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Mystery of lost bees points to pesticide

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Palm Beach Post
Friday, Oct 17, 2008

It’s been two years since Florida beekeeper Dave Hackenberg sounded the first alert about a mysterious disappearance of bees now known worldwide as Colony Collapse Disorder.

Now Hackenberg and fellow Floridian Dave Mendes are headed to Paris, invited to speak before an international beekeeping conference on syndrome de depeuplement des ruches, the still-unsolved mystery of why bees abruptly leave their hives and never return.

For Hackenberg, who made the first call to Florida Department of Agriculture on Nov. 12, 2006, it’s been a frustrating two years. Although scientists know more than ever about bees, the insects continue to disappear, and promised research funding has failed to materialize.

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“We don’t have a lot of time,” he said. “It’s like if you had eight kids last week, and this week you have six. Two died, but you don’t know why the two died, and the other six might die before the winter is over.”

At stake is the food on your plate. Crops depend on pollinating insects, or, as Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Miramar, said earlier this year, “If there ain’t no bees, there ain’t no food.”

  • A d v e r t i s e m e n t

One key difference between how the United States and France are approaching the problem is regulation of a class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids. On the market since the 1990s, the nicotine-based substance is in widespread use on 120 crops. But not in France, Italy, Germany and Slovenia: Those countries have banned the pesticide. Some studies have found that neonicotinoids impair bees’ navigational and foraging abilities.

The insecticides, sold under various brand names, are used to treat seeds prior to planting, said Kimberly Stoner, an entomologist with the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven.

“The pesticide is put on the seed, and that plant takes in that pesticide and it moves through the vascular system of the plant,” Stoner said. “Bees are potentially picking them up in pollen and nectar at low levels that don’t kill the bees, but that might affect their behavior and immune system.”

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This article was posted: Friday, October 17, 2008 at 3:47 am

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