "text thumb", a form of RSI from constant texting.

Professor Sir William Stewart, who has headed two

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Guest Stephen Turner

Ah well, at least as the Human race slides towards extinction caused in the main by technology, I will be able to do so in a smug, self satisfied manner. I dont own a car, I dont own a mobile(cell) phone, and the last time I flew was 1976. Anyone fancy a carbon trade?

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How many of the mobile phones in the world are routinely operated in close proximity to wild beehives, anyway?
Good point-and is the same effect noted if you put, say, a housebrick next to a hive? It might just be that bees don't like evidence of intruders.
Or that they don't recognise the hive so well when it has altered surroundings.

In fact, given bee navigation (also refer Srinivasan and team at ANU), you might well expect something like this.

if an increase in radiation causes navigation issues then you need to wonder WHY the system has suddenly self destructed to such an extent (reports of up to 70% of bees missing).

if it is true then I wonder whether it's an example of a chaotic system that has reached a critical step and then 'broken'

It would be a huge environmental plus if we could remove all the feral bees that do so much damage to the natural environment. They are already a serious pest in some regions and likely to become worse unless something is done to curtail them.
Der Kritischer Agrarbericht (Critical Agricultural Report) with an Albert Einstein quote: "If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man."
what about bird or mammalm or beetle or wind or water pollinated plants?

Feral bees in Australia and New Zealand actually disrupt pollination (as nectar robbers that actually dmage plants), and they usurp the nectar and pollen from valid pollinators. They outcompete native bees and other nectar feeders - and they invade tree hollows, so that birds cannot use them for nesting.

and there is no data to suggest that Apis mellifera is declining in Australia or NZ, and the main cause of bee hive deaths in NZ is from the varroa bee mite..

both countries have mobile phones and associated networks..

Yeah, i was thinking about something similar and wondered if bee numbers were affected in countries where mobiles are not so widespread.
In the last 50 years in the US the domesticated honeybee population—which most farmers depend on for pollination—has declined by about 50 percent, scientists say.

This mite bee a mobile phone problem – mite not. Mite bee mites – at least that’s the buzzzz.

Varroa destructor is an external parasitic mite that attacks honey bees.

Other bee enemies are pesticide misuse, habitat destruction, light pollution, loss of nectar corridors and even bee paranoia.




DISCLAIMER: The above quotes do not necessarily represent my own opinion.

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Another interesting theory on the vexing issue of what is causing CCD

Are Cell Phones Killing Bees?

April 24, 2007

Bees Vanish, and Scientists Race for Reasons


The New York Times


BELTSVILLE, Md., April 23 — What is happening to the bees?

More than a quarter of the country’s 2.4 million bee colonies have been lost — tens of billions of bees, according to an estimate from the Apiary Inspectors of America, a national group that tracks beekeeping. So far, no one can say what is causing the bees to become disoriented and fail to return to their hives.

As with any great mystery, a number of theories have been posed, and many seem to researchers to be more science fiction than science. People have blamed genetically modified crops, cellular phone towers and high-voltage transmission lines for the disappearances. Or was it a secret plot by Russia or Osama bin Laden to bring down American agriculture? Or, as some blogs have asserted, the rapture of the bees, in which God recalled them to heaven? Researchers have heard it all.

The volume of theories “is totally mind-boggling,” said Diana Cox-Foster, an entomologist at Pennsylvania State University. With Jeffrey S. Pettis, an entomologist from the United States Department of Agriculture, Dr. Cox-Foster is leading a team of researchers who are trying to find answers to explain “colony collapse disorder,” the name given for the disappearing bee syndrome.

“Clearly there is an urgency to solve this,” Dr. Cox-Foster said. “We are trying to move as quickly as we can.”

Dr. Cox-Foster and fellow scientists who are here at a two-day meeting to discuss early findings and future plans with government officials have been focusing on the most likely suspects: a virus, a fungus or a pesticide.

About 60 researchers from North America sifted the possibilities at the meeting today. Some expressed concern about the speed at which adult bees are disappearing from their hives; some colonies have collapsed in as little as two days. Others noted that countries in Europe, as well as Guatemala and parts of Brazil, are also struggling for answers.

“There are losses around the world that may or not be linked,” Dr. Pettis said.

The investigation is now entering a critical phase. The researchers have collected samples in several states and have begun doing bee autopsies and genetic analysis.

So far, known enemies of the bee world, like the varroa mite, on their own at least, do not appear to be responsible for the unusually high losses.

Genetic testing at Columbia University has revealed the presence of multiple micro-organisms in bees from hives or colonies that are in decline, suggesting that something is weakening their immune system. The researchers have found some fungi in the affected bees that are found in humans whose immune systems have been suppressed by the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome or cancer.

“That is extremely unusual,” Dr. Cox-Foster said.

Meanwhile, samples were sent to an Agriculture Department laboratory in North Carolina this month to screen for 117 chemicals. Particular suspicion falls on a pesticide that France banned out of concern that it may have been decimating bee colonies. Concern has also mounted among public officials.

“There are so many of our crops that require pollinators,” said Representative Dennis Cardoza, a California Democrat whose district includes that state’s central agricultural valley, and who presided last month at a Congressional hearing on the bee issue. “We need an urgent call to arms to try to ascertain what is really going on here with the bees, and bring as much science as we possibly can to bear on the problem.”

So far, colony collapse disorder has been found in 27 states, according to Bee Alert Technology Inc., a company monitoring the problem. A recent survey of 13 states by the Apiary Inspectors of America showed that 26 percent of beekeepers had lost half of their bee colonies between September and March.

Honeybees are arguably the insects that are most important to the human food chain. They are the principal pollinators of hundreds of fruits, vegetables, flowers and nuts. The number of bee colonies has been declining since the 1940s, even as the crops that rely on them, such as California almonds, have grown. In October, at about the time that beekeepers were experiencing huge bee losses, a study by the National Academy of Sciences questioned whether American agriculture was relying too heavily on one type of pollinator, the honeybee.

Bee colonies have been under stress in recent years as more beekeepers have resorted to crisscrossing the country with 18-wheel trucks full of bees in search of pollination work. These bees may suffer from a diet that includes artificial supplements, concoctions akin to energy drinks and power bars. In several states, suburban sprawl has limited the bees’ natural forage areas.

So far, the researchers have discounted the possibility that poor diet alone could be responsible for the widespread losses. They have also set aside for now the possibility that the cause could be bees feeding from a commonly used genetically modified crop, Bt corn, because the symptoms typically associated with toxins, such as blood poisoning, are not showing up in the affected bees. But researchers emphasized today that feeding supplements produced from genetically modified crops, such as high-fructose corn syrup, need to be studied.

The scientists say that definitive answers for the colony collapses could be months away. But recent advances in biology and genetic sequencing are speeding the search.

Computers can decipher information from DNA and match pieces of genetic code with particular organisms. Luckily, a project to sequence some 11,000 genes of the honeybee was completed late last year at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, giving scientists a huge head start on identifying any unknown pathogens in the bee tissue.

“Otherwise, we would be looking for the needle in the haystack,” Dr. Cox-Foster said.

Large bee losses are not unheard of. They have been reported at several points in the past century. But researchers think they are dealing with something new — or at least with something previously unidentified.

“There could be a number of factors that are weakening the bees or speeding up things that shorten their lives,” said Dr. W. Steve Sheppard, a professor of entomology at Washington State University. “The answer may already be with us.”

Scientists first learned of the bee disappearances in November, when David Hackenberg, a Pennsylvania beekeeper, told Dr. Cox-Foster that more than 50 percent of his bee colonies had collapsed in Florida, where he had taken them for the winter.

Dr. Cox-Foster, a 20-year veteran of studying bees, soon teamed with Dennis vanEngelsdorp, the Pennsylvania apiary inspector, to look into the losses.

In December, she approached W. Ian Lipkin, director of the Greene Infectious Disease Laboratory at Columbia University, about doing genetic sequencing of tissue from bees in the colonies that experienced losses. The laboratory uses a recently developed technique for reading and amplifying short sequences of DNA that has revolutionized the science. Dr. Lipkin, who typically works on human diseases, agreed to do the analysis, despite not knowing who would ultimately pay for it. His laboratory is known for its work in finding the West Nile disease in the United States.

Dr. Cox-Foster ultimately sent samples of bee tissue to researchers at Columbia, to the Agriculture Department laboratory in Maryland, and to Gene Robinson, an entomologist at the University of Illinois. Fortuitously, she had frozen bee samples from healthy colonies dating to 2004 to use for comparison.

After receiving the first bee samples from Dr. Cox-Foster on March 6, Dr. Lipkin’s team amplified the genetic material and started sequencing to separate virus, fungus and parasite DNA from bee DNA.

“This is like C.S.I. for agriculture,” Dr. Lipkin said. “It is painstaking, gumshoe detective work.”

Dr. Lipkin sent his first set of results to Dr. Cox-Foster, showing that several unknown micro-organisms were present in the bees from collapsing colonies. Meanwhile, Mr. vanEngelsdorp and researchers at the Agriculture Department lab here began an autopsy of bees from collapsing colonies in California, Florida, Georgia and Pennsylvania to search for any known bee pathogens.

At the University of Illinois, using knowledge gained from the sequencing of the bee genome, Dr. Robinson’s team will try to find which genes in the collapsing colonies are particularly active, perhaps indicating stress from exposure to a toxin or pathogen.

The national research team also quietly began a parallel study in January, financed in part by the National Honey Board, to further determine if something pathogenic could be causing colonies to collapse.

Mr. Hackenberg, the beekeeper, agreed to take his empty bee boxes and other equipment to Food Technology Service, a company in Mulberry, Fla., that uses gamma rays to kill bacteria on medical equipment and some fruits. In early results, the irradiated bee boxes seem to have shown a return to health for colonies repopulated with Australian bees.

“This supports the idea that there is a pathogen there,” Dr. Cox-Foster said. “It would be hard to explain the irradiation getting rid of a chemical.”

Still, some environmental substances remain suspicious.

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.

In the late 1990s, French beekeepers reported large losses of their bees and complained about the use of imidacloprid, sold under the brand name Gaucho. The chemical, while not killing the bees outright, was causing them to be disoriented and stay away from their hives, leading them to die of exposure to the cold, French researchers later found. The beekeepers labeled the syndrome “mad bee disease.”

The French government banned the pesticide in 1999 for use on sunflowers, and later for corn, despite protests by the German chemical giant Bayer, which has said its internal research showed the pesticide was not toxic to bees. Subsequent studies by independent French researchers have disagreed with Bayer. Alison Chalmers, an eco-toxicologist for Bayer CropScience, said at the meeting today that bee colonies had not recovered in France as beekeepers had expected. “These chemicals are not being used anymore,” she said of imidacloprid, “so they certainly were not the only cause.”

Among the pesticides being tested in the American bee investigation, the neonicotinoids group “is the number-one suspect,” Dr. Mullin said. He hoped results of the toxicology screening will be ready within a month.

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Ah well, at least as the Human race slides towards extinction caused in the main by technology, I will be able to do so in a smug, self satisfied manner. I dont own a car, I dont own a mobile(cell) phone, and the last time I flew was 1976. Anyone fancy a carbon trade?

Researchers link fungus to bee losses in U.S.

By Jia-Rui Chong and Thomas H. Maugh II

Los Angeles Times

5:06 PM PDT, April 25, 2007


A fungus that caused widespread loss of bee colonies in Europe and Asia may be playing a crucial role in the mysterious phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder that is now wiping out bees across the U.S., University of California, San Francisco researchers said Wednesday.

Researchers have been struggling for months without success to explain the disorder, and the new findings represent the first solid evidence pointing to a potential cause.

But the results are "highly preliminary" and are from only a few hives from Le Grand in California's Merced County, UCSF biochemist Joe DeRisi said. "We don't want to give anybody the impression that this thing has been solved."

Other researchers said Wednesday that they too had found the fungus, a single-celled parasite called Nosema ceranae, in affected hives from around the country -- as well as in some hives that have continued to survive and live. Those researchers also have found two other fungi and a half-dozen viruses in the dead bees.

"N. ceranae" is "one of many pathogens" in the bees, said entomologist Diana Cox-Foster of Pennsylvania State University. "By itself, it is probably not the culprit . . . but it may be one of the key players."

Cox-Foster was one of the organizers of a meeting in Washington, D.C., on Monday and Tuesday where about 60 bee researchers gathered to discuss Colony Collapse Disorder.

"We still haven't ruled out other factors, such as pesticides or inadequate food resources following a drought," she said. "There are lots of stresses that these bees are experiencing," and it may be a combination of factors that is responsible.

Historically, bee losses are not unusual. Weather, pesticide exposures and infestations by pests, such as the Varroa mite, have wiped out significant numbers of colonies in the past, particularly in the 1960s and 1970s.

But the current loss is unprecedented. Beekeepers in 28 states, Canada and England have reported large losses. About a quarter of the estimated 2.4 million colonies across the United States have been lost since last fall, said Jerry Hayes of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in Gainesville.

"These are remarkable and dramatic losses," said Hayes, who is also president of the Apiary Inspectors of America.

Besides a loss in honey production, commercial beehives are used to pollinate one-third of the country's agricultural crops, including apples, peaches, pears, nectarines, cherries, strawberries and pumpkins. Ninety percent of California's almond crop is dependent on bees, and a loss of commercial hives could be devastating.

"For the most part, they just disappeared," said Florida beekeeper Dave Hackenberg, who was among the first to note the losses. "The boxes were full of honey. That was the mysterious thing. Usually other bees will rob those hives out. But nothing had happened."

Researchers now believe that the foraging bees are too weak to return to their hives.

DeRisi and UCSF's Don Ganem, who normally look for the causes of human diseases, were brought into the bee search by virologist Evan W. Skowronski of the U.S. Army's Edgewood Chemical Biological Center in Aberdeen, Md.

Dr. Charles Wick of the center had used a new system of genetic analysis to identify pathogens in ground-up bee samples from California. He found several viruses, including members of a recently identified family called iflaviruses.

It is not known if these small, RNA-containing viruses, which infect the Varroa mite, are pathogenic to bees.

Skowronski forwarded the samples to DeRisi, who also found evidence of the viruses, along with genetic material from Nosema.

"There was a lot of stuff from Nosema, about 25 percent of the total," Skowronski said. "That meant there was more than there was bee RNA. That leads me to believe that the bee died from that particular pathogen."

If Nosema does play a role in Colony Collapse Disorder, there may be some hope for beekeepers.

A closely related parasite called Nosema apis, which also affects bees, can be controlled by the antibiotic fumagillin, and there is some evidence that it will work on N. ceranae as well.

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That's quite interesting; I hope further research goes into discovering the cause. I generally support GM agriculture, but we have to make sure that we have not unintentionally tampered with a delicate process.

I'd be grateful if you keep us up to date on this Doug, and I'll repost it at a science forum I belong to.

Honeybee Die-Off Threatens U.S. Food Supply




BELTSVILLE, Md. (May 3) - Unless someone or something stops it soon, the mysterious killer that is wiping out many of the nation's honeybees could have a devastating effect on America's dinner plate, perhaps even reducing us to a glorified bread-and-water diet.

About one-third of the human diet comes from insect-pollinated plants, and the honeybee is responsible for 80 percent of that pollination, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Honeybees don't just make honey; they pollinate more than 90 of the tastiest flowering crops we have. Among them: apples, nuts, avocados, soybeans, asparagus, broccoli, celery, squash and cucumbers. And lots of the really sweet and tart stuff, too, including citrus fruit, peaches, kiwi, cherries, blueberries, cranberries, strawberries, cantaloupe and other melons.

In fact, about one-third of the human diet comes from insect-pollinated plants, and the honeybee is responsible for 80 percent of that pollination, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Even cattle, which feed on alfalfa, depend on bees. So if the collapse worsens, we could end up being "stuck with grains and water," said Kevin Hackett, the national program leader for USDA's bee and pollination program.

"This is the biggest general threat to our food supply," Hackett said.

While not all scientists foresee a food crisis, noting that large-scale bee die-offs have happened before, this one seems particularly baffling and alarming.

U.S. beekeepers in the past few months have lost one-quarter of their colonies _ or about five times the normal winter losses _ because of what scientists have dubbed Colony Collapse Disorder. The problem started in November and seems to have spread to 27 states, with similar collapses reported in Brazil, Canada and parts of Europe.

Scientists are struggling to figure out what is killing the honeybees, and early results of a key study this week point to some kind of disease or parasite.

Even before this disorder struck, America's honeybees were in trouble. Their numbers were steadily shrinking, because their genes do not equip them to fight poisons and disease very well, and because their gregarious nature exposes them to ailments that afflict thousands of their close cousins.

"Quite frankly, the question is whether the bees can weather this perfect storm," Hackett said. "Do they have the resilience to bounce back? We'll know probably by the end of the summer."

Experts from Brazil and Europe have joined in the detective work at USDA's bee lab in suburban Washington. In recent weeks, Hackett briefed Vice President Cheney 's office on the problem. Congress has held hearings on the matter.

"This crisis threatens to wipe out production of crops dependent on bees for pollination," Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said in a statement.

A congressional study said honeybees add about $15 billion a year in value to our food supply.

Of the 17,000 species of bees that scientists know about, "honeybees are, for many reasons, the pollinator of choice for most North American crops," a National Academy of Sciences study said last year. They pollinate many types of plants, repeatedly visit the same plant, and recruit other honeybees to visit, too.

Pulitzer Prize-winning insect biologist E.O. Wilson of Harvard said the honeybee is nature's "workhorse _ and we took it for granted."

"We've hung our own future on a thread," Wilson, author of the book "The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth," told The Associated Press on Monday.

Beginning this past fall, beekeepers would open up their hives and find no workers, just newborn bees and the queen. Unlike past bee die-offs, where dead bees would be found near the hive, this time they just disappeared. The die-off takes just one to three weeks.

USDA's top bee scientist, Jeff Pettis, who is coordinating the detective work on this die-off, has more suspected causes than time, people and money to look into them.

The top suspects are a parasite, an unknown virus, some kind of bacteria, pesticides, or a one-two combination of the top four, with one weakening the honeybee and the second killing it.

A quick experiment with some of the devastated hives makes pesticides seem less likely. In the recent experiment, Pettis and colleagues irradiated some hard-hit hives and reintroduced new bee colonies. More bees thrived in the irradiated hives than in the non-irradiated ones, pointing toward some kind of disease or parasite that was killed by radiation.

The parasite hypothesis has history and some new findings to give it a boost: A mite practically wiped out the wild honeybee in the U.S. in the 1990s. And another new one-celled parasitic fungus was found last week in a tiny sample of dead bees by University of California San Francisco molecular biologist Joe DeRisi, who isolated the human SARS virus.

However, Pettis and others said while the parasite nosema ceranae may be a factor, it cannot be the sole cause. The fungus has been seen before, sometimes in colonies that were healthy.

Recently, scientists have begun to wonder if mankind is too dependent on honeybees. The scientific warning signs came in two reports last October.

First, the National Academy of Sciences said pollinators, especially America's honeybee, were under threat of collapse because of a variety of factors. Captive colonies in the United States shrank from 5.9 million in 1947 to 2.4 million in 2005.

Then, scientists finished mapping the honeybee genome and found that the insect did not have the normal complement of genes that take poisons out of their systems or many immune-disease-fighting genes. A fruitfly or a mosquito has twice the number of genes to fight toxins, University of Illinois entomologist May Berenbaum.

What the genome mapping revealed was "that honeybees may be peculiarly vulnerable to disease and toxins," Berenbaum said.

University of Montana bee expert Jerry Bromenshenk has surveyed more than 500 beekeepers and found that 38 percent of them had losses of 75 percent or more. A few weeks back, Bromenshenk was visiting California beekeepers and saw a hive that was thriving. Two days later, it had completely collapsed.

Yet Bromenshenk said, "I'm not ready to panic yet." He said he doesn't think a food crisis is looming.

Even though experts this year gave what's happening a new name and think this is a new type of die-off, it may have happened before.

Bromenshenk said cited die-offs in the 1960s and 1970s that sound somewhat the same. There were reports of something like this in the United States in spots in 2004, Pettis said. And Germany had something similar in 2004, said Peter Neumann, co-chairman of a 17-country European research group studying the problem.

"The problem is that everyone wants a simple answer," Pettis said. "And it may not be a simple answer."

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