[In the News] Bee Health Update

Features - News Coverage

A new Oregon label requirement, children’s book, federal label delays, anti-pesticide consumer and trade ads and fipronil linked to urban honey bee deaths are all in the news. Here’s what you need to know.

January 28, 2014
Anne Nagro

bee healthIn October, PCT magazine ran the article, “Why Bee Health Matters,” which explored the issue of declining bee populations and how pollinator-friendly, federal label changes to neonicotinoid insecticides may affect the pest management industry. Here’s a look at what’s happened since then:

Oregon Requires Specific Pollinator Label Statement in Response to Bee Kill

On Nov. 21, the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) announced it will require a specific label statement on dinotefuran and imidacloprid products being sold or distributed in the state that prohibits the application of these products on linden, basswood or Tilia tree species. The label statement is a condition of annual product registration for 2014.

The move is in response to several bee kills in the state. In one incident, 50,000 bumblebees died in a Wilsonville, Ore., parking lot in June 2013 after dinotefuran was applied to linden trees. This led to an investigation and temporary suspension of neonicotinoid products. This event was instrumental in turning regulatory focus to the urban and suburban use of neonicotinoid products.

According to ODA, the tree species’ natural toxicity to bumblebees in combination with the pesticide contributed to the deaths. Taking the rare step of requiring an Oregon-specific label statement on pesticide products indicates the importance ODA places on protecting pollinators, reported the agency.

The announcement was made before ODA’s pesticide use investigations were complete, which were expected to wrap up in mid-December.

“I’m a little concerned they’ve decided what the policy outcome is going to be before the results of the investigation” are available, said Gene Harrington, government affairs director, National Pest Management Association.

For most PMPs, the decision is not going to be a big deal, Harrington said. Still, he said he’d like to see “bonafide data and rational information associated with a significant policy decision” opposed to a blanket announcement. At least to date, he hasn’t seen that; hopefully more information is forthcoming, he said.

ODA Director Katy Coba also sent a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requesting additional evaluation of neonicotinoids to determine if use limitations on a national basis should be considered.

In addition, ODA is putting more emphasis on pollinator protection in the testing and re-certification process for applicators to become licensed. Public outreach will include information on ODA’s website and materials distributed through master gardener programs and retail outlets.

ODA’s temporary suspension of 18 pesticide products containing dinotefuran was scheduled to expire in December.


Neonicotinoids Cited in New Children’s Book on Honey Bees and Colony Collapse Disorder

“The Case of the Vanishing Honeybees,” a book for children age 9 to 12, hit library shelves in November. It’s likely the first children’s book to mention neonicotinoid insecticides.

Written by Sandra Markle, an award-winning author of more than 200 books for kids, the hardcover uses insights by top scientists — including University of Illinois bee expert May Berenbaum — and stunning photographs to explore the causes of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).

What is killing honeybees? Without dumbing-down the issues for young readers, Markle offers a balanced look at potential culprits: monoculture and lost foraging habitat, the cross-country transport and overworking of bees, poor nutrition, Varroa mites that transmit deadly viruses, the Nosema ceranae fungus that makes bees susceptible to viruses, and pesticides.

She describes how farmers switched to neonicotinoid pesticides in the mid-1990s, gaining widespread use.

“Scientists believed neonicotinoids were safe for bees, even though they are insects,” writes Markle. “That’s because bees were only exposed to small doses while collecting nectar and pollen from flowers. By 2009, though, many beekeepers and scientists around the world agreed that small doses may be all that’s needed to harm honeybees.”

Anti-Neonicotinoid Ad Runs in Trade Mag

SumOfUs, an anti-corporate advocacy group, ran a full-page ad in the November/December issue of Lawn & Garden Retailer, published by Scranton Gillette, urging independent garden centers not to sell products containing neonicotinoids.

The ad likely will run in subsequent issues, as well as in Greenhouse Product News, said Karen Reardon, vice president of public affairs, Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment, in a letter to RISE Consumer Advisory Council members. Advertising may be one way anti-neonicotinoid groups achieve visibility this winter as state legislatures begin filing bills for the 2014 session, she said.

SumOfUs has targeted neonicotinoid makers like Bayer with petitions and bus ads. In August, it rallied beekeepers and advocates to protest the use of “bee-killing pesticides” at the Independent Garden Show in Chicago. It also is petitioning big box stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot to stop selling neonicotinoid products or plants “pre-poisoned” with the pesticide.

People looking at bee health in a fair-minded manner know many factors are at play, said Gene Harrington, director of government affairs, National Pest Management Association. “Any group that fixates on one factor is really doing a disservice to the future of bee health.”

She cites research by Dr. Gloria DeGrandi-Hoffman of the United States Department of Agriculture, who is studying how small doses of chemicals affect bees. DeGrandi-Hoffman believes exposure to pesticides might be at least partly to blame for bee deaths and colony losses, writes Markle.

The book offers a fascinating look at honey bees. It explains pollination and bees’ role in it; how bees collect nectar and pollen and turn them into honey and “beebread” to feed the hive. Markle explains the roles of queens, drones and worker bees, how workers change jobs through their lifetimes, and where beeswax comes from (the bees’ abdomen).

She explores how scientists are advancing hive health through high-protein diets and breeding “hygienic” bees, which are skilled at detecting and killing sick or mite-infested pupae. Some beekeepers found giving hives a winter rest, enjoyed by wild bees, resulted in fat, healthy bees and colony losses of 3 percent compared to the 55 and 75 percent losses of previous years.

Markle encourages young readers to become scientists and help solve the mystery of bee decline.

“There’s no harm in educating children as early as possible that bees are beneficial insects,” said Gene Harrington, government affairs director, National Pest Management Association.

NPMA and the Professional Pest Management Alliance (PPMA) take this approach. Pestworld for Kids.org offers guides, games, report-writing resources, science fair kits and lesson plans. PPMA’s free e-book for children, called “The Pest Detectives,” follows an 8-year-old who solves real-life pest mysteries with her father, a pest management professional.

The book could help pest management professionals start the dialogue about bee health in the classroom, said Karen Reardon, vice president of public affairs, Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment. “Notwithstanding the targeting of one product, it’s a discussion starter.”

Colony Collapse Disorder is a complex issue affecting managed honey bees, which most pest management professionals don’t deal with in urban and suburban environments. Still, PMPs must be knowledgeable and “ready with their facts,” Reardon said.


Fipronil Linked to Urban Honey Bee Deaths

In mid-September, thousands of honey bees were found dead outside three hives in the Kenwood neighborhood of Minneapolis. The cause: fipronil, according to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and University of Minnesota scientists.

If the pesticide was used as registered, the exposures likely occurred as a consequence of insect control around the foundation of a nearby home or building, wrote University of Minnesota bee expert Marla Spivak in the investigative report.

The colonies were in three close but separate locations. It’s likely the bees came into contact with pesticide residues on foundation plantings of bee-attractive flowers while foraging for nectar, pollen or water; then brought the chemical back to the colonies where it impacted other colony members, Spivak wrote.

The University of Minnesota Bee Lab and Bee Squad and Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) collected two sets of bee samples from these colonies. Samples were sent to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Science Laboratory in Gastonia, N.C., for analysis. All of the dead bee samples from the three colonies and two of the three twitching bee samples tested positive for the presence of fipronil. In addition, a swab of the exterior of one hive tested positive for the fungicide carbendazim.

MDA determined no public entities applied pesticides in the affected neighborhood around the time of the bee kill. Because 540 residential homes make up the Kenwood neighborhood and the product could have been used by homeowners or commercial applicators, finding the exact source of the fipronil may be impossible, reported the agency. Because of this, MDA will not investigate further unless additional information is received.

Learning how the honey bees came in contact with fipronil would provide valuable information, wrote Spivak. “Knowing how and why fipronil was applied would give us insight as to how to mitigate negative impacts on beneficial insects such as honey bees and other pollinators.”

The presence of carbendazim on the exterior of one colony is another mystery, she wrote. Application by the homeowner has been ruled out; researchers need to look at other potential sources for its origin.

“Had these urban beekeepers not been maintaining honey bee colonies in these locations, we likely would have not learned about this serious negative impact of the use of fipronil in the area,” wrote Spivak. The impact of this incident on wild bee pollinators and other beneficial insects cannot be quantified, she wrote.

Read the report here: http://blog.lib.umn.edu/beesquad/myblog/Minneapolis%20Bee%20Kill%20Update.pdf.


Media Campaign Runs Ads in New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times and More

Save-Bees.org, a coalition of four non-profit organizations (Beyond Pesticides, Center for Food Safety, Pesticide Action Network and Ceres Trust), embarked upon a national media campaign to address the decline in pollinators due to what they identify as “bee-harming pesticides.” Their efforts began in early December with full-page ads that ran in seven newspapers including the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Des Moines Register, the Boston Globe and Politico, a publication geared toward members of Congress and other policymakers. The ads call for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to impose an immediate moratorium on the use of neonicotinoids and direct readers to a website where they can encourage EPA to take such action. More than 60 businesses and non-profits are listed as advocacy supporters. The ads were timed to run in conjunction with the European Union’s two-year suspension of three neonicotinoid insecticides — clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam — which began Dec. 1.


Government Shutdown Delays New Pollinator Labels

EPA extended the date neonicotinoid products must contain new pollinator protection language to Feb. 28, according to Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment. The previous compliance date was Jan. 31.

The four-week delay was caused by the government shutdown, said Gene Harrington, director of government affairs, National Pest Management Association. He said the agency will still meet its timetable for getting new label language on products in the marketplace by the beginning of the growing season.

The shutdown also delayed a workshop for EPA officials hosted by NPMA and the Association of Structural Pest Control Regulatory Officials. The two-day event is being rescheduled for March or April, and will address bee health, industry use patterns of neonicotinoids and how to deal with pest bees.

NPMA would like the group to agree on a common definition of pollinators, Harrington said. The industry group prefers the term “bees” opposed to “pollinators,” which can include ants, moths and other insects. Bees also will need to be defined to ensure labels protect honey bees, for instance, not Africanized bees, he explained.


NPMA Issues Bee Health “Talking Points”

Editor’s note: NPMA published an “Industry Alert” in response to December’s media campaign by Save-Bees.org that urged a ban on neonicotinoids. NPMA provided the following statement to give the pest managment industry “talking points” about how to respond if questioned by customers about the ads.

Pollinators play an essential role in the nation’s food supply chain. We are dependent on bees, flies, moths and other insects to help pollinate crops. However, some of these insects — bees in particular — are also known to pose health and safety risks to the public. In fact, stinging insects send an estimated 500,000 people to the hospital every year. They are one of the leading causes of anaphylaxis-related deaths in the United States. In light of this, bees can be — and some government entities have deemed them — a public safety hazard.

So how do we, the American public, protect our families and our children, from these insects that are both vital and potentially harmful? The answer is carefully. The federal government, farmers, the professional pest management industry, and home and business owners must cooperate together to ensure effective tools are available to keep the public safe from stinging insects, yet do so in a manner that will enable pollinators to thrive in appropriate settings.

NPMA is working with the Environment Protection Agency (EPA), state regulators and other stakeholders equally committed to ensuring an appropriate balance exists between the safety of the American public and the essential role bees play in agriculture. Talking points include:

  • EPA and the USDA issued a report in 2012 that suggested factors influencing bee health may include “disease, arthropod pests [parasitic mites], pesticides, poor nutrition and beekeeping practices.” They identified the Varroa mite as “the single most detrimental pest of honey bees and can magnify the role of viruses.” Most scientists agree that declining bee health is a result of multiple factors.
  • Neonicotinoids are a very critical tool used by professional pest management applicators and an effective class of pesticides in controlling a host of pests including termites, ants and bed bugs.
  • Public health officials attribute the quality of life we have today to three things: better pharmaceuticals and vaccines, better sanitation and better pest control.
  • The professional pest management industry is committed to proper product stewardship. Recognizing the recent concern about pollinators, industry professionals have been extra diligent to ensure proper training related to pollinators is provided.
  • Professionals understand that bees should not be unnecessarily exposed to pesticides, unless they are the intended target for structural or public health reasons.


Source: Professional Pest Management Alliance and NPMA