Bees & Chemicals
Bees can be severely and even fatally affected by pesticides, herbicides, fertilisers, and other chemicals that man has introduced into the environment. They can appear inebriated, and dizzy and even die. This is serious because it has substantial economic consequences for agriculture.
New evidence suggests that glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup, the herbicide most widely used on GM crops and countless households and farms worldwide) plays a huge role in bee deaths.
Colony collapse disorder (CCD) is a syndrome that is characterised by the sudden loss of adult bees from the hive. Many possible explanations for CCD have been proposed, but no one primary cause has been found. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has indicated in a report to Congress that a combination of factors may be causing CCD, including pesticides, pathogens, and parasites, all of which have been found at high levels in affected bee hives.
The development of a bee from egg to adult takes about three weeks. The queens daily laying rate will decline if contaminated materials are brought back to the hive such as pesticides. 31.6% of exposed bees will fail to return to their colony every day while the rest will bring back contaminated pollen, which in turn will not only affect the worker bees, but also the queen. As a consequence, there will be an upset in colony dynamics.
Colony Collapse Disorder has more implication than the extinction of one bee species; the disappearance of bees can cause catastrophic health and financial impacts. Bee pollination has an estimated value of more than $14 billion annually to US agriculture. Bees are required for pollinating many crops, which range from nuts to vegetables and fruits, that are necessary for human and animal diet.
In 2013, plant pathologist Dr. Don Huber submitted a paper to the Center for Honeybee Research highlighting glyphosate as a possible cause of CCD. Huber found that glyphosate:
Chelates minerals, lowering available nutrients in plants (malnutrition is a consistent factor in CCD)
Acts like an antibiotic to beneficial bacteria This means it kills off Lactobacillus and other bacteria necessary for digestion
Is a neurotoxin A common symptom of CCD is that honeybees experience neurological associated with disorientation.
Causes endocrine hormone & immune disruption Alterations in key hormones and immune system function can be lethal
Stimulates fungal overgrowth This could encourage the growth of the fungal pathogen Nosema
Is a persistent, accumulative poison: residual traces present in honey, nectar and other plant products, mean bees are continually exposed to this toxin
Roundup’s toxicity doesn’t begin and end with glyphosate. Recent data has also shown that this herbicide is made more toxic by the so-called ‘inactive’ ingredients in the formulation.
In a study of Ontario farming populations, exposure to glyphosate nearly doubled the risk of late miscarriages in humans. But, say the researchers, the addition of the ethoxylated surfactant in the Roundup formulation doubled the toxic effect of the glyphosate.
These inactive ingredients, along with the glyphosate, end up in our food and our animal feed as well – which means it ends up in us too. For humans, the big question is not just whether we can protect our bees, but also whether pesticides like glyphosate are also harming our health in the same way.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC, a branch of the World Health Organisation) recently found evidence that led the Agency to designate glyphosate as a ‘probable human carcinogen’.
General Measures to Prevent Bee Deaths Or CCD
Apply pesticides only after dark
Avoid pesticide application directly to blooming flowers as much as possible: This can help limit the exposure of bees to toxic materials as bees are attracted to all types of blooming flowers. If blooming flowers must be sprayed with pesticides for any reason, they should be sprayed in the evening or night hours as bees are not in the field at that time. Usual foraging hours of bees are when the temperature is above 12-15°C during the daytime, and by the evening, the bees return to the hives.
Use non-toxic (no chemicals) sprays wherever possible
Avoid Roundup & all products that contain glyphosate