"..if bees were to disappear, man would only have a few years to live." - Albert Einstein
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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 the 1980s.
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 in droves.
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 committee.
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 hive.
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 chain.
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
source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/guardianweekly/story/0,12674,1161069,00.html 7mar04
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.”
source: http://grounds-mag.com/microsites/newsarticle.asp?mode=print&newsarticleid=2680812&releaseid=&srid=11698&magazineid=35&siteid=17 7mar04
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 conference.
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 crop-protection products.
“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, Lee noted.
“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.
source: http://deltafarmpress.com/magazinearticle.asp?magazinearticleid=172807&magazineid=14&siteID=5&releaseid=11176&mode=print 7mar04
"Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former." -- Albert Einstein