News / USA

Pesticides Contribute to Decline in World's Bee Population

Raising Crops Linked to Declining Bee Population Worldwidei
June 13, 2013 7:28 PM
A steady decline in the overall honeybee population year to year is a growing problem worldwide. The decreasing bee population could contribute to a dramatic increase in commodity prices for goods dependent upon pollination by honeybees. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports from Illinois, researchers continue to study the decline as beekeepers are struggling to keep their colonies, and their profits, alive.
Raising Crops Linked to Declining Bee Population Worldwide
A steady decline in the overall honeybee population year to year is a growing problem worldwide. The decreasing bee population could contribute to a dramatic increase in commodity prices for goods dependent upon pollination by honeybees. Researchers continue to study the decline as beekeepers are struggling to keep their colonies, and their profits, alive.

Terrence Ingram considers himself a naturalist. He said he’s best able to commune with the natural world around him at the center of a swarm... of bees. “I love beekeeping. It’s one of God’s greatest miracles."

Since 1954, Ingram has raised tens of thousands of honeybees in managed colonies behind his house in rural Apple River, Illinois.

“We had 250 hives at one time. We sold five, six tons of honey a year,” said Ingram.

Falling honey supplies

But that amount is dwindling. "Now we’re down to about probably four tons." And that's not because the 73-year-old Ingram is slowing down, but because he says there are fewer bees producing honey, something he blames on the use of insecticides and herbicides in the farmland surrounding his property. The gradual decline in his bee population began in 1996.

“Every three weeks that summer, they were spraying with the airplane, and by the end of the year, I didn’t have any of my 250 hives left,” he said.

This phenomenon caught the attention of researchers like Purdue University Entomology Professor Christian Krupke.

“There have been similar reports from Europe in the past, and so we looked into it a little bit further from the point of view of wondering first of all what is killing these bees, and second how are these bees acquiring whatever this toxic chemical is,” said Krupke.

There are many reasons for the worldwide bee decline, not just insecticides.

But in this instance, Krupke and his colleagues focused on insecticides - known as neonicotinoids - that adhere to the seeds as they are planted in the ground, rather than from spraying above.

“The two compounds that kept coming up when we tested these dead bees were the pesticides clothianidin and thiamethoxam. Those are insecticides that are applied to corn seed. The key route for those acute bee kills that we have seen in past years and again this year is the planter exhaust. The talc that contacts seed and then is exhausted,” said Krupke.

Omitting insecticides

About 30 years ago, there were about 4 million of these kind of managed bee colonies throughout the United States. Today, there are less than 2 million, and researchers say that’s due in part to the introduction of these insecticides.

“Can we get by without neonicotinoids insecticides in these field crops? I think we can. I believe we have data that show that we can. So that’s maybe something that’s a little more promising as far as reducing the stress on the honeybee population,” said Krupke.

In December, the European Union plans to ban the use of certain insecticides researchers linked to bee deaths. But no such restrictions are planned in the United States. For Illinois beekeeper Ingram, some of the damage already done is permanent.

“We’ve got many bee keepers who have quit, just gone out of business because they can’t succeed,” he said.

But not Ingram, who said his passion for bees is just as strong as it was when he tended his first colony, more than 60 years ago.

Kane Farabaugh

Kane Farabaugh is the Midwest Correspondent for Voice of America, where since 2008 he has established Voice of America's presence in the heartland of America.

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Comment Sorting
by: Av from: Fl
June 16, 2013 11:17 AM
We live in SW Florida. Our neighbor threw out a half dead purple bougainvillea. The lure of saving the plant was too strong due to my love of the flowering varieties and the joy I experience in propagating, especially those with the chance of proliferating such beautiful blooms.

That gorgeous purple bougainvillea is now thriving in it's new home, my yard. Since replanting this free 6ft tall topiary with its color of such reverence and royalty, PURPLE, we have had a problem with bees. We have had the beekeepers out numerous times. The most recent colony was easily 800,000 bees. This is in a residential neighborhood, so needless to say, this swarm was threatening to our neighborhood, elderly, children, dogs, etc....but, most alarming to our home, besides the constant expense to remove them and the fact they blocked our cars and front entry to our home, my husband is deathly allergic to bee stings. One bee sting could have him rushed to the hospital, we are now on a mission to get the word out about bee colonies successes and also the dangers around the color purple.

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