"..if bees were to disappear, man would
only have a few years to live." - Albert Einstein
Keep current on this topic here: http://maarec.cas.psu.edu/index.html
WASHINGTON (AFP) - US beekeepers have been stung in recent
months by the mysterious disappearance of millions of bees threatening
honey supplies as well as crops which depend on the insects for pollination.
Bee numbers on parts of the east coast and in Texas have fallen by more
than 70 percent, while California has seen colonies drop by
30 to 60 percent.
According to estimates from the US Department of Agriculture, bees are
vanishing across a total of 22 states, and for the time being no one
really knows why.
"Approximately 40 percent of my 2,000 colonies are currently dead
and this is the greatest winter colony mortality I have ever experienced
in my 30 years of beekeeping," apiarist Gene Brandi, from the California
State Beekeepers Association, told Congress recently.
It is normal for hives to see populations fall by some 20 percent during
the winter, but the sharp loss of bees is causing concern, especially
as domestic US bee colonies have been steadily decreasing since 1980.
There are some 2.4 million professional hives in the country, according
to the Agriculture Department, 25 percent fewer than at the start of
And the number of beekeepers has halved.
The situation is so bad, that beekeepers are now calling for some kind
of government intervention, warning the flight of the bees could be
catastrophic for crop growers.
Domestic bees are essential for pollinating some 90 varieties of vegetables
and fruits, such as apples, avocados, and blueberries and cherries.
"The pollination work of honey bees increases the yield and quality
of United States crops by approximately 15 billion dollars annually
including six billion in California," Brandi said.
California's almond industry alone contributes two billion dollars to
the local economy, and depends on 1.4 million bees which are brought
from around the US every year to help pollinate the trees, he added.
The phenomenon now being witnessed across the United States has been
dubbed "colony collapse disorder," or CCD, by scientists as
they seek to explain what is causing the bees to literally disappear
The usual suspects to which bees are known to be vulnerable such as
the varroa mite, an external parasite which attacks honey bees and which
can wipe out a hive, appear not to be the main cause.
"CCD is associated with unique symptoms, not seen in normal collapses
associated with varroa mites and honey bee viruses or in colony deaths
due to winter kill," entomologist Diana Cox-Foster told the Congress
In cases of colony collapse disorder, flourishing hives are suddenly
depopulated leaving few, if any, surviving bees behind.
The queen bee, which is the only one in the hive allowed to reproduce,
is found with just a handful of young worker bees and a reserve of food.
Curiously though no dead bees are found either inside or outside the
The fact that other bees or parasites seem to shun the emptied hives
raises suspicions that some kind of toxin or chemical is keeping the
insects away, Cox-Foster said.
Those bees found in such devastated colonies also all seem to be infected
with multiple micro-organisms, many of which are known to be behind
stress-related illness in bees.
Scientists working to unravel the mysteries behind CCD believe a new
pathogen may be the cause, or a new kind of chemical product which could
be weakening the insects' immune systems.
The finger of suspicion is being pointed at agriculture pesticides
such as the widely-used neonicotinoides, which are already known to
be poisonous to bees.
France saw a huge fall in its bee population in the 1990s, blamed on
the insecticide Gaucho which has now been banned in the country.
Insecticide Ban as Billions of Bees Die
BENOIT HOPQUIN / Le Monde (France) 4mar04
On February 23, after some hesitation, the French agriculture minister,
Hervé Gaymard, ruled on the highly controversial issue of fipronil,
an active ingredient used in insecticides, which beekeepers in southwest
France claim has been responsible for deaths of billions of bees. He
suspended the future sale and use of several fipronil-based products,
including Regent, a seed coating currently produced by BASF, one of
the world's largest chemicals manufacturers. Gaymard added, however,
that this spring farmers will be allowed to sow fipronil-coated seeds
already in their possession. Similarly, wholesalers will be permitted
to dispose of all their existing stocks.
The minister's move followed an earlier decision by an investigating
magistrate in St-Gaudens, southwest France, to prosecute BASF and Bayer
[Chipco TopChoice and Chipco Choice and a fire ant bait] (which manufactured
fipronil-based products from June 2002 to March 2003) in connection
with a mysteriously high death rate among bees. He charged the firms
with "the sale of a toxic product harmful to the health of human
beings and animals", "complicity in the destruction of livestock"
and "the marketing of a product without authorisation".
The magistrate's vigorous action was the latest episode in the long
fight that beekeepers have been waging against pesticides. From 1994
on, they noted that swarms of bees were dying in large numbers and began
to suspect that insecticides were the cause.
Fipronil in the seed coating is gradually released during the plant's
growth and protects it against insect pests. In theory the extremely
active molecule disappears before the plant flowers. Several studies
quoted by beekeepers show, however, that the molecule is still present
in the pollen of flowers (particularly those of the sunflower) when
it is gathered by bees.
They maintain that fipronil is ingested by the bees and either kills
them or disrupts the organisation of the hives. However, the manufacturers
cite other studies that show their products to be harmless.
The controversy intensified recently when several studies suggested
that fipronil was also a threat to human health. Researchers detected
traces of the pesticide in silage consumed by cattle. It accumulated
in the animals' fat and milk, they said, thus contaminating the food
Gérard Arnold, a scientist with the National Scientific Research
Centre (CNRS), issued a report last December that noted the presence
of fipronil in the air. His report was passed on to Guary by Jean-François
Narbonne, a professor at Bordeaux University and an expert on food safety.
Narbonne argued that until 2003 the product had benefited from an official
classification that did not reflect its true level of toxicity. He said
that the degree of its exposure in food often exceeded the admitted
daily dose, particularly in the case of children. "The health minister
should have been alerted," he said.
BASF rejects such claims. The food department of the agriculture ministry
is equally categorical: "There's no threat to human health either
through direct exposure or through the consumption of animal or vegetable
products," says Thierry Klinger, its director.
When Guary searched the offices of BASF, Bayer and the food department,
he found evidence that raised questions about the authorisation procedures
used in the case of Regent. It would seem that since coming on to the
market in 1996 the product has received a series of renewed temporary
sales authorisations, rather than a marketing authorisation that requires
a more rigorous procedure.
Meanwhile a knight in shining armour has appeared in the person of Viscount
Philippe de Villiers, the rightwing president of the departmental council
of Vendée, western France. In his recently published book, Quand
Les Abeilles Meurent . . . (When Bees Die . . .), he describes how he
was alerted to the problem of fipronil by a beekeeper whose hives had
been devastated. As his shoes scrunched across a carpet of dead bees,
De Villiers became increasingly angry with "the monstrous mating
of the agrochemicals industry and the state".
The book, whose title quotes Albert Einstein's remark that "if
bees were to disappear, man would only have a few years to live",
charts the beekeepers' struggle and castigates the "servile"
behaviour of civil servants, the use of disinformation, the agriculture
ministry and Europe.
Not surprisingly, BASF and Bayer have issued libel proceedings against
De Villiers. February 20 and 25
Bayer Environmental Science Retains Fipronil
Grounds Maintenance 29apr03
Bayer Environmental Science announces the company can continue to market
the active ingredient fipronil and its mixtures to the turf and ornamental
market. The announcement stems from Bayer CropScience AG’s recent
agreement on the divestiture of selected insecticides and fungicides
to BASF AG. Bayer Environmental Science says the company retains back-licenses
for certain non-agricultural applications. Fipronil serves as the active
ingredient for Chipco TopChoice and Chipco Choice and a fire ant bait,
all of which are intended to be used in and are labeled exclusively
for professional markets.
“Fipronil is a key growth driver and offers tremendous opportunity
as we further expand our position in the turf and ornamental market,”
says Jim Fetter, director of marketing, Bayer Environmental Science.
“We are excited now that the transcaction is finalized and look
forward to continuing to provide our customers with innovative fipronil
insecticides that can be included in their arsendal of effective control
products. Chipco TopChoice has been extremely well received by the industry
since its launch last year, and offers a totally new approach to managing
fire ant infestations. We view fipronil as an important foundation block
in our comprehensive product and service portfolio.”
BASF finalizes acquisition of fipronil
Delta Farm Press 11apr03
BASF AG has finalized the global acquisition of fipronil from Bayer
CropScience AG, paving the way for the insecticide with the trade name
Regent to join the BASF corn product portfolio.
Late in 2002, BASF announced its intent to purchase a package of products,
including fipronil, from Bayer. The sale totaled 1.330 million euros,
— about $1.42 million.
“This purchase further strengthens our insecticide portfolio,
and reinforces BASF as a long-term player in agriculture,” Andy
Lee, BASF director of U.S. business operations said at a March 26 press
With the sale closed, Regent now will be marketed by BASF in a corn
product portfolio that includes Distinct, Guardsman Max, Lightning and
Outlook herbicides, Counter systemic insecticide-nematicide, and other
“The addition of fipronil, and Regent specifically, allows us
to offer our customers a liquid corn insecticide option for the first
time,” said Lee. “We believe Regent will be a significant
complement to our overall corn portfolio.”
Regent is a soil insecticide that offers complete corn protection, controlling
pests such as rootworm, wireworm and early-season European corn borer,
Lee noted. In addition, Regent controls a number of secondary corn pests,
including common stalk borer, seed corn maggot, seed corn beetle, chinch
bug grubs and thrips.
“The way we see it, the biggest advantage we can offer with Regent
is its wide spectrum of insect control. Many older, competing products
only offer corn rootworm control, but Regent, as a liquid, offers a
much broader insect control solution,” he says. “Because
of this, we continue to see a need for this product even with new transgenic
products coming to the market.
“Regent not only represents the newest generation of corn insecticides,
but also nicely complements our strong Counter granular business,”
Lee said. “With this purchase, we will offer our channel partners
and growers an even stronger corn insecticide portfolio.”
The acquisition of the package from Bayer, including fipronil, also
will allow BASF in the mid-term to enter the seed treatment business,
“We want to assure corn growers and retailers that supplies of
Regent will continue to meet the needs of the market,” he said.
According to Lee, BASF is proceeding with new product registrations
associated with the recent acquisition. Specifically, he says, the company
is interested in pursuing a seed treatment package with fipronil, and
is researching a new wheat fungicide.
Fipronil, the active ingredient in Regent, is a broad-spectrum insecticide
from the new chemistry class of phenyl pyrazoles. Fipronil is currently
registered and sold in more than 70 countries.
“BASF is a company committed to agriculture for the long term.
As such, we are always evaluating any opportunities to grow our agriculture
business,” Lee says.
"Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity,
and I'm not sure about the former." -- Albert Einstein