Most honey samples now show pesticide contamination

❝ A new study has found traces of neonicotinoid chemicals in 75% of honey samples from across the world.

The scientists say that the levels of the widely used pesticide are far below the maximum permitted levels in food for humans.

In one-third of the honey, the amount of the chemical found was enough to be detrimental to bees.

❝ Industry sources, though, dismissed the research, saying the study was too small to draw concrete conclusions…In economic terms, that means they couldn’t care less. As long as they’re not killing humans or turning them sterile, all’s right with the world – and their profits.

❝ Neonicotinoids are considered to be the world’s most widely used class of insecticides…These systemic chemicals can be added as a seed coating to many crops, reducing the need for spraying. They have generally been seen as being more beneficial for the environment than the older products that they have replaced.

However, the impact of neonics on pollinators such as bees has long been a troubling subject for scientists around the world. Successive studies have shown a connection between the use of the products and a decline in both the numbers and health of bees.

Earlier this year, the most comprehensive field study to date concluded that the pesticides harm honey bees and wild bees.

You can read the report from this latest study over here.

Mapping a city’s microbes with bees

You share more than a zip code with your neighbors. You also share bugs — microscopic organisms (think bacteria, fungi, and viruses). These microbial communities are called microbiomes, and they seem to have an impact on everything from digestion to allergies. They also happen to be everywhere — from your intestines to your phone’s screen to the sidewalk beneath your feet.

But those bugs are tough to understand, because you can’t see them. “There’s like this whole other invisible planet,” says Kevin Slavin, head of the Playful Systems group at the MIT Media Lab. In a new project called Holobiont Urbanism, Slavin’s team is working to sample, sequence, and visualize the microbial makeup of New York City. Some of the team members are designers, engineers, and biologists.

Some of them are bees.

Bees typically forage no more than a mile and a half from their hives, but in their expeditions they come into contact with the microbes in their range, and those microbes stick. Slavin’s group worked with apiarists to build beehives with removable trays at the bottom that collect detritus from the bees, like a crumb-catcher in a toaster. Then they put those hives all over Brooklyn and Queens (and Sydney, Melbourne, Venice, and Tokyo).

Researchers can gather up all those bee-crumbs and sequence the DNA they find. Subtract the bee genes and what’s left represents the neighborhood microbiome. Slavin’s team mapped all those genes into a a circular evolutionary tree…but for specific urban areas. They also mapped microbes to their homes. New York City and Sydney, for example, both harbor the genera Polaromonas, Sphingopyxis, and Alicycliphilus, all of which feed on pollutants. But Venice has Meyerozyma guilliermondii and Penicillium chrysogenum, two dampness-loving fungi associated with wood rot.

What does that teach you about cities? Maybe not much. Cataloging bug DNA might not say much about the urban microbiome as a whole…just being able to see this invisible microbial world is at least a step toward understanding it…A city is about more than architecture and infrastructure and people; it’s about the bugs everyone shares, too.

Some of those little critters are harmful to us. Some aren’t. Many of them probably affect our lives in a number of ways which can’t be categorized in simple fashion. But, increasing knowledge also increases the likelihood of expanding understanding.

Cross-species cooperation, humans and birds in Mozambique

Calling to each other with chirps and yelps, a species of bird and a tribe of humans in southeast Africa forage for honey in unison. The birds lead the way to hidden beehives, which are camouflaged among high tree branches. The tribesmen crack open the hives and share the sweet spoils of victory with their bird friends…

A trio of zoologists led by Claire Spottiswoode, an African bird researcher at the University of Cambridge in the UK, has just documented this astounding relationship. The particular players are Yao tribesmen in Mozambique and wild local birds called honeyguides…As the zoologists describe in a paper published…in the journal Science, the communication and cooperation goes both ways. When the birds spy a beehive on their own, they can find a nearby human, get his or her attention with a signature chirp, then flit from tree to tree toward the hive. Yao tribesmen can solicit the help of nearby honeyguides with their own unique hail, a birdcall handed down through countless generations.

“What’s remarkable about the honeyguide-human relationship is that it involves free-living wild animals… [which] evolved through natural selection, probably over the course of hundreds of thousands of years,” Spottiswoode says. Nobody is training these birds. On their own, the birds can’t crack open beehives, and the hives are often hidden away from human eyes. So everybody wins. Well, except the bees.

Interesting article, interesting experiment. A few new questions raised, of course. This is proper science, after all.

Thanks, Honeyman

National sampling finds neonicotinoid insecticides in more than half of streams

Neonicotinoid insecticides (neonicotinoids) were present in a little more than half of the streams sampled across the United States and Puerto Rico, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) study. This is the first national-scale study of the presence of neonicotinoids in urban and agricultural land use settings across the Nation and was completed as part of ongoing USGS investigations of pesticide levels in streams.

Neonicotinoids are one of the fastest growing classes of insecticides worldwide and are registered for use throughout the United States and the world. They are used in agricultural and urban settings and some are used predominately as seed coatings to protect seedlings such as corn and soybeans. The insecticides are also used as foliar sprays on horticultural, vegetable, and ornamental crops, pastures, and grasslands, and for domestic pests…

As an addition to the national reconnaissance study, four complimentary studies were led to determine how neonicotinoid concentrations varied in streams over time and during different streamflow conditions. Neonicotinoids were present in urban streams throughout the year, whereas pulses of the insecticides were typical in agricultural streams during the crop planting season.

None of the neonicotinoid concentrations exceeded U.S. Environmental Protection Agency aquatic life criteria, and all detected neonicotinoids are classified as not likely to be carcinogenic to humans. However, the occurrence of low levels in streams for extended periods of time highlights the need for future research on the potential effects of neonicotinoids on aquatic life and terrestrial animals that rely on aquatic life.

We must politely tiptoe around the lobbying and other political power of the manufacturers of pesticides. In alliance with agribusiness, they are a wondrous Goliath to behold. If you think brute power worth admiring.

Meanwhile, Europe continues with it’s interim ban on such substances and more studies on the death of bees from this crap continue in assent. As a nation, we don’t especially care any more for the death of little creatures essential to our existence – than we do the death of human beings in foreign lands. Especially when and where the profits of large American corporations might be affected.

Study of rivers and streams in the Midwest finds neonic insecticide runoff

A new study has added to mounting evidence against a class of insecticides called neonicotinoids…linked in numerous studies to bee declines, the new research looks at neonics’ impacts on surface water.

Researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey looked at 9 rivers and streams in the U.S. Midwest—home to vast plantings of corn and soybeans as well as widespread use of neonics—in the 2013 growing season.

The researchers detected neonics in all the waterways, which included the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. One systemic pesticide, clothianidin, was found in 75 percent of the water samples.

“We noticed higher levels of these insecticides after rain storms during crop planting, which is similar to the spring flushing of herbicides that has been documented in Midwestern U.S. rivers and streams,” USGS scientist Michelle Hladick, the report’s lead author, said in a statement.

“In fact, the insecticides also were detected prior to their first use during the growing season, which indicates that they can persist from applications in prior years,” Hladick stated…

“The fact that neonics are pervasively contaminating surface waters should be a wake-up call for state and federal regulators…”

The USGS study comes on the heels of findings by researchers from the Netherlands who noted that concentrations of one neonic called imidacloprid were linked to declines in bird population, suggesting “the impact of neonicotinoids on the natural environment is even more substantial than has recently been reported.”

And a global analysis out last month based on 800 peer-reviewed reports found “clear evidence” that neonics pose threats to bees, other pollinators and terrestrial invertebrates like earthworms, which are exposed to neonics through the soil, the treated plant itself and water.

What does it take to get the liberal flag-wavers inside the Obama administration to live up to the most basic standards of ecology? When domestic and foreign research contradicts the statements of corporate chemical producers, the minimum, the least our government must do is to halt the use of these chemical agents for a period of independent in-depth testing.

Other governments have already done so. All the more reason to act up to a standard supposedly embraced by Democrats and their party. How about deeds instead of words, folks?

Thanks, Mike

EU ready to ban insecticides tied to bee decline

Insecticides linked to serious harm in bees could be banned from use on flowering crops in Europe as early as July, under proposals set out by the European commission on Thursday, branded “hugely significant” by environmentalists. The move marks remarkably rapid action after evidence has mounted in recent months that the pesticides are contributing to the decline in insects that pollinate a third of all food.

Three neonicotinoids, the world’s most widely used insecticides, which earn billions of pounds a year for their manufacturers, would be forbidden from use on corn, oil seed rape, sunflowers and other crops across the continent for two years.

It was time for “swift and decisive action”, said Tonio Borg, commissioner for health and consumer policy, who added that the proposals were “ambitious but proportionate”.

The proposals will enter EU law on 25 February if a majority of Europe’s member states vote in favour. France and the Netherlands are supportive but the UK and Germany are reported to be reluctant…

Luis Morago, at campaign group Avaaz which took an anti-neonicotinoid petition of 2.2m signatures to Brussels, said: “This is the first time that the EU has recognised that the demise of bees has a perpetrator: pesticides. The suspension could mark a tipping point in the battle to stop the chemical armageddon for bees, but it does not go far enough. Over 2.2 million people want the European commission to face-down spurious German and British opposition and push for comprehensive ban of neonicotinoid pesticides.”

Keith Taylor, Green party MEP for South East England MEP, said: “For too long the threat to bees from neonicotinoids has been dismissed, minimised or ignored. It is, therefore, good to see the European commission finally waking up. Bees have enormous economic value as pollinators and are vital to farmers. Let us hope that we’re not too late in halting the dramatic decline in their population…”

On 16 January, the European Food Safety Authority, official advisers to the EC, labelled the three neonicotinoids an unacceptable danger to bees feeding on flowering crops and this prompted the proposal produced on Thursday. If approved by experts from member states on 25 February, it would suspend the use imidacloprid and clothianidin, made by Bayer, and thiamethoxam, made by Syngenta, on crops that attract bees. Winter cereals would be excluded, because bees are not active at that time, and the suspension would be reviewed after two years. The European commission is also considering banning gardeners from using these neonicotinoids, although B&Q, Homebase and Wickes have already withdrawn such products from their garden centres in the UK.

EPA has continued to approve more than 100 neonicotinoid products for unrestricted use on dozens of crops, including the vast majority of corn seed planted in North America, cotton, soybeans and dozens of other crops covering an estimated 200 million total acres.

They say they’ll be ready to consider a new review – in 2018.

Prefer Obama light or Obama dark? White House beer that is…

President Barack Obama has become one of the first modern day U.S. presidents known for enjoying a cold beer that is brewed and tapped right at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Obama aides on Tuesday confirmed the small brewery during a three-day re-election campaign tour across Iowa. An official admitted the Obamas have their own alcoholic beverage made and kept in stock at the White House.

Revelations about the White House beer came to light after the president gave a bottle of it to a patron at a coffee shop he was visiting in Iowa. The gift prompted the press corps traveling with Obama to ask for more details and White House spokesman Jay Carney was peppered with questions about the first family’s beverage of choice.

There is a home brew, if you will, at the White House,” Carney told reporters.

The beer, named White House Honey Ale, comes in both a light and dark variety. The honey portion of the drink is taken from first lady Michelle Obama’s garden beehive.

Certainly, it’s now clear the president has a path to his own business available after his 2nd term. Poisonally, I’d much rather sell beer than work in American politics.

France starts to protect bees by banning Cruiser OSR pesticide

France said it plans to ban a pesticide made by Swiss agro-chemical group Syngenta that is widely used to treat rapeseed crops after scientists suggested it could pose danger to bees.

A sharp decline in bee populations across the world in recent years, partly due to a phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder, has prompted criticism of pesticide use, although research has yet to show clearly the causes of falling bee numbers.

France intends to withdraw the permit of the Cruiser OSR pesticide used for coating rape seeds, pending a two-week period during which Syngenta can submit its own evidence, Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll said on Friday.

The decision was based on a report from French health and safety agency ANSES, which went along with recent scientific findings suggesting that a sub-lethal dose of thiamethoxam, a molecule contained in Cruiser, made bees more likely to lose their way and die…

Syngenta rejected the move as based on a single study and not backed up by field observations. A lie.

France is the largest crop producer in the European Union and with Germany is the leading EU grower of rapeseed, used for making vegetable oil and biodiesel fuel. Here in North America, marketing overrules history and rapeseed is known as safflower.

The French ban on the pesticide will take effect before the start of the next rapeseed sowing campaign in late summer, a farm ministry official said, stressing that it would not affect versions of Cruiser used for other crops such as maize (corn)…

Dave Goulson of Stirling University in Scotland, who led another recent study on risks to bees from neonicotinoids, said there was growing evidence that these chemicals may play a role.

“It would be massively oversimplifying to say that these chemicals are the only cause of bee decline, although it is clear they are a part of the problem,” he told Reuters.

Oversimplifying, of course, is perfectly acceptable for lobbyists working for agro-chemical companies.