Understanding the Cause of Colony Collapse Disorder

This article was published in Minneapolis’ the Star Tribune and I think it’s important to read because it describes how neonicotinoids are being spread around the Midwest. Neonicotinoids are a class of pesticide that has been banned in the EU because scientists have linked it to colony collapse disorder. Here’s the article:

A pervasive agricultural insecticide that has been linked to the decline of honeybees is now a near-constant presence in the small and great rivers that flow through Midwestern farm country, according to the first major review of its kind.

Scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey tracked the toxins called neonicotinoids in six states and nine Midwestern rivers, including the portion of the Mississippi that drains southern Minnesota, and found that they were universally present throughout the growing season in every watershed tested.

The results, published this week, raise significant questions about possible threats to the insects that form the base of the food chain in aquatic ecosystems, and they follow another study last month that found sharp declines in birds wherever the insecticides were widely used in Holland.

“If you get enough rain to transport it over land or into tile drains, then it gets into streams quite quickly at higher concentrations,” said Kathryn Kuivila, a scientist at the USGS Oregon Water Science Center in Portland, Ore., and a lead author of the study.

The concentrations found by the study are lower than those the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers fatal to aquatic insects, she said. But other scientists have found that the EPA’s estimates for toxicity may be too high.

“Even more importantly, these organisms are not exposed to just one neonicotinoid,” Kuivila said. “And there are other pesticides, other stressors.”

Neonicotinoids, a synthetic nicotine, are neurotoxins whose use has exploded since they were first introduced in the mid-1990s. They are now the most widely used insecticide in the world, having quickly replaced older classes of chemicals that were far more toxic to humans and mammals.

The manufacturers, Bayer CropScience and Syngenta, say that neonicotinoids provide significant increases in yield for farmers and that there is no evidence that they are harmful to the environment. But recent studies have found that they may play a major role in the decline of honeybees, other pollinating insects and wildlife.

The compounds are most often used as a seed treatment for corn, soybeans and other cash crops, and — because they are water-soluble — they become part of the plant’s vascular system as it grows. But only a tiny portion of the toxin is absorbed into the plant, while the rest remains in the soil, where it can leach into ground and surface water.

The USGS study, however, is the first to measure how widely the toxins have spread through surface waters. The researchers took monthly measurements at eight sites from spring through fall in 2013. They looked at small watersheds such as the Little Sioux, which drains a tiny portion of southern Minnesota at the Iowa border, and the huge watersheds of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. At a ninth site, a tiny watershed in Iowa surrounded by agricultural fields, they took more frequent measurements to track how the pollutant levels changed during the season and with rain.

They found one or more of three different kinds of neonicotinoids in each of the 79 samples. The highest concentrations were found in smaller watersheds where farming was the dominant use of the landscape; lower concentrations were found in the big rivers that drained areas with more diverse uses.

“We are finding them throughout the season,” Kuivila said. “They tend to be more water-soluble than older insecticides.”

What is not clear, however, is what impact they have in aquatic ecosystems, she said. Levels considered toxic by the EPA are many times higher than those found in the USGS samples. But Kuivila said that other studies have found that toxicity can be much lower for some species, and others have found that the number of tiny worms and other soil insects drops precipitously at very low concentrations.

Here’s another great article by Josephine Marcotty of the Star Tribune called Bees at the Brink Battle for Our Hearts and Minds.

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The Beeman

It’s rare in popular culture to get bees right. So often, worker bees are portrayed as being male when in fact all bees we see foraging for nectar and pollen in our gardens are female. There are many misconceptions about how honey is made, and in truth, even scientists don’t exactly understand all the mysterious, complex and frankly wondrous things that happen inside a beehive. Bees are complex creatures which we are just starting to realize are very important to us.

So I was very excited when a friend gave my son a book about bees that is actually entomologically correct! The Beeman by Laurie Krebs and Valeria Cis is for small children, but everyone can learn from its beautifully illustrated pages. Published by Barefoot Books, it is described this way:

Told from the viewpoint of a child whose Grandpa is a beekeeper, this rhyming text offers an accessible and engaging introduction to the behavior of bees, including: where they live, how honey is made, and what a beekeeper does. Children will love learning about the vital role of bees in the ecosystem, and will be delighted to find a delicious muffin recipe on the final page!

We hope you have a chance to read it!

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Honey Arnold Palmer Cocktail

Arnold Palmer CocktailWe loved this recipe from the summer beverages section of the National Honey Board‘s monthly newsletter. A new twist on the classic lemonade and tea cooler, made with citrus gin and of course, honey!

  • 1.5 oz – citrus gin
  • 1.5 oz – lemon juice
  • 1.5 oz – honey syrup
  • 2 oz – unsweetened black tea
  • 1 – lemon wheel, for garnish

DIRECTIONS

For honey syrup:

2 parts  honey
1 part HOT water
Combine ingredients. Stir until dissolved.

For drink preparation:

1. Combine all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker.
2. Top with ice and shake vigorously.
3. Strain into an iced glass.
4. Garnish with lemon twist.

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Pollinator Week is Coming Up! June 16-22, 2014

Pollinator Week was initiated and is managed by the Pollinator PartnershipPollinator-Partnership.

Seven years ago the U.S. Senate’s unanimous approval and designation of a week in June as “National Pollinator Week” marked a necessary step toward addressing the urgent issue of declining pollinator populations.  Pollinator Week has now grown to be an international celebration of the valuable ecosystem services provided by bees, birds, butterflies, bats and beetles. The growing concern for pollinators is a sign of progress, but it is vital that we continue to maximize our collective effort.  The U.S. Secretary of Agriculture signs the proclamation every year.

Pollinating animals, including bees, birds, butterflies, bats, beetles and others, are vital to our delicate ecosystem, supporting terrestrial wildlife, providing healthy watershed, and more. Therefore, Pollinator Week is a week to get the importance of pollinators’ message out to as many people as possible. It’s not too early to start thinking about an event at your school, garden, church, store, etc. Pollinators positively effect all our lives- let’s SAVE them and CELEBRATE them!

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Nation’s Biggest Honey Packer Admits ‘Laundering’ Honey

We weren’t too surprised to come across this article by NPR last week. Unfortunately, until the U.S. is willing to create a standard of identity for honey, and all honey must be sold with pollen in it in order to be called honey, then this will continue to occur. Currently, most honey on the market today is a highly-filtered and processed sugary syrup, without one grain of pollen in it. This legally passes as honey.

Why will pollen help curb this problem? Because pollen is the footprint of where the bees have been gathering their nectar. If you look at honey under a microscope, you can see tiny grains of pollen that are unique to the honey’s botanical source. So you’ll always know where it came from.

We say all honey that is purchased by U.S. consumers must have pollen in it- that’s how the bees made it!

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Getting Ready to Plant Bee-Friendly Habitats for Spring

As we move into spring, our friends, neighbors and customers are beginning to think about their gardens. Why not consider including bee-friendly plants this year? Our friends at Partners for Sustainable Pollination have some wonderful suggestions, as well as a map of farms all around the U.S that focus on bee-friendly crops and plants.

Consider this, excerpted from the PSP Webs site:

The mysterious phenomenon of all the adult honey bees flying away from the hive, called colony collapse disorder (CCD), thus far does not appear to have a single cause. Researchers believe that colony collapse disorder (CCD) is likely the culmination of an overwhelming number of long term stresses including resistant varroa mites, old wax combs with disease and pesticides, reduced forage and reduced diversity of forage, poor bee nutrition, a depressed honey market, and increased movement of bees around the country that can spread disease and pests. The one common factor found in hives lost to CCD is nutritional stress due to lack of access to natural forage.

The one proven action that can be taken to improve honey bee health is to improve access to high quality and safe forage. Natural forage and nutrition are essential to good honey bee health and to their ability to cope with pests, pathogens and other stressors. Improving forage for honey bees is a proven method of contributing to their health and sustainability. While smaller scale plantings for native bees are helpful, larger scale landscape plantings are needed to adequately meet the nutritional needs of managed honey bee colonies. Special consideration must be given to encouraging plantings of late summer and fall blooming plants to help hives survive through the winter to the next blooming season.

Beekeepers do not own sufficient lands to provide forage for their colonies. They must seek permission from willing landowners to access suitable and safe areas to “pasture” their bees. Historically, beekeepers have had access to bee forage after their bees finish pollinating crops. Over the decades, a combination of forces including urbanization and changes in agricultural practices, such as monoculture and agrochemical choices, has greatly decreased the acreage and sites available to beekeepers, creating a major bee pasture deficit.

Happy spring!

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Poland Bans GMO Corn Thought to be Linked to Colony Collapse

Last month, Poland became the first country to ban the use of Monsanto’s Genetically Modified Corn strain, called MON810, which is linked to bee die-offs

Though no definitive link has been established between this strain of corn and Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) which has devastated bee populations around the world, strong scientific evidence is backing the idea that bees are being adversely affected. The thinking goes like this: GMO corn has a pesticide built into it that makes it so farmers don’t have to apply topical pesticides to keep away bugs that would otherwise compete for their crops. The pesticide is intrinsic in the plant, so anytime one of the offending bugs takes a bite out of the corn, they get a lethal dose of the pesticide and die, protecting a farmer’s livelihood.

But the pesticide is also expressed in corn’s pollen, something bees will collect, feed on and store. The idea is that bees are getting a prolonged, continuous exposure to this pesticide through the corn pollen they ingest, and ultimately it becomes acute enough to kill an entire colony.

Bees, after all, are bugs.

Poland has made an important step in the fight against GMO foods. While definitive science is still lacking, the important point is that, like in any scientific evaluation of a problem, a hypothesis is presented and experiments are made to prove or disprove the theory, until all doubt is peeled away and the truth is arrived at.

We have a hunch that the Polish beekeepers’ hypothesis- that GMO corn has a negative effect on bees- is a pretty good one.

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Healing Powers of Honey

Dr. Oz, the health expert discovered and launched into fame by Oprah Winfrey, has surprised us recently by becoming a true champion of honey. We don’t feel the cold much in Hawaii or too much in California, where our honeys are packed and distributed from, but that doesn’t mean we don’t get colds. At Tropical Traders, we’ve been using honey as a natural cold remedy for years, but here are some of Dr. Oz’s recipes and videos that we thought might help you this cold season:

Honey is known to bolster the immune system. A daily dose of honey can help you to feel energetic and stay healthy. It also has antibacterial and antimicrobial properties; if you do develop a sore or scratchy throat, honey will soothe and help heal. Use it in your tea, coffee, plain hot water or by itself. You can even gargle with honey (and lemon) in salt water when the mixture is at room temperature. (Do not give honey to children under 1 year of age.)

http://www.doctoroz.com/videos/natural-cold-treatments

http://www.doctoroz.com/videos/healing-honey

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HOW THE FARM BILL AFFECTS CONSUMERS

February 01, 2012|By Glenn Yoder
THIS STORY APPEARED IN Boston Articles

WHO: Marion Nestle

WHAT: On Sunday, the author and New York University professor served on the Let’s Talk About the Farm Bill panel at the Museum of Science, part of their Let’s Talk About Food events. The Farm Bill is up for re-authorization this year. Nestle, the Paulette Goddard Professor at NYU in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health and a professor of sociology, taught a graduate course last semester on the bill. Joining Nestle on the panel was Representative Chellie Pingree of Maine, a member of the Agriculture Committee, who recently introduced the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act for inclusion in the new bill.

Q. How does the farm bill impact consumers?

A. The farm bill determines what the American food system is about, so that on the most personal level it’s responsible for having a great deal to do with how much food costs, what kind of foods get produced, what kind of foods are available, which kinds of foods are promoted and which kinds not, and whether we have large farmers or small farmers or an agricultural system that promotes a healthy population and climate or one that promotes the health of very large corporations.

Q. There have been doubts as to whether the 2012 bill will pass this year. As it’s being revised, what changes would you like to see made to the 2008 bill?

A. I’d like to bring agricultural policy in line with health policy. Health policy tells us that we ought to be making fruits and vegetables inexpensive and relatively easy for Americans to get at a reasonable cost. Instead, what has happened over the years is the relative cost of fruits and vegetables has increased quite a lot and the relative cost of processed foods has gone down. Right now, the farmers who get support payments are forbidden from growing fruits and vegetables. That has to change so that there’s more incentive to grow fruits and vegetables.

Q. What should people understand about the farm bill?

A. From my experience teaching this and talking about it, no one has any idea what the farm bill is about. It’s too complicated for any mind to grasp. We spent a whole semester reading about it and I was kind of stunned at the end at the enormity and complexity of it. And that makes me feel that no legislator can possibly understand what it’s about. And so everybody picks on some little piece of it and thinks that the farm bill is about that little piece. It’s not. The main thing that everybody needs to understand is the huge elephant in the farm bill is food stamps – SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program]. It’s the biggest program in the farm bill, by far, eight times bigger than everything else put together. And it so overpowers everything else that if you look at it from a financial standpoint, you’re talking about nothing in comparison to that, $72 billion last year.

Q. Is there any way to decrease the dependency on food stamps?

A. Get those people jobs. But the food industry loves food stamps. Some astonishing fraction of food stamp money is spent at Walmart – it’s at least a quarter of food stamp money. Walmart is a big supporter of food stamps. Processed food companies and soda companies are big supporters of food stamps. One statistic I would like to know is, what percentage of Walmart employees are on food stamps? I would really like to know that because that means that the government is subsidizing Walmart.

Q. How do you recommend becoming more familiar with the farm bill?

A. I would advise just taking a look at the bill – it’s online – and take a look at the table of contents. It’s breathtaking, just by itself. The scope of the things that are covered, it’s not just farm support. It’s energy policy, forestry, minority farmers, tax policies, insurance. It’s important for the public to understand what it’s about and to understand how extraordinarily political it is. And if people want to do something about the farm bill, they have to get involved in the politics, ugly as they are.

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Why We Need a Standard of Identity for U.S. Honey

Honey as a consumer good is under siege in this country. I don’t know to what extent you may have heard about the myriad problems our industry faces, from Colony Collapse Disorder to the illegal transshipment of Chinese honey into the U.S. While several documentaries have already been made highlighting the former, the incredible underground mafia of honey laundering has yet to be exposed to the U.S. public.
Basically, in 2001 American honey producers got the U.S. government to put a tariff of over 200% on Chinese honey imported in to the U.S. Why? Because the Chinese were flooding the U.S. market with really cheap honey and depressing the market so much that domestic beekeepers couldn’t make a living. The 200%+ tariff was supposed to “level the playing field”. (Interestingly, apparently China has an incredible amount of beekeepers. During the cultural revolution, the Chinese government was looking to give work to its many citizens, and in the very rural parts of the country many farmers were simply given a bicycle and several beehives and thus, a burgeoning industry took hold.) It did level the playing field but not for long: Chinese honey exporters got clever and started sending their drums of honey to third parties such as Malaysia and Thailand, relabeling the drums as if they had been produced there, then shipping them into the U.S., effectively circumventing the tariff.
This transshipping has been going on now for roughly 10 years. It’s bad enough that domestic beekeepers have a hard time making a living, but it’s worse that Chinese honey has been known to contain illegal antibiotics and lead, which are a serious health threat to American consumers.

Melissopalynology (the study of pollen in honey) is what allows us to know if indeed the honey comes from China even if it’s labeled differently. This is because each honey has a pollen “footprint” which indicates its botanical source. Honey from clover flowers will have different-looking pollen grains in it that honey that comes from buckwheat, for example. Unfortunately, most of the honey we buy in supermarkets today has had all the pollen removed from it. Yes, there is no way for anyone to know if it’s Chinese honey or what. It is extremely dubious that most of the honey we eat in this country (the U.S. is a net importer of honey- about 60% of the honey we consume is actually from another country) has no pollen in it.

Consumers are unaware of this issue. They perceive honey as a wholesome product, and a healthful alternative to sugar. But when it’s ultra processed to where it’s heated to high temperatures and pressure filtered to remove all pollen, there are virtually no redeeming qualities to it- you may as well sit down and eat a bag of refined sugar. What’s worse is consumers think they’re getting a healthy product, and they are not!
The hardest part about this whole issue is there is no Federal standard of identity for honey. The U.S. government has been petitioned over and over to adopt a standard, stating what can and cannot be called honey (for example, is honey that has been ultra-processed to the point that there is no more pollen in it- a substance that is naturally imparted to it by the bees themselves- still considered honey?) but they simply don’t consider it a big enough issue to focus on. I think it is the kind of story that many American consumers would like to know about. If enough constituents care, perhaps a standard can be adopted.
What do you think? Post a comment below, we would love to hear from you.
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