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A Spring Without Bees: How Colony Collapse Disorder Has Endangered Our Food Supply, Schacker, M., The Lyons Press, Guilford, CT, 2008.

Having suffered the loss of four colonies this winter with some indications of winter starving but a lot of unanswered questions, I have turned my attention toward understanding Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).

Heat Map Showing Gene Expression

Last year, the breakthrough discovery [article] was the ribosomal RNA fragments in bees’ stomachs suffering from CCD symptoms: “If your ribosome is compromised, then you can’t respond to pesticides, you can’t respond to fungal infections or bacteria or inadequate nutrition because the ribosome is central to the survival of any organism. You need proteins to survive,” May Berenbaum, head of the department of entomology at the University of Illinois, said to the Illinois News Bureau.  Although two new viruses, IAPV and Nosema Ceranae, are present in American bees, neither has been isolated as a cause, and this study found no unusual expression of DNA responsible for immune response.  The main thrust of this argument and research is that the abundance of pathogens affecting honey bees is resulting in RNA degradation that results in CCD symptoms.

In his book, A Spring Without Bees, Michael Schacker goes through the list of common ailments afflicting honeybees and the implausibility of their implication in CCD, and then asks the obvious question: has the world seen CCD-like symptoms before?  Not surprisingly, the answer is yes, and for more than a decade French beekeepers have been fighting the Bayer Corporation to remove a new type of systemic pesticide, the neonicotonids, from agricultural use.  Through painting the pesticide on the seeds of agricultural crops, or soaking the soil with it, these pesticides enter every part of the plant, including the nectar and pollen, causing disorientation and eventual death to insects feeding on it.

French Beekeepers Protest Use of Systemic Pesticides

Through his analysis of the French situation beginning in 1996, he illustrates that the Bayer Corp’s research indicated that the new products were safe for bees, but they only did research down to 50 PPB (parts per billion).  As the French Ministry of Agriculture was forced to acquiesce to the demands of beekeepers to halt the use of these pesticides and begin a thorough study, they found that these pesticides can exhibit detrimental influences to a hive at 6 PPB, and even show indications at 3 PPB.  Bayer’s studies also did not focus on the concentration of pesticides in the soil due to repeated seasonal use, which takes several years and adequate rainfall to disintegrate.

2007 States Affected by CCD

Then he asks the question I had been asking.  Has anyone done a study correlating areas where CCD is present and any new use of pesticides in America?  Looking at the 2007 map of states with reported cases of CCD, it didn’t make sense that every state wasn’t affected by CCD.  Schacker’s research shows correlations between Environmental Protection Agency permissions to use systemic pesticides through an emergency use act and the presence of CCD in those states affected.

While the first half of this book illuminates the horrors of our modern agricultural world–millions of tons of pesticide use, pesticide companies heavily lobbying our representatives, and research grants to universities being largely funded by pesticide companies–it ends on several brilliant notes: bring bees into your backyard, keep bees organically, plant a bee garden, and call for government regulation of these pesticides.

Michael Schacker on Saving the Bees:

His blog, Plan Bee Central, offers lots of current reports of CCD and pesticide use in other countries.

I highly recommend this book for it offers the only informative and reasonable analysis of CCD I have found.  I have come to feel that here in Seattle, CCD is not a direct threat, as only one of our colonies failed and the symptoms can be attributed to starvation.  At Smoke Farm, in rural, agricultural Arlington, where we lost all three colonies, I’m still concerned.  We don’t know what types of farms are across the river and what types of pesticides they use.  The main threat of CCD is not that bees will necessarily go extinct (although many important pollinators have gone extinct because of habitat loss and pesticide use), but that our agricultural system could collapse on a national scale if CCD persists.  In a 2008 report, Kim Flottum, editor of Bee Culture magazine, wrote for thedailygreen that CCD is only effecting 5% of America’s beekeepers.  About 1,000 of today’s beekeepers manage about 95% of all the colonies present in the US.  These are the beekeepers providing pollination services for almonds, blueberries, and citrus, keeping the agricultural system buzzing, and whose livelihoods are threatened with the loss of their livestock.  And while the government, universities, and media hesitate to point the finger at pesticides, master beekeepers, like Richard Blohm, seem to know from experience that pesticides are to blame, “Yeah, my hives survived very well.  I had normal losses.  Each winter, we expect to lose approximately 10 percent under normal circumstances. And my hives – I keep my hives in – it’s more of a non-agricultural area. So it’s more residential, suburban area, and they’re not exposed to as many pesticides.” [NPR Science Friday with Ira Flatow] Thanks to a recent study showing remarkable levels of pesticides in bee’s wax and stored pollen, and Schacker’s work, pesticide use may finally bee the topic of 2010.

Additional Reviews: http://ecolibris.blogspot.com/2008/08/spring-without-bees-by-michael-schacker.html, http://planbeecentral.wordpress.com/2008/06/04/one-of-the-first-reviews-of-a-spring-without-bees/

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