Posts Tagged Bees

Canadian beekeepers sue Bayer and Syngenta over neonicotinoid pesticides


Canadian beekeepers are suing the makers of popular crop pesticides for more than $400 million in damages, alleging that their use is causing the deaths of bee colonies.

The proposed class action lawsuit was filed Tuesday in the Ontario Superior Court on behalf of all Canadian beekeepers by Sun Parlor Honey Ltd. and Munro Honey, two of Ontario’s largest honey producers, the Ontario Beekeepers Association announced Wednesday.

“The goal is to stop the use of the neonicotinoids to stop the harm to the bees and the beekeepers,” said Paula Lombardi, a lawyer with London, Ont.-based law firm Siskinds LLP, which is handling the case.

As of Thursday morning, more than 30 beekeepers had signed on to participate in the class action.

The lawsuit alleges that Bayer Cropscience Inc. and Syngenta Canada Inc. and their parent companies were negligent in their design, manufacture, sale and distribution of neonicotinoid pesticides, specifically those containing imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiomethoxam.

The pesticides, which are a neurotoxin to insects, are widely coated on corn, soybean and canola seeds in Canada to protect the plants from pests such as aphids. Studies have shown that bees exposed to the pesticides have smaller colonies, fail to return to their hives, and may have trouble navigating. The pesticides were also found in 70 per cent of dead bees tested by Health Canada in 2013.

The European Commission restricted the use of the pesticides for two years and Ontario has indicated it will move toward regulating them, due to concerns over bee health.

Bayer maintains that the risk to bees from the pesticide is low, and it has recommended ways that farmers can minimize bees’ exposure to the pesticide.

Both Bayer and Syngenta told CBC News they wouldn’t comment on the lawsuit because they haven’t yet been served with it.

The lawsuit is seeking more than $400 million in damages, alleging that as a result of neonicotinoid use:

  • The beekeepers’ colonies and breeding stock were damaged or died.
  • Their beeswax, honeycombs and hives were contaminated.
  • Their honey production decreased.
  • They lost profits and incurred unrecoverable costs, such as increased labour and supply costs.

Beekeepers or companies involved in beekeeping services such as honey production, queen bee rearing and pollination who are affected and want to join the lawsuit are asked to contact Lombardi.

The Ontario Beekeepers Association is not directly involved in the lawsuit, but along with the Sierra Club Canada Foundation, helped connect beekeepers with the law firm. The association also helped with the research for the lawsuit.

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The U.S. Bans GMOs, Bee-Killing Pesticides in All Wildlife Refuges


The U.S. government is creating a safe place for bees in national wildlife refuges by phasing out the use of genetically modified crops and an agricultural pesticide implicated in the mass die-off of pollinators.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Wildlife Refuge System manages 150 million acres across the country. By January 2016, the agency will ban the use of neonicotinoids, widely used nerve poisons that a growing number of scientific studies have shown are harmful to bees, birds, mammals, and fish. Neonicotinoids, also called neonics, can be sprayed on crops, but most often the seeds are coated with the pesticide so that the poison spreads throughout every part of the plant as it grows, including the pollen and nectar that pollinators such as bees and butterflies eat.

“We have determined that prophylactic use, such as a seed treatment, of the neonicotinoid pesticides that can distribute systemically in a plant and can affect a broad spectrum of non-target species is not consistent with Service policy,” James Kurth, chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System, wrote in a July 17 memo.

The move follows a regional wildlife chief’s decision on July 9 to ban neonics in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Hawaii, and the Pacific Islands by 2016.

The nationwide ban, however, goes further, as it also prohibits the use of genetically modified seeds to grow crops to feed wildlife.

A FWS spokesperson declined to comment on why the agency was banning genetically modified organisms in wildlife refuges.

But in his memo, Kurth cited existing agency policy. “We do not use genetically modified organisms in refuge management unless we determine their use is essential to accomplishing refuge purpose(s),” he wrote. “We have demonstrated our ability to successfully accomplish refuge purposes over the past two years without using genetically modified crops, therefore it is no longer [necessary] to say their use is essential to meet wildlife management objectives.”

GMOs have not been linked directly to the bee die-off. But the dominance of GMO crops has led to the widespread use of pesticides such as neonicotinoids and industrial farming practices that biologists believe are harming other pollinators, such as the monarch butterfly.

Neonicotinoids account for 40 percent of the global pesticide market and are used to treat most corn and soybean crops in the U.S.

“We are gratified that the Fish and Wildlife Service has finally concluded that industrial agriculture, with G.E. crops and powerful pesticides, is both bad for wildlife and inappropriate on refuge lands,” Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, said in a statement.

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The Hive Mind

I visited the bees the other day. Sitting quietly, watching all their activity, I became aware of a steady increase in their buzzing. Several bees then flew in my direction and stung me on the forearm and right between the eyes. Ironically, despite spending my life attempting to help my fellow species, animals hate me, almost without exception. Who else can say they have been attacked by both a dolphin and a dugong?

Once I had iced my face and arm and popped an antihistamine I did start thinking about the bees that laid down their lives to protect the hive they felt, for some unknown reason, was in danger, and I wondered how that sort of mind works. Orson Scott Card tried to describe it in the aliens he created for the classic “Ender’s Game”. The buggers, as they were called in the book, relied totally upon their queen. When the queen was killed the rest of the colony died as well, not too dissimilar to bees.

The more I thought about it the more I realised that we are not actually all that different to the bees. We, too, possess a hive mind. We, too, lay down our lives for what we consider the good of the colony. That is presumably why so many willing combatants march off to war on such a regular basis, to save their hive from whatever religious, ethnic or economic danger they believe is threatening it.

We call it heroism, self-sacrifice or altruism but, ironically, if fewer people were prepared to lay down their lives for causes and we all acted more selfishly perhaps there would be fewer wars too (and fewer people running into burning buildings or huge surf in order to rescue their fellow man)? It is hard to imagine an army of cats banding together to defend the common good, the way bees do. In their world it is every cat for itself. And that seems to work perfectly well for them.

The marvel of evolution and natural selection is that just because one paradigm works, does not mean there is no room for other completely different, but just as successful, lifestyles.

Dr. F. Bunny

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Urban Bees Using Plastic To Build Hives


February 11, 2014 – News Release

Once the snow melts, Canada’s bee population will be back in business — pollinating, making honey and keeping busy doing bee things. For at least two urban bee species, that means making nests out of plastic waste.

A new study by a University of Guelph graduate and a U of G scientist reveals that some bees use bits of plastic bags and plastic building materials to construct their nests. The research was published recently in the journal Ecosphere.

The study has been reported on by media outlets around the world, including the Toronto Star, Sun News, CBS News, Yahoo! News, United Press International, and Canoe News.

It’s an important discovery because it shows bees’ resourcefulness and flexibility in adapting to a human-dominated world, says lead author Scott MacIvor, a doctoral student at York University and a 2008 U of G graduate.

“Plastic waste pervades the global landscape,” said MacIvor. Although researchers have shown adverse impacts of the material on species and the ecosystem, few scientists have observed insects adapting to a plastic-rich environment, he said.

“We found two solitary bee species using plastic in place of natural nest-building materials, which suggests innovative use of common urban materials.”

Figuring out that the bees were using plastic in place of natural materials took some detective work by U of G’s Andrew Moore, supervisor of analytical microscopy at Laboratory Services.

Moore analyzed a grey “goo” that MacIvor discovered in the nests of one kind of bee, Megachile campanulae, which uses plant resins to build its nests,

“Scott thought it might be chewing gum originally,” Moore said. His team uses a scanning electron microscope to take highly detailed pictures of items, x-ray microanalysis to determine the elements in the sample and infrared microscopy to identify polymers. They can distinguish the finest detail on the surface of an animal hair.
Turns out that M. campanulae was occasionally replacing plant resins with polyurethane-based exterior building sealant, such as caulking, in its brood cells–created in a nest to rear larvae.

The researchers also discovered another kind of bee, Megachile rotundata, an alfalfa leafcutter, was using pieces of polyethylene-based plastic bags to construct its brood cells. The glossy plastic replaced almost one-quarter of the cut leaves normally used to build each cell.

Markings showed that the bees chewed the plastic differently than they did leaves, suggesting that the insects had not incidentally collected plastic. Nor were leaves hard to find for the bees in the study.

“The plastic materials had been gathered by the bees, and then worked – chewed up and spit out like gum – to form something new that they could use,” Moore said.

In both cases, larvae successfully developed from the plastic-lined nests.  In fact, the bees emerged parasite-free, suggesting plastic nests may physically impede parasites, the study said.

The nests containing plastic were among more than 200 artificial nest boxes monitored by MacIvor as part of a large-scale investigation of the ecology of urban bees and wasps, a project involving numerous citizen scientists.

The nest boxes are located in Toronto and the surrounding region in backyards, community gardens and parks and on green roofs. They are used by a variety of bee species.

“The novel use of plastics in the nests of bees could reflect the ecologically adaptive traits necessary for survival in an increasingly human-dominated environment,” MacIvor said.


Andrew Moore Laboratory Services 519-823-1268, Ext. 57234

Scott MacIvor 416-844-8093

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CSIRO, University of Tasmania scientists fit tiny sensors onto honey bees to study behaviour


By Ellen Coulter

Scientists in Tasmania are fitting thousands of honey bees with tiny sensors as part of a project aimed at understanding the insect’s behaviour and population decline.

CSIRO is working with the University of Tasmania, beekeepers and fruit growers to trial the monitoring technology, in an attempt to improve honey bee pollination and productivity.

They are fitting tiny sensors to the insects, a process which sometimes involves shaving them first.

“This has been done before,” CSIRO science leader Paulo de Souza said.

“The difference here is about the size of the sensor. And the difference is the number; we’re talking about 5,000 bees.”

The sensors measure 2.5 millimetres by 2.5mm and act like a vehicle’s “e-TAG”, recording when the bees pass particular checkpoints.

Researchers can use the signals from the sensors to find out how the bees move through the landscape and understand changes in their behaviour.

They are also looking at the impacts of pesticides on the honey bees and the drivers of a condition decimating bee populations globally.

“If it impacts the bees, it impacts the whole industry that is producing food,” Dr de Souza said.

“This should help us understand optimal productivity conditions, as well as further our knowledge of the cause of colony collapse disorder.”

Bees put to sleep, shaved, fitted with sensor

The process of gluing on the tiny sensors to the bees is delicate but quick.

“We take the bee into a cold place, usually to a fridge about five degrees Celsius, for five minutes and that is enough to have the bees sleeping,” Dr de Souza said.

“We take them out again and attach it while they’re sleeping. In five minutes they wake up again and they’re ready to fly.”

But some need to be shaved first.

“Very young bees, they’re very hairy. At times we need to do something to help us,” Dr de Souza said.

Researchers say the insects are not harmed by the glue or the sensors.

“It doesn’t disturb the way the bee will see or the way the bee will fly, they just work normally,” Dr de Souza said.

“Each sensor weight is about five milligrams. This is about 20 per cent of what the bee can carry.

“So the bee can carry a lot of weight in pollen, in nectar, so this is like someone carrying a small backpack.”

Next step: shrink sensors to fit fruit flies, mosquitoes

Researchers are releasing about 20 honey bees a day from hives in southern Tasmania.

The bees travel up to 700 metres from the hives, but always return, making it easy to pinpoint changes in their behaviour.

Researchers hope their work will help farmers and fruit growers, who rely on the bees’ pollination, to improve their practices.

The next stage of the project is to shrink the sensors to only one millimetre, so they can be attached to much smaller insects such as fruit flies and mosquitoes.

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Lawsuit challenges use of GMO crops and pesticides in U.S. wildlife refuges.

By Ron Meador | 09/05/13

The Detroit Lakes Wetland Management District extends over five counties in northwestern Minnesota, and its holdings might be thought of as a series of islands where woods, wetlands and remnants of tallgrass prairie are protected from further losses to agriculture and development.

There’s a special focus on maintaining habitat for waterfowl and other bird species native to the region, which has lost an estimated 80 percent of its wetlands and more than 99 percent of its native prairie.

Mammals, reptiles, insects and wildflowers, including the western prairie fringed orchid, are also highlighted in materials about resource management in the district, which is part of the National Wildlife Refuge System.

Now the district itself is highlighted in litigation brought by national environmental groups in a challenge to the planting of genetically engineered crops, and use of new pesticides known as neonicotinoids, on lands within that system.

For decades, some land within the refuges has been cultivated under cooperative arrangements between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and private farmers.

But the shift in recent years to engineered crops and new insecticides has triggered a series of lawsuits, which argue narrowly that FWS has failed to meet legal requirements for reviewing the environmental impact of such practices before permitting them — and, more broadly, that because of their persistence and other special characteristics, they have no place in areas set aside for protection as wildlife habitat.

What’s a refuge for?

In a report Tuesday on the Environmental News Service wire, an attorney for the Center for Food Safety put it this way:

“The Fish and Wildlife Service is entrusted with protecting our most vulnerable species. This lawsuit seeks to ensure the agency carries out that mandate and corrects course before irreversible damage is done. Allowing pesticide promoting, genetically engineered crops is antithetical to the basic purpose of our refuge system.”

Other plaintiffs in the case include Beyond Pesticides, the Sierra Club and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

Besides the Detroit Lakes WMD, the example refuges — all within the FWS’ Midwest Region 3 — are  the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge near Carbondale, Ill.; theCypress Creek NWR near Ulin, Ill.; the Swan Lake NWR near Sumner, Mo.; and the Iowa WMD, which has holdings in 18 counties in the north-central part of the state.

From the lawsuit:

Region 3 includes 66 refuges and wetland management districts encompassing over 1.2 million acres. The five refuges at issue in this case collectively total over 11,000 acres of the approximate 17,000 farmed acres in Region 3.  Row crops are usually cultivated for three to five years on farmland acquired by Region 3 before it is restored to natural habitat.  While GE corn and soybeans are among the crops planted during those three to five years, they are typically the only crops planted during the last two years before farmland is restored to natural habitat.

Three to five years? That may leave you wondering, What’s the big deal?

A problem of persistence

It’s probably fair to say the plaintiff groups never met a genetically engineered crop (or pesticide) they didn’t dislike.

But the newer products and practices under challenge in these case are different from those of the past in some key ways, and the plaintiffs’ case against them is neither categorical nor fanatical.

Leaving aside the argument over how toxic the herbicide glyphosate (Roundup) may be to amphibians, insects and people, the case raises more mainstream arguments about the impact of genetically engineered, “Roundup ready” crops on plant communities. More excerpts from the complaint [PDF], lightly compressed:

Studies show that cultivation of herbicide-resistant GE crops such as “Roundup Ready” soybeans and corn dramatically increases herbicide use, particularly glyphosate.

Gene flow from GE crops to conventional and organic crops, or transgenic contamination, is one adverse environmental impact stemming from GE crop cultivation.  Gene flow occurs in numerous ways, including when a crop disperses its seeds or pollen to propagate itself.

Gene flow results in transgenic contamination of related conventional or organic cultivars or wild species with potentially hazardous or simply unwanted genetically engineered content. There are over 200 documented episodes of transgenic contamination.

Widespread adoption of “Roundup Ready” technology in corn and soybeans [leads] to glyphosate-resistant “superweeds.”  These superweeds evolve quickly when “Roundup Ready” crops are grown year after year, without break, on the same fields; like bacteria exposed to antibiotics, some weeds naturally resistant to glyphosate will survive exposure, and will then reproduce and flourish. There are reports of glyphosate-resistant weeds in the states in Region 3.

More bad news for bees

The lawsuit also lays special emphasis on neonicotinoids — the insecticides that are designed to be carried throughout a plant’s tissues, and are heavily implicated in “colony collapse disorder” among U.S. honeybees:

Ninety-nine percent of corn seed is treated with neonicotinoids; therefore, it is likely that farmers are planting neonicotinoid-treated corn on Refuges.  Despite the overwhelming adoption of neonicotinoid treated corn seed, neonicotinoids are not represented on the Region 3 PUP Field Approval List [of pesticides cleared for use on refuge lands].

Neonicotinoids have been shown to adversely impact more than just managed honey bees—they also impact native bees and beneficial insects, which are critical to supporting pollination services.

Clothianidin and its parent compound thiamethoxam — the two most widely used neonicotinoids — are highly toxic to other bee species like the common Eastern bumble bee, alfalfa leafcutter bee, and blue orchard bee, all of which are valuable plant pollinators.  More than 15 threatened or endangered insects, ranging from beetles to butterflies to grasshoppers and other taxa, are potentially directly affected by the use of clothianidin and thiamethoxam products.

Readers who track the worsening problems of honeybees will no doubt make the connection: Besides exposure to “neonics,” perhaps the biggest factor driving the die-offs is the disappearance of undeveloped, uncultivated lands that offer abundant foraging opportunity for nectar-seeking bees.

The kind of land, you want to think, our national wildlife refuges would preserve in large quantities, well buffered from the agricultural lands where neonic use is unlikely to changefor at least the next several years.

What are the lawsuit’s chances?  According to the ENS piece cited above, four earlier and similar cases brought by the Center for Food Safety and PEER have “succeeded in rolling back approvals for genetically engineered crops on 75 national wildlife refuges across 30 states.”

Previously, the two groups successfully challenged approval of genetically engineered plantings on two wildlife refuges in Delaware, which forced the Fish and Wildlife Service to end such plantings in its 12-state Northeastern region.

Another suit from the same groups halted cultivation of genetically engineered on 25 refuges across eight states in the Southeast in November 2012. In that case, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg directed the Fish and Wildlife Service to reveal where the GE crops were planted on Southeast refuges, their number, the type of crop and the types of pesticides used, including the dates and amounts of application.


Ron Meador

Ron Meador

Ron Meador is a veteran journalist whose last decade in a 25-year stint at the Star Tribune involved writing editorials and columns with environment, energy and science subjects as his major concentration.

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To Bee Or Not To Bee

Hear that? Neither do I. That is because the bees of the world could be in a spot of bother. A United Nations Environment Programme report notes bee number declines in Europe and North America ( Initially this could be seen to be a good thing, especially by those of us that were stung regularly as kids during the summer months. However, nothing could be further from the truth. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations of the 100 crop species which provide 90% of the world’s food 71 of these are bee pollinated. In Europe 4000 vegetable varieties exist thanks to bee pollination. In North America honey bees pollinate nearly 95 kinds of fruit such as almonds, avocados, cranberries and apples, as well as crops like soybeans. As indicated in my “Economics of Nature” post, we may take these services for granted and assume they incur no cost but in Europe bees are responsible for crops worth between €22.8 and 57 billion. In 2000, the value of crops pollinated by bees was estimated at US$14.6 billion in the USA.

The reasons for this decline are many and varied and include habitat destruction resulting in a reduction in the number of flowering plants, infection with Varroa mites (not found in Australia at present) and other pathogens, and exposure to insecticides and air pollution.

Solutions include habitat conservation and putting more flowering plants into the ground. As well as benefitting your bees this will also help the local bird populations much more than a few handfuls of mouldy seed on a bird feeder will. Farming without insecticides is also likely to be beneficial. If you are really keen you could always establish a hive yourself and listen to Noah Wilson-Rich’s TED talk focussed on establishing urban bee hives (, which will brilliantly complement the urban vegetable gardens mentioned in my previous post.

Dr. F. Bunny






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