Part Three: Lawsuit filed on behalf of honeybees

| 10/23/2008

SPECIAL SERIES: Bee crisis – OOIDA member credited with discovery
Editor’s note: Staff Writer Clarissa Kell-Holland searches for answers from OOIDA member David Hackenberg of Lewisburg, PA, who is credited with discovering colony collapse disorder or CCD, a mystery that is decimating bee hives worldwide.

Submitted Photo

OOIDA member David Hackenberg of Lewisburg, PA, is credited with discovering colony collapse disorder, which is decimating bee hives worldwide.

OOIDA Member and beekeeper David Hackenberg and other beekeepers he talks to regularly are worried that a seed treatment being used in corn and soybeans is slowly poisoning their bees. The treatment, known as neonicitinoid, is a nicotine-based product that became readily available in the U.S. around 2004, about the time he and other beekeepers started noticing a decline in their bees’ immune systems.

His beekeeper contacts in Canada started noticing problems with their bees in 2002, according to Hackenberg, after neonicitinoid insecticides were used on potato crops in Eastern Canada. Then clover was planted on that same land the next year for cover crop. The neonicitinoid wasn’t being used on crops in the U.S. at that point, so when his Canadian beekeeper friend called to tell him this new chemical seemed to be “killing his bees,” Hackenberg told him it was “probably just mites.”

But when the product started becoming widely used in the U.S. around 2004, Hackenberg said he started noticing his bees’ immune systems were weakening. It wasn’t until CCD hit his hives in 2006, though, that he focused on insecticides as a possible source.

In August of 2008, the Natural Resources Defense Council filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to force it to disclose studies that were supposed to be done on the effect pesticides are having on honeybees.

In 2003, EPA granted a registration to a new pesticide called clothianidin, manufactured by Bayer CropScience. Josh Mogerman, public information officer for the NRDC, said registration came with a caveat that the company study its product’s effects on the bees.

Mogerman told Land Line Magazine in August that the NRDC filed the lawsuit only after the EPA failed to respond to a Freedom of Information Act request, filed on July 17.

He said the EPA still has not provided the studies Bayer CropScience was to have completed at least two years ago. Those studies could be an important resource for scientists and researchers studying CCD.

“The federal government needs to do much more to address why these bees are dying and disappearing,” Mogerman said.

Germany and France have both banned the pesticide product, known as clothianidin, because of concerns about its impact on bees. CCD has also been reported in Canada and Italy as well.

The British Beekeepers’ Association is reporting that one in three honeybees did not survive winter and spring, although it has not yet been confirmed that CCD is the source of the problem.

Mogerman said scientists on staff at the NRDC say there is a possible connection between clothianidin and honeybees’ collapse.

“If you read up on what this product is supposed to do to pests, it is supposed to compromise their nervous system and limit their ability to navigate. And that’s one of the things that is central to CCD,” he said.

After losing a significant number of bees in the previous two seasons and having to pump a huge amount of money back in to keep his beekeeping business operating, Hackenberg has seen his fuel costs and operating costs go up as well.

“In the U.S., we truck a lot of bees,” he said. “Most people don’t have the foggiest idea what goes on and how much bee movement there is in this country.”

Currently, many beekeepers are planning to go to the West Coast for the almond pollination. Hackenberg estimates that beekeepers will truck between 1 million and 2 million hives of bees out to California this year to pollinate the almond crop. That breaks down to about 500 hives loaded on each truck.

There are few opportunities for backhauls when you are hauling bees, especially on short runs like to Maine for blueberry pollination, Hackenberg said. He said he’s paying on average about $3.50 per mile to get his freight moved.

Adee Honey Farms – one year later
Richard Adee of Adee Honey Farms owns the largest beekeeping operation in the U.S. He lost more than 40 percent of his bees that he trucked out to California in the fall of 2007 in preparation to pollinate the almond crop, which starts in early February.

Around Dec. 1, 2007, he said his bees were looking real “nice,” but Adee said things went downhill quickly from that point.

“All of a sudden they started collapsing through the rest of December and through most of January and early February, so it was a big hit,” he said. “We lost a lot of them before they started pollinating the almonds, so we had to scramble all over the U.S. to find bees to fill our contracts, which we were fortunate to do. That really takes a toll on a person.”

This year, Adee said they are planning to send about 65,000 hives to pollinate the almond crop. Beginning in October, his bees will be put on more than 150 truckloads out to Bakersfield, CA, where his son, Bret, runs the family operation there.

Adee said his focus right now is on keeping his bees as healthy as possible, which he hopes will help them build up more of a resistance than they had a year ago.

He knows some beekeepers who have been in the business a long time and who had to file for bankruptcy after last year’s bee collapse. He said one beekeeper he knows who lost most of his hives stacked up all of his equipment and burned it all in frustration.

“It’s really been devastating for us,” he said. “If there’s one good thing that’s come out of this, it is that there is a new awareness of the value of the honeybee in our food chain, but beekeepers sure have paid a high price.”

– By Clarissa Kell-Holland, staff writer