Alarm sounded over US honey bee die-off
Honey-bee decline has accelerated in North America beyond the steady attrition of the past 25 years according to scientists and farmers. A relatively new term - "Colony Collapse Disorder" is being used to describe this poorly understood phenomenon.
Colony Collapse Disorder (or CCD) is a syndrome evidenced by massive die-off affecting an entire insect population. The cause of the syndrome is not yet well understood. CCD may be caused by mites or associated diseases or unknown pathogens. CCD is possibly linked to pesticide use though several studies have found no common environmental factors between unrelated outbreaks studied. According to Dennis vanEngelsdorp, a bee specialist with the Pennsylvania State Department of Agriculture, "We are pretty sure, but not certain, that it is a contagious disease."
Honey-bees are responsible for approximately one third of the United States crop pollination including such species as: peaches, soybeans, apples, pears, pumpkins, cucumbers, cherries, raspberries, blackberries and strawberries.
From 1971 to 2006, approximately one half of the U.S. honey-bee colonies vanished. The rate of attrition reached new proportions in the year 2006, which were alarming to many farmers and honey-bee scientists.
At least eleven different states as well as portions of Canada are known to have been affected by colony collapse disorder. The disorder has been identified in a geographically diverse group of states including Georgia, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and California. In some states the loss of honey-bee colonies is estimated as high as 75 percent of the population.
The phenomenon is particularly important for crops such as almond growing in California, where honey-bees are the predominant pollinator and the crop value is $US 1.5 billion. Total U.S. crops that are wholly dependent on the honey-bee are known to exceed $US 15 billion.
In a related development on January 17, 2007, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has drastically tightened use rules on some of the chief pesticides used on apples, blueberries, grapes, peaches, pears and other fruits pollenized by honey-bees. Citing general environmental protection and farmworker safety, the EPA recently announced the tightening of use or phaseout of the highly toxic pesticides phosmet and Azinphos methyl. Under these rule changes the use of these organophosphate pesticide would be allowed continued use for five years but have somewhat reduced dosage limits. Azinphos methyl is a dangerous neurotoxin derived from nerve agents used during World War II.