JULY 2007


ISIS Press Release 22/06/07

Emergency Motion on Protecting the Honeybee

Question Tabled to European Commission by Ms Hiltrud Breyer
MEP of Strasbourg

Honeybees have been disappearing worldwide. 1 Across the
United States, beekeepers have been losing 30 to 90% or more
of colonies in a “colony collapse disorder” (CCD) that's
causing huge economic losses not only to beekeepers but also
to fruit and vegetable growers. CCD has been reported from
Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece, and
the UK. Many believe that when the honeybee disappears, our
species will soon follow.

The most important single factors identified by the
Institute of Science in Society ( ), in CCD
were sub-lethal levels of insecticides, 2 in particular, a
class of new systemic neonicotinoid pesticides widely used
to dress seeds and in sprays on crops, 3 and microwave
radiation from wireless telephone transmitters and base
stations. 4

Sub-lethal levels of pesticides, including the Bt
biopesticides produced in genetically modified (GM) crops
covering some 30 percent of the global area, disorientate
the bees, making them behave abnormally, and compromise
their immunity to infections.

A report in the LA Times 5 suggested that a single cell
parasitic fungus, Nosema ceranae , may be responsible for
CCD, though the experts involved said the results are
“highly preliminary”.

A new review from ISIS 6 presented compelling evidence that
sub-lethal levels of neonicotinoid pesticides, particularly
imidacloprid, act synergistically with parasitic fungi such
as Nosema in killing insects pests. Fungal spores, widely
used as biocontrol agents are applied in sprays and baits,
and when delivered in suspension with sub-lethal levels of
pesticides are much more effective in killing insects.

Equally, Bt biopesticides enhance the killing power of
parasitic fungi synergistically. Purified Bt Cry1Ab toxin
killed Nosema infected borer larvae at one-third the dose
required for killing the uninfected larvae. Bacillus
thuringiensis kurstaki (the natural soil bacteria producing
the Bt biopesticides) in commercial (Dipel) formulations
killed Nosema pyrausta infected cornborer larvae at a dose
45 times lower than that killing the uninfected larvae.

Regulators have allowed the widespread deployment of
systemic neonicotinoid pesticides neonicotinoids based on
assessments of lethal dose in bees of the pesticides alone,
ignoring clear evidence that sub-lethal pesticide levels act
synergistically with fungal parasites in killing insects.
The honeybees may well be succumbing to such synergistic
effects. There is every reason to eliminate the use of all
pesticides that act synergistically with parasitic fungi,
and all Bt crops should be banned for the same reason.

Will the European Commission take the appropriate measures
to halt the colony collapse of the honeybees?

This would include banning Bt crops and systemic
neonicotinoid pesticides while their synergistic action in
killing honeybees in combination with parasitic fungi and
other infections are thoroughly investigated.


Reported in Killing Bees series, Science in Society 34 ,
2007; Institute of Science in Society ( );
magazine pdf and fully referenced members' versions of
articles enclosed

Ho MW and Cummins J. Mystery of Disappearing Honeybees ,
Science in Society 34 , 35-36, 2007.

Cummins J. Requiem for the Honeybee , Science in Society 34
, 37-38, 2007.

Ho MW. Mobile Phones and Vanishing Bees , Science in Society
34 , 34, 2007.

“Experts may have found what's bugging the bees”, Jia-Rui
Chong and Tomas H. Maugh II, LA Times, 26 April 2007,

Cummins J. Parasitic Fungi and Pesticides Act
Synergistically to Kill Honeybees? ISIS Report 7 June 2007,

Read the article here

The dead bees

Sunday, June 17, 2007

The dead bees under Dennis VanEngelsdorp's microscope were like none he had ever seen before.

He had expected to see mites or amoebas, perennial pests of bees. Instead, he found internal organs swollen with debris and strangely blackened. The bees' intestinal tracts were scarred, and their rectums were abnormally full of what appeared to be partly digested pollen. Dark marks on the sting glands were telltale signs of infection.

"The more you looked, the more you found," said VanEngelsdorp, acting apiarist for the state of Pennsylvania. "Each thing was a surprise."

VanEngelsdorp's examination of the bees in November was one of the first scientific glimpses into a mysterious honeybee die-off that has launched an intense search for a cure.

The puzzling phenomenon, known as Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD, has been reported in 35 states, five Canadian provinces and several European countries. The die-off has cost U.S. beekeepers about $150 million in losses and an uncertain amount for farmers scrambling to find bees to pollinate their crops.

Scientists have scoured the country, finding eerily abandoned hives in which the bees seem to have simply left their honey and broods of baby bees.

"We've never experienced bees going off and leaving brood behind," said Pennsylvania-based beekeeper Dave Hackenberg. "It was like a mother going off and leaving her kids."

Researchers have picked through the abandoned hives, dissected thousands of bees, and tested for viruses, bacteria, pesticides and mites.

So far, they are stumped.

According to the Apiary Inspectors of America, 24 percent of 384 beekeeping operations across the country lost more than 50 percent of their colonies from September to March. Some have lost 90 percent.

"I'm worried about the bees," said Dan Boyer, 52, owner of Ridgetop Orchards in Fishertown, Pa., which grows apples. "The more I learn about it, the more I think it is a national tragedy."At Boyer's orchard, 400 acres of apple trees -- McIntosh, Honey Crisp, Red Delicious and 11 other varieties -- have just begun to bud white flowers.Boyer's trees need to be pollinated. Incompletely pollinated blooms would still grow apples, he said, but the fruit would be small and misshapen, suitable only for low-profit juice.This year, he will pay dearly for the precious bees -- $13,000 for 200 hives, the same price that 300 hives cost him last year.

The scene is being repeated throughout the country, where honeybees, scientifically known as "Apis mellifera," are required to pollinate a third of the nation's food crop, including almonds, cherries, blueberries, pears, strawberries and pumpkins.

One of the earliest alarms was sounded by Hackenberg, who used to keep about 3,000 hives in dandelion-covered fields near the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania.In November, Hackenberg, 58, was at his winter base in Florida. He peeked in on a group of 400 beehives he had driven down from his home in West Milton, Pa., a month before. He went from empty box to empty box. Only about 40 had bees in them."It was just the most phenomenal thing I thought I'd ever seen," he said.The next morning, Hackenberg called Jerry Hayes, the chief of apiary inspection at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and president of the Apiary Inspectors of America.Hayes mentioned some bee die-offs in Georgia that, until then, hadn't seemed significant.Hackenberg drove back to West Milton with a couple of dead beehives and live colonies that had survived. He handed them over to researchers at Pennsylvania State University.With amazing speed, the bees vanished from his other hives, more than 70 percent of which were abandoned by February.Hackenberg, a talkative, wiry man with a deeply lined face, figured he lost more than $460,000 this winter for replacement bees, lost honey and missed pollination opportunities."If that happens again, we're out of business," he said.

It didn't take researchers long to figure out they were dealing with something new.

VanEngelsdorp, a sandy-bearded 37-year-old, quickly eliminated the most obvious suspects: Varroa and tracheal mites, which have occasionally wrought damage on hives since the 1980s.At the state lab in Harrisburg, Pa., VanEngelsdorp checked bee samples from Pennsylvania and Georgia. He washed bees with soapy water to dislodge Varroa mites and cut the thorax of the bees to look for tracheal mites; he found that the number of mites was not unusually high.His next guess was amoebic infection. He scanned the bees' kidneys for cysts and found a handful, but not enough to explain the population decline. VanEngelsdorp traveled to Florida and California at the beginning of the year to collect adult bees, brood, nectar, pollen and comb for a more systematic study. He went to 11 apiaries, both sick and healthy, and collected 102 colonies.

A number of the pollen samples went to Maryann Frazier, a honeybee specialist at Penn State who has been coordinating the pesticide investigation. Her group has been testing for 106 chemicals used to kill mites, funguses or other pests.Scientists have focused on a new group of pesticides known as neonicotinoids, which have spiked in popularity because they are safe for people, Frazier said. Previous studies have shown that these pesticides can kill bees and throw off their ability to learn and navigate, she said.

Researchers have yet to collect enough data to come to any conclusions, but the experience of French beekeepers casts doubt on the theory. France banned the most commonly used neonicotinoid in 1999 after complaints from beekeepers that it was killing their colonies. French hives, however, are doing no better now, experts said.

Entomologist Jerry J. Bromenshenk of the University of Montana launched his own search for poisons, relying on the enhanced odor sensitivity of bees -- about 40 times better than that of humans.When a colony is exposed to a new chemical odor, he said, its sound changes in volume and frequency, producing a unique audio signature.Bromenshenk has been visiting beekeepers around the country, recording hive sounds and taking them back to his lab for analysis. To date, no good candidates have surfaced.If the cause is not a poison, it is most likely a parasite.University of California, San Francisco researchers announced in April that they had found a single-celled protozoan called "Nosema ceranae" in bees from colonies with the collapse disorder.Unfortunately, Bromenshenk said, "we see equal levels of Nosema in CCD colonies and healthy colonies."

Several researchers, including entomologist Diana Cox-Foster of Penn State and Dr. W. Ian Lipkin, a virologist at Columbia University, have been sifting through bees that have been ground up, looking for viruses and bacteria."We were shocked by the huge number of pathogens present in each adult bee," Cox-Foster said at a recent meeting of bee researchers convened by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.The large number of pathogens suggested, she said, that the bees' immune systems had been suppressed, allowing the proliferation of infections.

The idea that a pathogen is involved is supported by recent experiments conducted by VanEngelsdorp and USDA entomologist Jeffrey S. Pettis. One of the unusual features of the disorder is that the predators of abandoned beehives, such as hive beetles and wax moths, refuse to venture into infected hives for weeks or longer. "It's as if there is something repellent or toxic about the colony," said Hayes, the Florida inspector. To test this idea, VanEngelsdorp and Pettis set up 200 beehive boxes with new, healthy bees from Australia and placed them in the care of Hackenberg. Fifty of the hives were irradiated to kill potential pathogens. Fifty were fumigated with concentrated acetic acid, a hive cleanser commonly used in Canada. Fifty were filled with honey frames that had been taken from Hackenberg's colonies before the collapse, and the last 50 were hives that had been abandoned that winter. When VanEngelsdorp visited the colonies at the beginning of May, bees in the untouched hive were clearly struggling, filling only about a quarter of a frame. Bees living on the reused honeycomb were alive but not thriving. A hive that had been fumigated with acetic acid was better.When he popped open an irradiated hive, bees were crawling everywhere. "This does imply there is something biological," he said.

If it is a pathogen or a parasite, honeybees are poorly equipped to deal with it, said entomologist May Berenbaum of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.The honeybee genome has only half as many genes to detoxify poisons and to fight off infections as do other insects."There is something about the life of the honeybee that has led to the loss of a lot of genes associated with detoxification, associated with the immune system," Berenbaum said.

And so the search continues.

Many beekeepers have few options but to start rebuilding. Gene Brandi, a veteran beekeeper based in Los Banos, Calif., lost 40 percent of his 2,000 colonies this winter.Brandi knows plenty of beekeepers who sold their equipment at bargain prices.Scurrying around a blackberry farm near Watsonville, Brandi was restocking his bees. Dressed in a white jumpsuit and yellow bee veil, the exuberant 55-year-old pulled out a frame of honeycomb from a hive that had so many bees they were spilling out the front entrance."When it's going good like this, you forget CCD," he said.

Hackenberg, who has spent his whole life in the business, isn't giving up either. He borrowed money and restocked with bees from Australia.In April, the normally hale Hackenberg started feeling short of breath. His doctor said he was suffering from stress and suggested he slow down.Not now, Hackenberg thought. "I'm going to go down fighting."

This story appeared in The Daily Herald on page A1.

Today I spent an hour or three
Staring at a picture of a bee
It made me feel so happy inside.
Yellow black and furry
Making lots of honey
With no need to worry or hide.

I'd like to spend my hours
Rooting around in pretty flowers
Then flying home to service my queen.
Oh what a mighty buzz
Living in a healthy hive of love
A cog in one big busy bee machine.

Though I'm sure bees have their problems
Just like every living thing
Such as dying prematurely
When they use their only sting.
The constant threat of fumigation
And horrific nectar costs
Or bearing all the blame and shame
Of trouble caused by wasps.

What I think I'm trying to say
Is if I leave this heartless world today
I'm willing to return in bee form.
Collecting lots of pollen
From a field in Holland
And swearing my allegiance to the swarm.

Can't you see it's killing me?
I'm droning for the colony
I just want to be
A bee...