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A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has found a possible link between the practice of feeding commercial honeybees high-fructose corn syrup and the collapse of honeybee colonies around the world. The study was published by a team of entomologists at the University of Illinois.The team outlines their research and findings in a paper they've had published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The report states that commercial aviaries began feeding honeybees high-fructose corn syrup back in the 70′s after research was conducted that indicated that doing so was safe. Since that time, new pesticides and transgenic BT crops have been developed and put into use. Over time it appears the honeybees’ immunity response to such compounds may have become compromised.

Researchers indicate that when honeybees eat high fructose corn syrup instead of honey they are not being exposed to certain chemicals that help boost their immune system and allow them to fight off toxins, specifically those found in pesticides.

The enzyme P-coumaric is found in pollen walls. P-coumaric naturally detoxifies the honeybees and allows them to fight off pesticides meant for other insects.

This news comes days after the European Union announced that they would be initiating a ban on the pesticide group, Neonicotinoids. The EU commission may now put into effect a two year restriction on neonicotinoids found in pesticides. In Canada, government scientists have found evidence that neonicotinoid pesticides were linked to mass bee deaths during the spring corn planting in Ontario and Quebec in 2012, Health Canada's Pest Management Regulatory Agency confirmed in a report and have initiatiated a re-evaluation. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rejected petitions to halt the use of the world’s most widely used insecticide citing the petition failed to make a case for imminent harm.

Canadian government sciA number of studies have linked this group of pesticides to bee colony collapse disorder. The US and Canada continues to endorse it's use.

The Center for Food Safety (CFS) just released a detailed scientific report, revealing the severe impacts of herbicide-resistant genetically engineered (GE) crops on the monarch population, which has plummeted over the past twenty years.

The report makes it abundantly clear this iconic species is on the verge of extinction because of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready crop system.

The critical driver of monarch decline is the loss of larval host plants in their main breeding habitat, the Midwestern Corn Belt. Monarchs lay eggs exclusively on plants in the milkweed family, the only food their larvae will eat.

Monarch butterflies have long coexisted with agriculture, but the proliferation of herbicide-resistant transgenic crops threatens that balance. Monsanto’s glyphosate-resistant Roundup Ready corn and soybeans have radically altered farming practices, sharply increasing the extent, frequency and intensity of glyphosate use on farm land. Glyphosate – one of the few herbicides that kills common milkweed has become the most heavily used herbicide in America. As a result, transgenic corn and soybean fields in the GMO growing belts have lost 99% of their milkweed since just 1999.

As residents living on this beautiful blue planet, we are all interconnected and nothing exemplifies this more than our ecosystems. They are humanity’s life support system. These delicate environs depend on pollinators to regenerate finely tuned elements to ensure continuity. Whether mammal, animal or insect, should these pollinators disappear the impact on humanity would be considerable. Not only from an economic and food security point-of-view but right down to the breath we take. Previous studies indicate that the number of pollinators may be falling, but until now, there has been no investigation of how they are faring at a global level. A new international study does just that and it's ringing a very loud warning bell.

Published in the journal Conservation Letters, by ecologist Eugenie Regan of the United Nations Environment Programme the study clearly states that an increasing number of pollinating mammal, bird and insect species are moving towards extinction. There are those that claim that it wouldn’t make much of a difference if a few pollinators disappear because there are so many. But if enough key species go extinct at crucial spots, the whole system will crash and that leaves humans out in the cold.

In the first study of it's kind, researchers examined how bird and mammal species known to pollinate plants are faring based on the IUCN Red Lists. The lists, produced by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, are regarded as the most authoritative and objective system for collating information on the risks of species going extinct.

The report points out that animals and insects pollinate more than 87% of flowering plant species, and humans rely on many of these plants for food, livestock forage, medicine, material and other purposes. On average, 2.4 species per year have moved one Red List category towards extinction in recent decades, representing a substantial increase in extinction risk across the set of species.

Corporate actions happens for many reasons. Sometimes they are tied to economic shifts, other times ephemeral political winds are a trigger or as we all know technological revolutions like transgenics can cause major upheavals. This week two major agribusinesses have taken actions to correct some serious wrongs. Mind you, they are not admitting anything, they're just throwing money at two problems that they contributed to originally. Step in the right direction? Yep. Enough to make a major difference? Nope.

Monsanto whose popular weed killer Roundup has been blamed, in part, by critics for knocking out monarch butterflies' habitat, said it is committing $4 million to efforts to stem the worrisome decline of the black-and-orange insects. They are donating the funds to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation's Monarch Butterfly Conservation Fund -- one-third of that money matches what the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is contributing. The remaining funds will be set aside to mirror what other federal agencies plan to offer over the next three years. But to be clear, this contribution focuses on habitat restoration, not chemical assessment.

Then the state of New York announced that, after negotiations with the global agribusiness conglomerate Archer Daniels Midland, ADM will adopt a no-deforestation policy for soy and palm oil. This comes at a critical time because evidence indicates that after years of progress, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon is increasing again. Just outside the Brazilian Amazon — in Peru, Bolivia, Columbia, and in Brazil’s Cerrado region people have been cutting down the forests where there has been less pressure to stop. The move from ADM provides a clear warning to farmers who are considering the costs and benefits of clearing more land.

ADM laid out a specific set of commitments and a plan for implementation. This announcement is the latest in a cascade of no-deforestation commitments set off when Wilmar, the largest palm-oil company, pledged to stop buying from suppliers who cut down rainforest. ADM owns 16 percent of Wilmar.

“ADM has a steadfast commitment to the development of traceable and transparent agricultural supply chains that protect forests worldwide,” wrote Victoria Podesta, ADM’s chief communications officer, in an email. “We are confident that our No Deforestation policy is both strong and appropriate for our company.”

Last year, another agribusiness, Cargill, announced a plan to stop buying all commodities that caused deforestation. While this ADM commitment is more narrowly focused on soy and palm oil, it applies more stringent rules than the Cargill pledge, said Ben Cushing, spokesperson for the advocacy group Forest Heroes. “For soy, this puts ADM out front,” he said.

As the awareness of the devastating destruction and health issues that surround palm oil and soy, this move may have as much to do with supply chain management than altruism. A closer look at the 'why' reveals that while a group of NGOs — Forest Heroes, Sierra Club, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the National Wildlife Federation, SumOfUs, and NRDC all urged the company to make its business more sustainable, it was the New York State Common Retirement Fund that asked ADM to take this step. The retirement fund holds $83.1 million in ADM stock.

Today half of the world's population of honeybees have disappeared. Not only are the honeybees vanishing, but the entire interdependent chain that links animal to plant life is being disrupted. As honeybees disappear, so do many naturally grown fruits and vegetables. A sad day indeed for humans. But aside from the food they pollinate, they are also integral to the reproduction of many plants and flowers that benefit other species.

No Answers
Researchers are scrambling to find answers to what they are calling one of the more bizarre mysteries ever to happen in the natural world. There has been a range of theories to try to explain the honeybees' disappearance. Mites and the pesticides used to control them; viruses, fungi or poor bee nutrition; radiation from mobile phones interfering with honeybee navigation systems; solar flare activity; even the geomagnetic orientation of the Earth. But none of these theories can identify what or why these home loving species stray or why their disappearance has become a global phenomenon.

The Cost of Human Interference
Follow me to a story that broke in 2005, but has been under study since the mid 90s. Rogue elephants, first in India then Africa started attacking villages. What made this so unusual was the pachyderms were using human intelligence to carry out the assault, like blocking escape routes and pinning down humans before goring them to death.

The reason for the meyhem? Researchers think it's an emergent, species-wide, emotional breakdown. The result of human interference over extended periods of time, the consequence of which has lead to the destruction of important social bonds in elephant kingdoms.

[img_assist|nid=534|title=|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=231|height=235]Honeybees, like elephants are highly evolved and have given rise to thousands of descendant species, some of which live a solitary life and others that lived in colonies. The honeybee is one of the earth's most social and ecologically important creatures. They pollinate over 90 per cent of the world's food crops. They live in societies that rival our own in size and complexity. A single nest may contain as many as 30,000 bees. Together they build and repair their home, harvest and prepare food for the entire colony and instruct the next generation in honeybee behaviour including learning how to fly. Scouts find the flowers that provide a high yield of nectar or pollen by merging many sources of information including the position of the sun and the subtle nuance of a flower's scent. When a spot promises abundance, they fly back to the nest and waggle out a GPS-type dance which provides the exact directions to the field of plenty.

They never sleep nor do they hibernate during the winter and they manage all this with less than one million neurons contained in brain tissue that is smaller than a single cubic millimeter. That’s a neural density 10 times higher than our own cerebral cortex. In fact, honeybee neurons are so advanced we have neither the skill nor the imagination to understand how they are interconnected.

Why Are Bees Taking Flight?
In many cases commercial honeybees are so domesticated, they can no longer live without human support. They are stored in air tight containers where pathogens grow from the inside out. They are fed artificial sugar water and trucked for thousands of miles in short periods of time, in order to maximize business opportunities during pollination season. Then, to add insult to injury, the are continually exposured to a myriad of insecticides and pesticides. The belief is that all of these factors combined create enormous stress on commercial hive activity.

Now add the wild bees. Yep, they're disappearing too. Scientists at University of Leeds compared a million records on bees from hundreds of sites in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands before and after 1980. They found that bee diversity has declined nearly 80 percent at tested sites. In the southern Indian state of Karnataka, once a major honey producer, up to 90% of the indigenous bee colonies were destroyed by an imported virus in the early 1990s. In Rimouski, Quebec, the bee populations have also been decimated. In Iraq, the toxic effects of the Gulf War (smoke due to burning oil wells) that have destroyed 90% of the bee colonies.

From malformations, nervous system problems and disorientation to behavioural problems, bees are manifesting all sorts of symptoms that reveal a fragile state of health. Some bees cannot find their way back to their hive after leaving it. Others are rejected when they return because they are not recognized by the rest of the group.

The new insecticides introduced in the 1980s are neurotoxins which are spread when crops are sown (sunflower, soy, etc.) and serve to protect them against their various predators. Studies are showing that the toxic chemicals remain on the plant throughout its growth cycle right through the flowering period. The nectar eaten by bees also contains chemical residues that are deeply harmful to them. Hence, honey production has dropped by a third generally, and by up to 90% in some areas.

Our urban foot has also taken a terrible toll on a honeybee's natural state. Pollinators work on a limited range of flowers. But they have to fly further and further afield to gather the pollen because their supportive environment is disappearing. This has a disastrous effect on honeybees in particular. While most pollinators pick up fertilizing spores accidentally while trolling flowers for nectar, honeybees collect pollen to feed their young.

The Domino Effect
But what the Leeds study goes on to say is even more disturbing. It turns out the decline in bees is linked to a decline in plant diversity. Where bee diversity has decreased, so too have the wildflowers that require specific insects for pollination. The phenomena, called the domino effect, triggers a chain reaction disrupting the interrelation of animals and plants. In short, the decline in honeybees could be triggering a cascade of local extinctions.

The Domino Theory became reality in Yellowstone Park in the 1920s. Apparently, the wolves were trying to tell us something too. In 1914, the United States Congress approved funding to destroy the wolves in the park and surrounding areas to help ranchers protect their livestock. The wolves were systematically killed- the last known wolf pack disappeared in 1926. Sixty years later the Gray Wolf was listed as endangered.

But what happened in the regions where the wolves disappeared shocked everyone. The forests went quiet. The systematic removal of wolves tipped the domino effect. Over the following decades, adverse changes occurred in the park that scientists couldn't explain including the disappearance of songbirds. They ultimately discovered wolves effect elk, elk affect aspen and willows, aspens/willows affect beavers and beavers affect trout and songbirds.

The scientists at Oregon University analyzed subsequent data to show a clear and remarkable linkage between the presence of wolves and the health of an entire streamside ecosystem, including two species of cottonwoods and the important roles they play in soil erosion control, stream health, and nurturing diverse plant and animal life.

Given this evidence, it is perfectly logical to assume the disappearance of bees could very likely damage the prospects of associated species. Perhaps that's the most sobering of all because in the environmental game of domino humanity is the last tile.

Yet Another Extinction?
As our self-sufficiency declines and our material consumption rises, we are taking a direct hit to our future wellbeing. We have a long history of continually changing the environment to suit us, literally pushing out other lifeforms. And while we are sadden by yet another story of species extinction, previous to the bees disappearing, we haven't been directly affected. But this time, we are destroying a social structure that is essential to our own.

But the strangest part of the missing bee mystery is by far the most interesting. There are no dead bees. There are a few dead soldiers scattered on the ground, but we're talking millions and millions of bees here. They're not in the hive, at the hive, or close by. Many abandoned hives full of honey. So where did they go? Perhaps the honeybees had enough of our interference. Perhaps they know where we're headed and just prefer to fly away.

From the University of Maryland, a 2016 study focussing on the honeybee colonies’ exposome, a term traditionally used in cancer research. It's defined as the measure of all exposures over an individual’s lifetime and how those exposures relate to health. In their investigation, researchers did not look at individual honeybees but instead treated the colony as a single super-organism basing its results on lifetime exposure to agricultural chemicals. Simply put, these models attempted to summarize potential risk from multiple contaminations in real-world contexts.

Researchers gauged the effect of pesticide exposure not only by looking at the number of pesticides in colonies, but also their toxicological relevance over a specific threshold, as well as through the calculation of a hazard quotient (HQ), which evaluates the cumulative toxicity of various pesticide residues.

Pesticide detections and HQ spiked when colonies were placed in agricultural fields for pollination (including blueberry, apple, citrus and cucumber production), and decreased when placed in a holding yard or put into honey production.

The 91 honey bee colonies studied were exposed to a total of 93 different pesticide compounds throughout the course of their pollination season. Of these residues, 13 different compounds were found in bees, 61 in beebread (packed pollen within the hive), and 70 were found in wax.

Pesticide load and hazard were also elevated in colonies that experienced a queen event —when a queen is replaced, in the process of being replaced, or queenless. A queen event is a predictor that a colony will die-off within ~50 days. Researchers found levels of synthetic pyrethroids were higher in colonies with a queen event, echoing past research showing adverse effects to bee reproduction from pyrethroid exposure. While scientists did not find a significant contribution from neonicotinoids, a class of chemicals widely implicated in bee and other pollinator declines, co-authors of the research note the study may not have been set up to adequately investigate their impact.

The implications of this research stretch beyond a single class of chemicals. While the body of science on neonicotinoids, including EPA’s own determination that these chemicals are highly toxic to bees, indicates that they should be immediately removed from use, it is evident that chemcial-intensive agriculture in general is owed much of the blame. Rather than focus on reducing pesticide exposure or refraining from use when bees are present, agrichemical companies, the conventional farming community, and federal regulators must take a long look at what practices are truly sustainable in the long term. It is clear that insect pollination and its subsequent health and economic benefits will not be maintained if measures aren’t taken to drastically shift agricultural production toward safer practices modeled on organic agriculture. By focusing on soil health, biodiversity, cultural practices like crop rotation and intercropping, and limited off-farm inputs, organic systems represent a viable, scalable path forward.

Related Links
University of Maryland - Study High Number of Pesticides Within Colonies Linked to Honey Bee Deaths
In-hive Pesticide Exposome: Assessing risks to migratory honey bees from in-hive pesticide contamination in the Eastern United States

In 2015, Bayer CropScience  scored a big win on both sides of the Canada/US borders. That's when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it completed the registration of Bayer’s new pesticide, flupyradifurone. The chemical spray can now be marketed as an alternative to neonicotinoid pesticides and “safer for bees.” Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA), also proposed full registration for the sale and use of flupyradifurone. Good news for the honeybees right? Well, not so much. A closer look reveals the EPA and Health Canada may be misleading the public on the ecological safety of pesticide.

Flupyradifurone (flup) is similar to neonicotinoids (neonics) in that it attacks the nervous system of intended and unintended insects. Like neonics it’s a systemic pesticide and is very persistent in the environment with half-lives in soil ranging from 38-400 days. The major difference is that neonics are lethal to honeybees on contact and toxic when ingested. That’s why the class of pesticides is banned in Europe. Flup is acutely toxic only when ingested. As a systemic pesticide, that thin line of distinction gets lost very quickly in agricultural ecosystems because flup is persist in all the plant tissues, including pollen and nectar for two weeks.

Both agencies note the potential threat to honeybees, birds and other small wild mammals. Health Canada’s solution to minimize risk is to requirement the manufacturer to state the hazards on the label. They also recommend spraying early in the morning or in the evening. The EPA rationalizes that “residues declined in pollen and nectar within a two-week window following treatment.” This means honeybees will be exposed the lethal toxin for at least two weeks. For those adult honeybees that forage on this pollen and nectar during that time, death is imminent. However, using some bazaar reasoning, the EPA believes that while honeybees may touch or tread on flup residues, they’ll be alright as long as they do not ingest the pollen or nectar. You don’t have to be an apiarist to understand this is totally counterintuitive to honeybee behaviour. Honeybees are foragers - they’re not out for a Sunday stroll.

These regulatory reviews raise more questions than answers. Honeybees and native pollinators are essential to agricultural ecosystems. Without their contribution most fruits and vegetables cannot produce. Surely at a time when honeybee populations are in such a steep decline, it seems inappropriate and perhaps even irresponsible for regulators to introduce yet another honeybee toxin to the market. So why is this latest chemical with known risks to honeybees and other wild life even being considered? Both agencies maintain that in spite of the acute oral toxicity, flup has no measurable impact on honeybee colonies, fish or other small mammals based on 38 studies. But who sponsored the studies was unclear.

Another concern is the failure to take into account the cumulative impact of flup and neonics like imidacloprid and clothianidin on honeybees and other non-target insects in the environment. Neonicotinoids, as well as a host of other insecticides are currently used as seed treatment combined with use in other areas of agriculture, the home and gardening sites. Adding flup to the chemical mix already found in the environment will mean that honeybees and other non-target organisms will be exposed to mixtures of chemicals that have yet to be evaluated for their combined or synerg