[Bee Health Update] The Buzz Continues

A review of recent news surrounding pollinators and insecticides.

beeEditor’s note: Last October PCT magazine published “Why Bee Health Matters,” a series of articles that explored the phenomenon of declining bee populations and new federal label language to protect pollinators. Bee health has continued to capture the attention of lawmakers, pest management professionals, scientists and environmental groups. Here’s a recap of what has happened since PCT magazine’s October cover story:

Bills Stall; Expect Legislative Push to Continue

Numerous anti-neonicotinoid and bee health bills have been introduced in state legislatures, but in general “the bee bills aren’t making it through the process,” said Gene Harrington, government affairs director, National Pest Management Association.

A Maryland bill would have restricted neonicotinoid use but faced objections to how it was written. An Oregon bill was “totally overhauled” from restricting neonicotinoids to creating a pollinator health task force, Harrington said. Bills in Vermont and Maine died; those in New York, New Jersey and Puerto Rico are languishing, he said. Minnesota bills requiring compensation for bee deaths caused by pesticide poisoning and exemption for some cities from state pesticide preemption are moving slowly; legislation prohibiting plants treated with “pollinator lethal insecticide” from being labeled or advertised as beneficial to pollinators awaits the governor’s signature.

California and Alaska have bills pending. North Dakota implemented a new pollinator plan. Ontario announced a new Pollinator Health Working Group after a previous group failed to reach consensus on how to stem bee losses.

Bills likely will be rewritten and introduced again next year, cautioned Harrington. The sponsor of the Maine bill plans to reintroduce language in the 2015 session targeting specialty pesticide (vs. agricultural) uses.

“This is the very beginning of what will be at the very least a multi-year battle,” said Harrington.

Local governments may take up the issue. In February, the city of Eugene, Ore., became the first community to ban the use of neonicotinoid pesticides on city property.

On the federal front, the Saving America’s Pollinators Act is pending and has 55 co-sponsors. Harrington doesn’t see an “obvious path to passage,” but the bill is raising the profile of this issue, has a strong support base, and “unfairly singles out pesticides as a main reason for the decline of bee health.” It likely will be introduced again next year.

More than 300 pest management professionals attended NPMA’s Legislative Day in March and met with Congressional representatives on bee health. It was an opportunity to “provide some balance to the issue” and “remind people this is an incredibly complex issue” that can’t be blamed solely on pesticides, said Harrington.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is drafting a pesticide registration notice that would add pollinator protection language, similar to that required on neonicotinoid products, to all pesticide labels. Harrington says he expects the draft notice to be made public in the next month or so. “There’s certainly going to be a lot of comment on that from all stakeholders,” said Harrington.

In April, members of Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment (RISE) and CropLife America met with White House staff to discuss stewardship and outreach programs in support of pollinator health, and followed up with a summary of members’ pollinator health initiatives.

Pest Management Professionals Prefer to Save the Bees

Declining bee health spurred at least two pest management companies to become honey bee advocates.

“Bee die-off is a big thing,” said Sawyer Pest Management Director Ryan Sawyer in London, Ont. “We have to do our part to help out where we can.”

Both Sawyer and Varment Guard Environmental Services in Columbus, Ohio, prioritize honey bee relocation over lethal control approaches. They extract hives from clients’ homes and businesses, and remove swarms.

Charlie Reffitt, a wildlife specialist at Varment Guard, realized a no-kill approach was necessary years ago after witnessing his first wild honey bee swarm at a golf course. A local beekeeper arrived on site too late to capture the swarm; the bees later were found in a cinderblock pump house and exterminated.

That disappointment led Reffitt, now one of two beekeepers on staff, to create Varment Guard’s honey bee program. Reffitt uses a specialized vacuum to remove swarms. Established colonies are lured out with queen bees and a funnel-shaped exclusion device. Jobs may take a day to six weeks, but clients are willing to wait, he said.

“We’re trying not to kill the bees; we’re trying to save them,” explained Sawyer, who relocates honey bees to his own hives, works with seven area beekeepers, and sets up and manages hives for those willing to foster them. Two foster hives are located on an elementary school rooftop, Sawyer said. Reffitt keeps hives on a dozen farmers’ properties: a win-win for all parties.

Why go to the extra effort? “Honey is good,” smiled Sawyer, who processes honey removed from homes. He returned 200 pounds of the sweet stuff to clients last year. His customers prefer the approach to spraying bees with insecticide; the service accounts for only 5 percent of revenue but sets Sawyer apart from competitors.

Unfortunately, killing bees may be the only option for clients with severe bee-sting allergies or if bees are unreachable deep inside the walls. Still, honey and wax must be removed or a new swarm or dermestid beetles may move in, or the material may seep through the walls, said Sawyer.

Reffitt gets 30 to 50 calls for honey bee removal each year. Swarms generally start in May and June; Reffitt traps out established hives through late fall.

He urged pest management professionals to hire a registered beekeeper. There is value in not having to turn a customer away, Reffitt said.

Activists Stage Protests, File Lawsuits

Environmental groups “swarmed” Home Depot and Lowe’s stores in February to protest the sale of neonicotinoid products and nursery plants treated with the pesticide. The “Show Bees Some Love” campaign presented a half a million petition signatures to the big box stores. Protests took place in Chicago, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Boston, Washington, D.C., and Eugene, Ore.

Killer Bees Attack Woman

Saving honey bees is admirable (see above); few feel the same about Africanized honey bees, an aggressive hybrid known to attack pets, livestock and people. In March, a 71-year-old woman was stung 1,000 times by a swarm of Africanized bees in Palm Desert, Calif., while sitting in her car. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Africanized honey bees are found in California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas and Florida. The bees look similar to the less-aggressive European honey bee, said experts.

The National Pest Management Association reports stinging insects send more than 500,000 people to the emergency room each year.

Groups urged the California Department of Pesticide Regulation to conclude its review of neonicotinoid pesticides as a class. Activists said the agency has continued to approve bee-harming products in this chemical class despite an ongoing review that began in 2009.

In March, groups delivered more than 500,000 signatures to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy, urging the leader to protect bees and other pollinators.

Groups filed two lawsuits against EPA for approving the pesticides sulfoxaflor and cyantraniliprole, which they claim are “highly toxic” to bees and insect pollinators. Sulfoxaflor, manufactured by Dow AgroSciences, belongs to a newly assigned sub-class of neonicotinoid pesticides. Cyantraniliprole is a DuPont active ingredient approved as a foliar and soil treatment to control sucking and chewing pests.

Studies: Fewer Colony Losses, More Neonic Finger-Pointing

This past winter, fewer managed honey bee colonies were lost in the United States than in recent years, according to an annual survey of beekeepers released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in May.

According to survey, total losses of managed honey bee colonies from all causes were 23.2 percent nationwide. That number is above the 18.9 percent level of loss that beekeepers say is acceptable for their economic sustainability, but is a significant improvement over the 30.5 percent loss reported for the winter of 2012-13, and over the eight-year average loss of 29.6 percent.

Survey leaders from USDA and the University of Maryland’s Bee Informed Partnership said there is no way to tell why the bees did better this year. They said yearly fluctuations in the rate of losses demonstrate the complicated issue of honey bee heath, which is impacted by the combination of viruses and other pathogens, parasites like varroa mites, nutrition problems from lack of diversity in pollen sources and sub-lethal effects of pesticides.

Related to pesticides, a study released by the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) in May found two neonicotinoids — imidacloprid and clothianidin — significantly harm honey bee colonies over the winter, particularly during cold winters.

Hives exhibiting Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) had almost identical levels of pathogen infestation as the control hives, most of which survived the winter. This suggests the neonicotinoids are causing some other kind of biological mechanism in bees that in turn leads to CCD, reported researchers.

“We demonstrated again in this study that neonicotinoids are highly likely to be responsible for triggering CCD in honey bee hives that were healthy prior to the arrival of winter,” said lead author Chensheng (Alex) Lu, associate professor of environmental exposure biology at HSPH.

According to the National Pest Management Association, industry leaders, entomologists and scientists have reviewed the study and agree the conclusions are misleading based on faulty science and the design of the experiment.

The study used a neonicotinoid concentration more than 10 times the highest level bees normally encounter, failed to screen what was in free-foraging bees’ systems prior to starting the experiment, and did not confirm the type of infection that caused the loss of one control hive, among other issues, reported NPMA.

The association provided the industry talking points to address concerns raised by the study, as well as a statement on pollinator health.

Bayer Opens New Research Center, Concludes Bee Care Tour

On April 15, Bayer CropScience opened its North American Bee Care Center in Research Triangle Park, N.C. The 6,000-square-foot, $2.4 million center will support scientific research, product stewardship and sustainable agriculture to protect and improve honey bee health, as well as educate stakeholders and the public about the beneficial insects.

The center has a laboratory with a teaching and research apiary, honey extraction and hive maintenance space; interactive learning center; meeting and training facilities for beekeepers, farmers and educators; office space for staff and graduate students; and on-site honey bee colonies, pollinator-friendly gardens and a screened hive observation area.

The facility complements Bayer’s Eastern Bee Care Technology Station, a 1,200-square-foot field station that opened in November in Clayton, N.C. Bayer’s first Bee Care Center opened in 2012 at the company’s global headquarters in Monheim, Germany.

Additionally, the company recently concluded its second annual Bee Care Tour to promote the role of honey bees in the food supply. The tour stopped at five research universities, a tradeshow and in Washington, D.C., and featured a mobile hive, stewardship workshops, and presentations on issues like varroa mite research. Some stops had honey tasting bars and pollinator-inspired meals.

Tour protesters at Oregon State University held signs that said, “Bayer kills bees” and urged a ban on what they call “bee-killing” neonicotinoid pesticides.

Bayer says its Bee Care Program has helped promote and develop solutions to improve bee health for more than 25 years.


The author is a frequent contributor to PCT. Email her at anagro@giemedia.com.

June 2014
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