How NPR, Washington Post, Bloomberg and other media botched reporting on EPA’s ‘ban’ of 12 ‘bee-killing’ neonicotinoid insecticides

Cameron English, Jon Entine | June 5, 2019

If recent headlines are the measure, advocacy groups making thea case that bees are endangered because of the misuse of pesticides just scored a significant victory. On May 20, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that after a 6-year-long legal battle with anti-pesticide activists, it endorsed a voluntary withdrawal of 12 insecticides by a group of agri-chemical companies that a coalition of environmental groups had blamed for causing health problems in bees.

George Kimbrell, Center for Food Safety legal director and lead counsel in the case against the EPA, immediately claimed that the settlement represented a massive victory in support of his claim that neonicotinoids (aka neon’s) are ‘harmful, toxic’ chemicals.screen shot at am

According to the post:

[The] cancellation of these …. pesticides is a hard-won battle and landmark step in the right direction,’ said …. Kimbrell …. ‘But the war on toxics continues: We will continue to fight vigilantly to protect our planet, bees, and the environment from these and similar dangerous toxins.

Unsurprisingly, CFS acolytes like Care2 crowed in its headline and blog about the success of activist groups in bringing American regulators to heel. VICTORY! EPA Cancels 12 Bee-Killing Pesticides, Care2 wrote on its social community site:

The environmentalists, food safety organizations and beekeepers spent the last 6 years holding the EPA accountable for its lack of diligence in preventing or addressing bee Colony Collapse Disorder and to demand that the EPA protect livelihoods, rural economies and the environment.

screen shot at amThe onslaught of activist stories got the activist tort machine in gear, as ambulance-chasing attorneys with deep ties to CFS began their solicitations. Food attorney Bill Marler’s oxymoronically-named Food Safety News headlined its article: “Center for Food Safety wins in case to force EPA to ban 12 neonicotinoids.”

Claims that bees and our planet are endangered by ‘dangerous toxins’ aside—we will address that—Kimbrell’s casting of the court agreement as a victory for anti-pesticide campaigners almost immediately became the narrative angle parroted by much of the mainstream media. According to reports that flooded the Internet, many sprinkled liberally with claims from CFS, the EPA had moved to ‘ban’ a class of insecticides that environmental activists blame as the key driver of bee health problems.

[Read the GLP profile on the Center for Food Safety]

Most media outlets apparently didn’t even bother to contact the EPA to find out what in CFS’s news release was accurate and what was self-serving spin. Business Insider’s Aria Bendix told readers, The US just banned 12 pesticides that are like nicotine for bees. Bloomberg reported, EPA Curbs Use of 12 Bee-Harming Pesticides. According to Washington Post energy reporter Dino Grandoni,”EPA now blocks a dozen products containing pesticides thought harmful to bees. The respected publication The Scientist headlined its article, EPA Cancels Registrations for 12 Neonicotinoid Pesticides, noting in the first line:

Out of concern for bees, the Environmental Protection Agency announced on May 20 that the registrations for 12 neonicotinoid-based products used as pesticides in agriculture would be canceled…

What did the EPA say and do
Not one of those articles, or dozens of others that popped up on news sites across the world, accurately represented what the EPA actually said or the actions that it took. The EPA brokered a settlement between activists and companies that manufactured the pesticides: Syngenta, Valent and Bayer. As the agency noted to the GLP in an email, this action amounted to a voluntary withdrawal; there was no ‘cancellation’ initiated by EPA and no ‘blocking’ of products as has been widely claimed. The EPA also rejected the claim made by Kimbrell that the 12 named neonicotinoid insecticides pose significant harm to bees as The Scientist and many other media outlets claimed; in fact in an email exchange with the Genetic Literacy Project, the agency took pains to underscore that no research supported that allegation.

There are two approaches for cancelling pesticide registrations under federal law: voluntary cancellation of a pesticide product or use and pesticide cancellation under EPA’s own initiative. Voluntary cancellations are by far the most common. Cancellation under EPA’s own initiative [which did not occur in this case] begins when the Agency has identified unreasonable adverse effects from registered uses, and the registrants have not made necessary changes (to the extent changes are possible) to the terms and conditions of the registration to address the unreasonable adverse effects. EPA has not identified unreasonable adverse effects associated with the 12 voluntarily cancelled products.

Biased or botched representations from fringe environmental groups is standard operating practice. That’s not surprising. After all, professional protestors often promote an ideological agenda even if it conflicts with science. They sometimes do get the science right. Often their bottom line is whether its position on an issue serves its institutional interests, helps with fund raising or otherwise stirs its activist base.

The most disappointing twist in this sad tale is that Kimbrell’s spin spurred many reputable journalists and globally respected news organizations to fumble the story, acting more like enablers rather than skeptical inquirers with a commitment to truth, ideology be damned. Perhaps we are pinning for ‘old school’ journalism. In this case, many reporters imply parroted the claims in news releases sent out by anti-pesticide ideologues, such as CFS, distorting what the EPA and the presiding judge actually decided in this case.

Self-celebratory comments from Kimbrell aside, an expensive multi-year court battle initiated by environmental activists to try to force the EPA to ban or heavily restrict neonicotinoids on the basis of their alleged harm ended with a whimper—an affirmation by the judge in the case that there is no evidence that the pesticides cause demonstrable harm. No ban was ordered. The ‘perpetrating’ companies voluntarily agreed to halt the marketing of 12 of the least used neoncotinoids that they sold in the US.

Related article: Food labeling: Should environmentalists be pro-GM?
A balanced reading of the EPA’s action is that the brokered settlement was a major blow to activist anti-neonicotinoid efforts. The voluntary agreement was reached on the basis of what amounted to a technical process violation: the EPA had failed to consult other federal agencies in what is a truly byzantine process before it originally approved 59 neonic insecticides. The various companies involved in the settlement agreed to withdraw 12 of the approved neonics. Two aren’t even sold in the US and five were never commercialized. Most of the rest are barely in use. The court pointedly rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that neonics threaten pollinators. The effective impact on the companies and on farmers who rely on these insecticides: essentially zero.

How the case against the EPA targeting neonics unfolded
With the Center for Food Safety acting as point litigant, several high-profile environmental activist groups and beekeepers alleged in a 2013 lawsuit that the EPA had failed “to protect pollinators from …. the bee-killing pesticides clothianidin and thiamethoxam ….” They demanded that the agency suspend 59 products that contain either of those active ingredients. The two chemicals are part of a class of widely used insecticides known as neonicotinoids (aka ‘neonics’) that activists blame for ‘massive bee die-offs,’ what they have dubbed a ‘beepocalypse.’

[Read the GLP’s FAQ Are GMOs and pesticides threatening bees?]

The CFS and its coalition claimed that the EPA violated the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA) by failing to perform full ESA effects determinations on clothianidin (CLO) and thiamethoxam (THX). The activist group demanded the agency do ‘full effects’ studies on every single product containing these two substances and suspend all products containing them until the studies were complete. If it had been ordered, such an undertaking would have required years of regulatory review and resulted in an effective ban, which is the CFS master strategy: use (or abuse) the legal system to gum up the works.

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Seeds coated with a neonicotinoid insecticide
In May 2017, the court ruled for the EPA on the FIFRA claims and for CFS on the ESA claims. It ordered the parties to reach a settlement. The EPA agreed to ESA consultations by June 2022 as part of its already scheduled review since pesticides have to be periodically re-registered by law. As a result, instead of doing separate determinations for each product as the plaintiffs had demanded, EPA will more rationally do them all at once for the two active ingredients (i.e. one for CLO and one for THX). The ruling was a huge setback for CFS. Neither the courts nor the EPA backed activist group claims that neonics are especially harmful to endangered species.

Echoing comments sent to the GLP by the EPA, the judge in the most recent ruling explained that CFS “… did not identify any evidence that might show an imminent hazard existed.” Note that the

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Rusty patched bumble bee, an endangered species activists climb is threatened by neon’s
EPA subjects all pesticides to extensive testing before registering them, paying special attention to how the chemicals could impact pollinators and endangered species. Nothing presented by the coalition raised questions about this extensive review process and its findings.

The activists’ ‘success’ in this multi-year charade, as much it was, was based on a process technicality: it was determined that the EPA had failed to consult the US Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service before registering the 59 products containing the neonicotinoids clothianidin or thiamethoxam.

In fact, the 12 insecticides were eagerly agreed upon by the manufacturers because they had limited commercial value. Neonic manufacturers Bayer, Syngenta and Valent initiated the cancellations of their 12 products to facilitate the settlement; the EPA did not ‘ban’ them as various headlines have claimed.

“This notice announces EPA’s order for the cancellations, voluntarily requested by the registrants and accepted by the Agency,” as the federal regulator explained on May 20. Bayer likewise noted in a statement:

Though not defendants, Bayer and several other companies intervened in that lawsuit in defense of the critical tools involved. After court-ordered settlement talks, [in 2018] all parties reached an agreement whereby Bayer and several other companies agreed to the cancellation of a total of 12 minor registrations, all of which have little or no commercial significance.

What does the science say? NPR reporting was most egregious
From a legal perspective, the settlement was a thumping defeat for CFS and a victory for mainstream science. But with the help of credulous journalists, CFS turned an embarrassing ideological stumble into a PR victory. Most media outlets framed this story as capitulation by the EPA and major chemical manufacturers.

Coverage by one of National Public Radio’s flagship stations, WBUR, was arguably the least credible. The On Point segment, hosted by NPR’s Meghna Chakrabarti, featured Bloomberg reporter Adam Allington, and Aimee Code, a spokesperson for the environmental activist nonprofit Xerces Society. Listeners following the story online were greeted by this headline and summary when they clicked on the story:

capture

Conspicuously absent from WBUR’s ‘expert panel’ was even one entomologist or chemical expert to speak to the science of pollinator health and pesticides. Chakrabarti acted more like cheerleader than critical commentator. She frequently encouraged her two primary guests to endorse the activist case that neonics pose unique harm to bees and the environment.

Allington and Code did acknowledge that bees face a variety of threats beyond pesticides. But according to Allington, an ‘increasingly solid body of science’ backs up the campaign to ban neonics. Chakrabarti also did not challenge Code when she made her unsupported argument that “…. we have a growing body of science that is showing significant concern with these chemicals for pollinators and a number of endangered species.”

Those ‘sky-is-falling’ claims are just not accurate, according to entomologists. Many independent experts don’t even rank pesticides among the top 10 threats to pollinators. Topping the threats to bees are the virus-transmitting varroa mite. [Read GLP’s special section on Bees & Butterflies: Facts about pesticides and pollinators to learn more]

As the GLP has reported, honeybee populations are growing, including in North America, where hive numbers recently reached their highest levels in more than two decades. Bumble bees are not in danger of extinction. World beehive numbers are at an all time high.

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The number of beehives worldwide has been rising almost continuously for the past 50 years, according to FAOSTAT. There are nearly 22 million more beehives in the world now than in 2000–an increase of 31%.

NPR did not allow for any dissident, more-science based voices. The only contrary perspective was offered by North Dakota corn and soybean farmer Carson Klosterman, who was given a few minutes to weigh in. He emphasized that neonics help control devastating pests on his farm and that bees face far more serious health threats, including from transportation over long distances. The biggest threats to bees—varroa mites, chemicals used to control them and fungi—were not mentioned.

Allington and Code wrapped up the segment by taking audience questions; Klosterman was allowed to respond to one question. Code got the last word, arguing that we need to “shift our system dramatically” by moving away from chemical pesticides and toward regenerative agriculture, which is the popular, emerging code phrase re-branding of organic farming. This transition to organic farming, if it should occur, would have no beneficial impact on bee health, as many of the ‘natural’ chemicals used to control varroa mites and fungi are actually more harmful to bees than neonics.

The imbalanced segment did serve one major purpose—to reinforce the unscientific and factually inaccurate claim by anti-pesticide advocacy groups—that, as Allington put it, the settlement “…. could pose a significant hurdle for EPA and the pesticide makers.” That’s just not accurate.

What happens next
Far from immediately banning the insecticides, the EPA determined that the manufacturers could sell their existing stock of these products until May 2020. EPA also said retailers can sell these insecticides until supplies are exhausted. “Consequently …. farmers are likely to have access to these twelve products for another year or two,” attorney and GLP board member Drew Kershen noted in an email to the GLP.

The settlement also included a joint notice of ‘dismissal with prejudice,’ which means the activist groups cannot bring these particular claims in perpetuity; the litigation is fully resolved. The plaintiffs also agreed not to bring litigation of any kind involving CLO or THX for five years. In sum, the case will not prevent US farmers from utilizing neonics, and that is unlikely to change even after the EPA performs the effects studies.

CFS’ press release mentioned none of these key aspects of the settlement. The Washington Post, Bloomberg and WBUR acknowledged that the cancellations were voluntary, but did not contextualize any of these other important details. Only a few news outlets grasped the flimsy nature of the CFS ‘victory’.

One of the other plaintiff’s in the lawsuit, Beyond Pesticides, had a more sober take than did CFS of what 6 years of expensive litigation accomplished: Activists got in the settlement far less than what they had wanted—”a compromise solution with, at best, weakly protective impacts”.

With the help of a compliant media, however, CFS will continue to pursue its scientifically and ethically challenged PR strategy, one that has become the norm in the highly politicized media world that we now live in: Lies are recast as truth and losses are declared ‘landmark’ wins. Asserted enough times and echoed by sympathetic commentators in a shared ideological media bubble, this strategy might just continue to yield huge, if cynical, dividends.

Cameron J. English is the GLP’s senior agricultural genetics and special projects editor. Follow him on Twitter @camjenglish

Jon Entine is the executive director of the Genetic Literacy Project. Follow him on Twitter @JonEntine

The GLP featured this article to reflect the diversity of news, opinion and analysis. The viewpoint is the author’s own. The GLP’s goal is to stimulate constructive discourse on challenging science issues.

Know Your Beekeeper _”First Fake Manuka Honey Producer Prosecuted”

The benefits of unprocessed Truly Local Honey far out weigh the use of Manuka Honey.  The Marketing of this honey is highly overrated.

21 March 2019

in an unprecedented case, Auckland-based health company, Evergreen Life Ltd has been prosecuted by New Zealand Food Safety for adding to its products sold as “Manuka Honey” synthetic chemicals, including an ingredient which is not designed for food but commonly found in tanning lotion to give skin an orangey-brown colour.

Evergreen Life was ordered to recall 18 Manuka honey products in 2016, following reports by New Zealand’s Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) that it had used unapproved artificial methylglyoxal (MGO) and dihydroxyacetone (DHA) in their processing and production. The two chemicals occur naturally in Manuka honey; DHA originates from the flowers of Manuka bushes and converts within the honey into MGO, the chemical that possesses the highly sought after and prized antibacterial properties.

manuka honey fake or real image

Manuka honey producers use the DHA and MGO levels to grade and price their honey, along with the Unique Manuka Factor, or UMF. The more the DHA, the higher MGO, so manufacturers can add artificial DHA to increase the strength of weak Manuka honey and sell it for a higher price. A jar of Manuka honey can be sold for up to NZ$500. Synthetic DHA is also able to alter the colour and taste of an ordinary honey to make it perform like manuka honey. Tests are available to differentiate between artificial and naturally occurring DHA and MGO, but they are exorbitant and hence not routinely conducted.

In a Manuka gold rush, the total value of New Zealand’s honey exports shot to NZ$348m in 2018. And reports have suggested that up to half of honey sold worldwide as Manuka honey is fake. In 2017, the Ministry for Primary Industries introduced a scientific definition to test the authenticity of Manuka honey before it is allowed for export, boosting the confidence of consumers in purchasing genuine Manuka honey.

According to the Evergreen Life’s website, its Manuka honey is sold internationally to countries including the United States, Australia, Canada, Singapore, Korea, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Indonesia and China. The company now faces a total of 71 charges for tampering and adulterating honey by including synthetic MGO and DHA in its honey. It is expected to contest the allegations. The most severe of the charges carries maximum penalties of five years’ imprisonment or a NZ$500,000 (£265,000) fine.

News Source: The Guardian

Other Related Pages

1. Why does Manuka honey command such an exorbitant price? Find out in: The Miraculous Manuka Honey.

3. Confused by the activity ratings of Manuka UMF, Active, Total Activity, MGO, and NPA? Read: Manuka UMF and Other Activity Terms Explained

2. What is the real deal about UMF Manuka honey? UMF Manuka Honey And Its Big Price Tag

The Winter Solstice

 

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Historical Honeybee Articles – Beekeeping History

The Winter Solstice has been observed as an important date in beekeeping for over 2000 years.
Join us at: Historical Honeybee Articles – Beekeeping History
Read more to find out what the ancients have to say about winter and bees.Aristotle says in Historia Animālium (History of Animals) Book IX
circa. 4 B.C.

“In healthy swarms the progeny of the bees only cease from reproduction for about forty days after the winter solstice.”

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Pliny the Elder says in Naturalis Historia (Natural History)
circa. 77 – 79 AD

“From the winter solstice to the rising of Arcturus the bees are buried in sleep for sixty days, and live without any nourishment. Between the rising of Arcturus and the vernal equinox, they awake in the warmer climates, but even then they still keep within the hives, and have recourse to the provisions kept in reserve for this period.”

As we look out into the morning light this December Day, you can feel the “girls” sensing that it is time to rise to the occasion and begin to prepare for the 2019 season.  “The girls did well this past year and have produced two variations of Wildflower Honey – ARDEN HILLS GOLD & SOLSTICE – recognized by the GOOD FOOD AWARDS 2019 as nationally  ranked finalists…”go girls”

2016-07-011

We need to thank and frequent those Eateries  and Local Markets that support true FARM_TO_FORK food providers  as ToBee Young Apiaries.

PRESS RELEASE The Good Food Awards 2019 San Francisco

Finalist 2019 Seal

The Good Food Foundation is proud to announce To Bee Young Apiaries is one of 15 double finalists for 2019 in the Honey Category. We are located in the “urban forage zone of Sacramento ’ and are providers of “Truly” local honey found at at Elliot’s Natural Foods, Corti Bros., Taylor’s Mkt, Plant Foundry, & The Olive Mix. These fine eateries also use ARDEN HILLS GOLD & Solstice Wildflower Honey in their food preparations – La Bonne Soupe Café, Backbone Cafe, Matteos Pizza & Bistro, Thai Basil, Elite Bakery, and The Rind.

ABOUT THE GOOD FOOD AWARDS
The Good Food Awards celebrate the kind of food we all want to eat: tasty, authentic and responsible. The 401 products and finalists rose to the top in a blind tasting of 2,035 entries by 262 bakers, makers, farmers, Beekeepers and chefs; then passed a rigorous vetting. Now in its eighth year, awards will be given to winners in 16 categories: beer, charcuterie, cheese, chocolate, cider, coffee, confections, elixirs, fish, HONEY, oils, pantry, pickles, preserves, snacks and spirits. The Good Food Awards Seal assures consumers they have found something exceptionally delicious that also supports sustainability and social good. The Winners will be announced on Friday, January 11, 2019, at the San Francisco War Memorial & Performing Arts Center.

The Good Food Awards is organized by the Good Food Foundation, formerly known as Seedling Projects, in collaboration with a broad community of food crafters, grocers, chefs, food writers, activists and passionate food-lovers. The Good Food Foundation is also the organizing force behind the Good Food Guild,  Good Food Mercantile and Good Food Merchants Collaborative

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Bedtime Golden Milk


In ancient folklore, honey bees were believed to be bringers of wisdom and good luck. In addition, because they work all day long, they are associated with hard work and diligence. No matter how mythical these beliefs are, there’s no doubt the hard work of honey bees brings us honey, and pollinates one-third of our food supply. Thank the honey bee this week for guiding you through finals week. Good luck, students!
Read: ‘Legends and Lore of Bees’
A Sweet Recipe: Honey Golden Milk
Scientists suggest that consuming foods with high amounts of tryptophan can help you sleep and relax your nerves. It is believed that honey contains tryptophan. Good rest and sleep are essential for memory and higher functionality. Have a warm drink before bedtime with this Honey Golden Milk Recipe.

1 cup milk
2 teaspoons honey, plus additional to taste
1 1/2 teaspoons almond butter
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
Optional additions: tiny pinch ground black pepper, ground cardamom, or ground cloves

Combine the milk, honey, almond butter, vanilla extract, cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, and any optional spices in a small saucepan. Heat over medium until warmed through, whisking briskly so that the almond butter does not stick to the bottom and the spices incorporate. Remove from heat before boil.
Original Recipe: Bedtime Golden Milk

Sowing Strips of Flowering Plants Has Limited Effect on Pollination

Published by ABJ Extra-April 9, 2018

“To determine the impacts of flower strips on pollination, scientists placed pots of strawberry plants or field beans in fields with or without strips of flowering pollinator plants. At flower strip sites (left circle), one group of pots were placed adjacent to the flower strip and one group of pots in a field border at the same study site; at control sites without flower strips (right circle), one group of pots were placed in a field border. Pollination was compared across the sites.
Strips of wildflowers dotting fields is visually attractive and provides much needed forage to bees. But does it actually increase pollination of nearby agricultural crops? Turns out that it depends on the scale and diversity of the farm. Researchers at the Centre for Environmental and Climate Research at Lund University have studied how pollination varies in different agricultural landscapes, by placing pots with either wild strawberry or field bean in field borders. Plants that were placed in a small-scale agricultural landscape, with pastures and other unploughed environments, were better pollinated than plants in landscapes dominated by arable land.

The researchers also investigated how sown flower strips, i.e. flower plantings which farmers often create to benefit pollinators, affected pollination in the different landscape types. In landscapes dominated by arable fields, pollination increased adjacent to the flower strip. A few hundred meters further away, however, the sown flower strips had no effect on the pollination of wild strawberry and field bean. In more small-scale agricultural landscape, the sown flower strips instead reduced pollination of adjacent plants, likely because the increased amount of flowers resulted in competition among flowers for pollinating insects.

“In our study, pollination was highest in small-scale agricultural landscape, with pastures, meadows and other unploughed habitats. Wild bees are important pollinators and manage better in a landscape with a lot of field borders and other unexploited environments. In intensively farmed landscapes, where such environments have disappeared, we can increase pollination, at least in the immediate vicinity, by sowing flowering plants to attract pollinating insects”, says Lina Herbertsson, one of the researchers behind the study.

Farmers can receive financial support to implement measures that promote biodiversity, some of which may also benefit pollinating insects. An evaluation is currently underway of the EU’s common agricultural policy, CAP, which among other things regulates the support for greening measures, aimed at reducing the climate impact of European agriculture and promoting biodiversity in the agricultural landscape.

“Our study underlines the importance of carefully designing measures intended to increase biodiversity, in order to achieve the desired effect. The same measure could have different impact in different places. If we want to increase pollination in varied agricultural landscapes, it seems to be a better strategy to restore and maintain pastures and meadows, and to manage field borders in a way that favours the local flora, rather than adding sown strips of flowering plants”, concludes Lina Herbertsson.

It might be hard for bees to find randomly placed pots of strawberries or field beans. Would the results be different if it was a large row of flowering crops? We know that bees need increased forage. Other studies have shown that providing habitat and forage that blooms throughout the season increases pollinator abundance and diversity. If that pollination is provided by native bees with short foraging distances, it makes sense to put in the pollinator habitat in close proximity to the crops you want pollinated.
Read the paper: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S016788091830121X”
ABJ Extra-April 9, 2018

Agricultural Fungicide Attracts Honey Bees, Study finds Fungicides among top contaminants of honey bee hives .

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Fungicides are among the top contaminants of honey bee hives and can interfere with the bees’ ability to metabolize other pesticides.
Credit: L. Brian Stauffer

 

When given the choice, honey bee foragers prefer to collect sugar syrup laced with the fungicide chlorothalonil over sugar syrup alone, researchers report in the journal Scientific Reports.

The puzzling finding comes on the heels of other studies linking fungicides to declines in honey bee and wild bee populations. One recent study, for example, found parallels between the use of chlorothalonil and the presence of Nosema bombi, a fungal parasite, in bumble bees. Greater chlorothalonil use also was linked to range contractions in four declining bumble bee species.

Other research has shown that European honey bees have a very limited repertoire of detoxifying enzymes and that exposure to one potentially toxic compound – including fungicides – can interfere with their ability to metabolize others.

“People assume that fungicides affect only fungi,” said University of Illinois entomology professor and department head May Berenbaum, who led the new research with postdoctoral researcher Ling-Hsiu Liao. “But fungi are much more closely related to animals than they are to plants. And toxins that disrupt physiological processes in fungi can also potentially affect them in animals, including insects.”

Some scientists have argued that bees may be less susceptible to agricultural chemicals than laboratory studies suggest because the bees might detect potentially toxic chemicals in the environment and avoid them. But a 2015 study found that European honey bees and at least one species of bumble bee actually prefer food laced with neonicotinoid pesticides.

To test whether foraging honey bees showed a preference for other chemicals they are likely to encounter in the wild, Liao set up two feeding stations in a large enclosure. Foraging honey bees could fly freely from one feeder to the other, choosing to collect either sugar syrup laced with a test chemical or sugar syrup mixed with a solvent as the control. Over the course of the study, she tested honey bee responses to nine naturally occurring chemicals, three fungicides and two herbicides at various concentrations.

The trials revealed that honey bees prefer the naturally occurring chemical quercetin over controls at all concentrations tested.

Entomology professor May Berenbaum, left, and postdoctoral researcher Ling-Hsiu Liao found that honey bees have a slight preference for food laced with the fungicide chlorothalonil at certain concentrations. Credit: L. Brian Stauffer

“That makes sense, because everything the honey bees eat has quercetin in it,” Berenbaum said. “There’s quercetin in nectar, there’s quercetin in pollen. Quercetin is in honey and beebread, and it’s a reliable cue that bees use to recognize food.”

To the researchers’ surprise, the bees also preferred sugar syrup laced with glyphosate – the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide – at 10 parts per billion, but not at higher concentrations. And while the bees actively avoided syrup containing the fungicide prochloraz, they showed a mild preference for sugar syrup laced with chlorothalonil at 0.5 and 50 parts per billion, but not at 500 ppb.

“The bees are not only not avoiding this fungicide, they’re consuming more of it at certain concentrations,” Berenbaum said.
Fungicides are among the most prevalent contaminants of honey bee hives, and it is likely the bees themselves are bringing these pesticides into the colony through their food-collecting activities. While perplexing, bees’ preferences for some potentially toxic chemicals may be the result of their distinct evolutionary history, Berenbaum said.

“Honey bee foragers are gleaners,” she said. “They’re active from early spring until late fall, and no single floral source exists for them for that whole season. If they don’t have a drive to search out something new, that’s going to seriously compromise their ability to find the succession of flowers they need. Unnatural chemicals might be a signal for a new food.”

The new findings are worrisome in light of research showing that exposure to fungicides interferes with honey bees’ ability to metabolize the acaricides used by beekeepers to kill the parasitic varroa mites that infest their hives, the researchers said.

“The dose determines the poison,” Berenbaum said. “If your ability to metabolize poisons is compromised, then a therapeutic dose can become a toxic dose. And that seems to be what happens when honey bees encounter multiple pesticides.”

More information: Ling-Hsiu Liao et al, Behavioral responses of honey bees (Apis mellifera) to natural and synthetic xenobiotics in food, Scientific Reports (2017). DOI: 10.1038/s41598-017-15066-5

Forage for one is anothers poison …

Tallow Under Threat:
Southern States May Lose
Major Nectar Source
Courtesy of Louisiana Beekeepers Association
To Whom It May Concern,

On behalf of the Louisiana Beekeepers Association, all beekeepers and pollinator supporters statewide and nationally, we strongly urge you to oppose any action to introduce the non-native flea beetle, Bikasha collaris, as a biological control for the Chinese tallow tree (Triadica sebifera). The introduction of this beetle and control of Chinese tallow would result in the loss of a major forage source for honey bees and other pollinator species. This would directly affect these important pollinators, exacerbate the already disastrous Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), and lead to very serious economic impacts for beekeepers and farmers on a national scale.

The current and future status of honey bees and other pollinating insects has received increasing scientific and public concern in the last decade. Honey bees and beekeeping are now considered an essential part of our overall agricultural efforts, not just for the economic contribution of honey sales, but for their key pollination contributions to one-third of the food that Americans consume (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2701761/). According to economic research from the Cornell University, pollinators contribute 29 billion dollars to the agriculture sector. “More specifically, honeybees pollinated $12.4 billion worth of directly dependent crops and $6.8 billion worth of indirectly dependent crops in 2010.” (http://news.cornell.edu/stories/2012/05/insect-pollinators-contribute-29b-us-farm-income)

The Chinese tallow is now found in 12 states as noted in the BCIP Project Proposal (exhibit A). It provides a major (honey) market value in at least four of these states. Tallow can be found in all 64 parishes in Louisiana and also in 55 counties of Texas. Honey sales in Louisiana contribute over eight million dollars to the state agriculture sector (NASS). In 2016, Texas produced eight million pounds of honey, with a wholesale value of $11.5 million, seven million pounds of which are attributed in part to the Chinese tallow nectar flow. Nationally, honey sales contribute roughly 336 million dollars to the value of US agriculture commodities in 2016 (https://www.nass.usda.gov/Statistics_by_State/Louisiana/Publications/Livestock_Press_Releases/BeeHoney/2017/lahoney17.pdf). Even though this is a significant contribution to our economy, the US still remains the top national importer of foreign honey at 423 million dollars (http://agriexchange.apeda.gov.in/product_profile/Major_Imporing_Countries.aspx?categorycode=0408). The obvious conclusion is that beekeepers and honey producers in the United States need public support to preserve existing pollinator forage and nectar sources, particularly those so valuable as Chinese tallow. Hence the Pollinator Protection Act instituted federally in 2014.

There are over 4 million pounds of honey produced annually in Louisiana (NASS). Commercial beekeepers move thousands of colonies to Louisiana for the main purpose of capitalizing on the abundant forage here and particularly the nectar of the tallow tree. The Chinese tallow is a major nectar contributor to the amount of honey produced in Louisiana. In an article published in the American Bee Journal, Hayes (1979) states “(The Chinese tallow tree)… has become the most successful tree nectar source ever introduced into the United States.” Tallow trees have been around since the founding of the United States. “[Ben Franklin] sent tallow seeds to a farmer friend in Georgia in 1772 to be grown as a cash crop.” (http://blog.chron.com/houstongrows/ 2011/08/did-ben-franklin-bring-invasive-tallow-tree-to-texas/) Tallow trees have truly turned into a cash crop for beekeepers.

Steve Bernard, local commercial beekeeper and owner of Bernard Apiaries Inc., claims that loss of the tallow trees would result in a 1.25 million dollar annual loss for his business. A decrease in tallow population or even worse, the complete eradication of the tallow tree by the flea beetle would greatly damage the commercial beekeeping industry statewide and nationally.

Reiterating, hundreds of thousands of hives are moved through the gulf coast areas during the tallow season. These hives are used specifically in the migratory pollination process and depend on tallow trees for pollen and spring build up. The hives later go to other areas in the country for further honey production and pollination services. This is of greater economic value than the honey produced from tallow trees.

Colony Collapse Disorder has been linked to a number of problems, but notably from the disappearance of critical pollinator habitat. Federal government dollars are being set aside to fund the repopulation of areas for pollinators and to provide protection for existing habitat. In Louisiana and other southern states, the Chinese tallow provides a significant source of nectar as well as pollen. To control or reduce the population of this targeted species, as suggested in the BCIP Project Proposal, would be counter to the Presidential memorandum…“to ensure the sustainability of our food production systems, avoid additional economic impact on the agricultural sector, and protect the health of the environment.” Under “Sec. 3. Increasing and Improving Pollinator Habitat (e) The Departments of Agriculture and the Interior shall… develop best management practices for executive departments and agencies to enhance pollinator habitat on Federal lands.” There are many acres of Federal land that would be directly at risk in Louisiana should this beetle be introduced and not contained and/or non-target plants be affected (exhibit B). As in all biological control agents, there are no guaranteed ways to contain them.

This concern leads to others, such as the success record for introducing related biological species with or without appropriate trials and very careful research protocols. In the case of the purple loosestrife in Massachusetts a biological control was successfully introduced in eliminating this plant, but at the same time the honey crop was eliminated, as well as forage for all pollinators. A more aggressive invasive species, phragmites, replaced the loosestrife, and now, there is no known control of this plant. Another similar story of unsuccessful biological control is the case of the Asian Lady Beetle which continues to be problematic today. Many other failed biological controls can also be cited. Release of the Bikasha collaris into less than very carefully controlled settings could lead to disastrous consequences. The opportunity for the beetle to adapt and reproduce ina new environment is virtually unknown. In Biological Control: Measures of Success (editor G.Gurr, Steve Wratten), the authors report “only around 10 per cent of attempts are successful”and that the success rate has changed little for a century. They also note that “biological control can cause harm, for instance when the released agent attacks a non-target organism of conservation or economic value.”

We certainly recognize the research and claims that invasive Chinese tallow is leading to an economic loss of $300 million over a twenty year period in certain timber and forest regions of this state and others. Some of these industry researchers also believe that introducing the flea beetle could conceivably decrease the amount of chemicals used in that industry and other agricultural sectors to control the encroachment of the tallow tree on cleared land. Yet these industries have alternative methods of control whereas the beekeeping industry does not have an alternative forage source comparable to the Chinese tallow. As of today, the states that would be most affected by the proposed flea beetle gross an annual $76 million in value of production (USDA, 2016), much of which is attributed to the presence of the Chinese tallow. This particular honey is produced in such volumes that it merits its own classification. Tallow honey sales are differentiated from other honey crops harvested and can bring up to $1.60/lb (USDA Honey Report, November 2017) and in some areas of Louisiana over $2/lb. Tallow honey is also used to make unpalatable honeys “table grade” by blending it with other honey to improve flavor. There are other beneficial uses of the Chinese tallow. Studies have shown that the tallow can be a lucrative source for biofuel. The trees are also considered ornamental plants to some locals.

Nectar and pollen from the Chinese tallow are of substantial economic value to commercial beekeepers and the beekeeping industry. Protection of this pollinator habitat needs to be secured. For these reasons, we respectfully urge you to oppose the introduction of the non-native flea beetle for the control of the Chinese tallow tree. Further research and experimentation with such a potentially dangerous biological control species should be restricted, or at the very least, very closely scrutinized and carefully monitored, so as to not lead to irreversible damage to existing Chinese tallow and cause great harm to pollinator populations, the entire beekeeping industry and ultimately the entire agriculture sector.

Sincerely,

Randy Fair
President
Louisiana Beekeepers Association
Chair, Honey Commodity Committee
Louisiana Farm Bureau
Sideliner Beekeeper, Class A
Clear Lake Apiaries … + Associations
Commercial Migratory Beekeeper, Class A
Sunshine Honey Bees

Steve Bernard
P