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Honey Bee Diseases Threaten Bumblebees; Late Breaking: EPA Announces New Protections for Farmworkers

(Beyond Pesticides, February 21, 2014) A new study published in the journal Nature investigating two infectious diseases —deformed wing virus (DWV) and the fungal parasite Nosema ceranea— finds that they could be spreading from honey bees to bumblebees, dramatically shortening the lifespan of the wild bumblebees. The study gives credence to recent research demonstrating that pesticide use compromises immune system functioning, dramatically raising their susceptibility to diseases.

The study, Disease associations between honeybees and bumblebees as a threat to wild pollinators,  suggests that managed, highly-dense populations of honey bees, are breeding grounds for pathogens which may then be transmitted to bumblebee populations. But unlike honey bees, infected bumblebees are much more affected by the disease, with their lives shortened by six full days. “To put it into context, in the field a bumblebee worker lives 21 days,” said co-author Mark Brown, PhD., of Royal Holloway, University of London. “For every bee that has this virus, you’re losing about a third or a quarter of all the food it would bring back to the nest to help the nest grow.” Additionally, while honey bee hives have tens of thousands of worker, bumblebee hives have only hundred at most.

The study, underlines the importance of threatened wild pollinators, including bumblebees, which are estimated to provide $3 billion in pollination services to crops such as tomato, blueberry, melon, soybean, cucumber, squash, apple, peach, and bell pepper in the US.

Previous studies have demonstrated that bumblebees can carry DWV, but none had mapped the distribution of infected and healthy honey bee and bumblebee populations. Researchers here discovered that roughly a third of honey bees collected are infected with DWV and 11 percent of bumble bees carry the virus. By mapping out the distribution of disease presence, researchers found significant overlap, which suggest disease transmission between the two pollinator species.

“A geographical patterning provides us with the information that transmission is occurring among these animals – they are sharing parasite strains,” said Dr. Brown. The infection could likely be spread when bumblebees forage on flowers already visited by infected honey bees, or by raiding competitors interested in stealing nectar. “We cannot say it definitively, but because of the epidemiology, the most likely explanation is that the honeybees are acting as the source of the virus for the bumblebees,” said Dr. Brown.

The research adds to a body of knowledge demonstrating the range of threats that native and managed pollinators face. Underlying these threats is the persistent use of pesticides which weakens pollinator immunes systems making them more susceptible to parasites, pathogens, and diseases. One study on pesticides in honey bee hives, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that honey bees exposed to a typical fungicide were more than three times more likely to become infected when exposed to the parasite Nosema, compared to control bees which were not fed contaminated pollen.

Researchers here are particularly interested in further investigating the role of neonicotinoid pesticides, which are implicated as a driving cause of colony collapse disorder. “If bumblebees were exposed to neonicotinoids and had the same effect, you would expect the bumblebee viral load to be going through the roof. This is something we are hoping to test later,” said Dr. Brown.

The European Union has already implemented a two-year ban on certain neonicotinoid pesticides in recognition of the threat they pose to honey bees. Meanwhile, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has failed to take similar action, taking steps in the opposite direction to register more bee-killing pesticides, such as cyantraniliprole and sulfoxaflor.

We urge you to BEE Protective , pollinators need our help!  This spring create pollinator friendly habitat by planting bee attractive flowers and grasses that provide food and forage for bees and other pollinators.   Pledge your garden or backyard as a pesticide free zone for pollinators. For more information on local and national initiatives to protect bees and other pollinators visit our BEE Protective Campaign website.

Sources: The Scientist, BBC News, Los Angeles Times

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

LATE BREAKING (More details in followup story):

EPA Releases Long-Overdue Updating of Farm Worker Protection Standards
(Beyond Pesticides, February 21, 2014) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency yesterday released its long-overdue proposal for Farm Worker Protection Standards (WPS), which are designed to provide protections from pesticide exposure for more than 2 million farm workers and their families across the nation. The proposal is a small step in the right direction; however, farmworker advocates say they do not go far enough.

“It took the EPA 20 years to make this announcement, how long will it take them to implement those standards? It won’t be until late 2016 until it’s implemented!” said Nelson Carrasquillo, executive director of El Comité de Apoyo a los Trabajadores (CATA-The Farmworkers’ Support Committee) and Beyond Pesticides board member.

The federal Worker Protection Standard, first adopted by the EPA in 1992, is notoriously difficult to enforce, requires no record keeping to document whether the rules have been implement, and requires only minimal training that can threaten farm workers and their families. Finally, the original ruling did not consider the role that children will play in the agricultural setting, although children as young as 10 can work in labor crews and are exposed to hazardous pesticides.

The proposed changes are set to be printed in the Federal Register, http://www.regulations.gov, within 10 days of the EPA’s announcement yesterday, according to the agency’s press release. The proposed changes to the Farm Worker Protection Standard include:

  • Raising the level of training for workers and handlers from every five years to once a year. The training will include information on farmworker protections required, restrictions on entering pesticide-treated fields, access to information and use of personal protective equipment. It will also provide instructions on reducing pesticide exposure in the home.
  • Requiring mandatory posting of no entry signs in treated areas which have a re-entry time of more than 48 hours rather than either oral or posted notification.
  • Setting the minimum age of pesticide applicators and early entry works to 16 years of age; previous rules had absolutely no minimum age requirements.
  • Expanding no-entry buffer areas around pesticide-spray zones from nurseries and greenhouses to also include farms and forests to reduce exposure.
  • Requiring personal protection equipment must be consistent with the Occupational Safety & Health Administration standards for ensuring respirators are providing protection.
  • Requiring employers to communicate pesticide hazards to workers, handlers, or authorized representatives, which was not previously required, however removes requirement of displaying post-application specific information.
  • Expanding the definition of “immediate family” to include grandparents, grandchildren, and in-laws as exempt from WPS requirements.

The requirements provide revisions to the Worker Protection Standards that represent more than a decade of input from the agriculture lobby, farm workers, human rights activists, environmentalists and federal and state regulators.

As Beyond Pesticides has emphasized through its support of the organic community and USDA organic certification process, consumer support for organic ensures that fewer pesticides are present in the environment. Buying organic supports an entire system that is conscious of the health of people, animals, and the environment. Beyond Pesticides’ Eating with a Conscience database provides a look at the toxic chemicals allowed in the production of the food we eat based on legal tolerances (or allowable residues on food commodities), and the environmental and public health effects resulting from their use. From reduced exposure to pesticides for farmworkers to bans on unnecessary and dangerous uses of antibiotics in livestock feed, choosing organic means supporting the overall well-being and health of not only yourself and family, but everyone around you. It also supports those farmers who battle both the figurative winds of conventional farming adversity and the literal winds that lead to contamination of their organic crops.

To learn more about why it is critical to continue to support organic food production and maintain the integrity of the USDA organic label, as well as organic programs in other countries, please visit our Keep Organic Strong webpage. For more information on the benefits of organic agriculture, see Beyond Pesticides’ Organic Food program page. To voice your support for organic integrity and comment on organic standards, practices, and allowable materials, see Beyond Pesticides’ Keeping Organic Strong webpage.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides

Sources: EPA News ReleaseFWJ News Release


One Response to “Honey Bee Diseases Threaten Bumblebees; Late Breaking: EPA Announces New Protections for Farmworkers”

  1. 1
    DB Says:

    Here is my critique of this paper. 1. It is well known that certain pathogens are found on the pollen of plants, and that bees species can communicate these pathogens as they visit different flowers, that are being visited by other pollinators. It’s well known for instance that Mason Bees can carry foul brood, and that can be communicated to honey bees via pollen, when they visit the same flowers. So this notion is not new at all. It doesn’t look to be much of a break through to me in terms of understanding Colony Collapse Disorder in honey bees or in other bees.

    The next issue I take with this is that it is known that Neonicotinoids alter the soil fauna, and cause certain microsporidians like the Nosemas (including Nosema cerenae) to become prolific.

    “The microsporidian, Nosema ceranae, was first detected in the Asiatic honey bee, Apis cerana in 1994 in China. Where imidacloprid had been used for it’s rice production since 1991.”

    “In fact, the manufacturer’s own leaflet states that imidicloprid makes pathogenic soil fungi 1000 times more dangerous to termites”.

    Both quotes are from:
    The Journal of Environmental Immunology and Toxicology X:X, XX-XX; September/October 2012; Immune Suppression by Neonicotinoid Insecticides at the Root of Global Wildlife Decline by Rosemary Mason, Henk Tennekes, Francisco Sanchez-Bayo, Palle Uhd Jepsen. Pp2

    This paper also does not address Nosema Bombi. The issue is two fold:

    1. Neonicotinoids suppress insect immune systems making them more susceptible to pathogens in general, even perhaps susceptible to pathogens that are not normally found in their species. The old saying–exposing bees to neonicotinoids is like giving them AIDs is very true.

    2. Neonicotinoids in the soil adversely affect soil fauna such as the Nosema “bugs” that attack bees, making those specific pathogens more numerous by destroying other soil fauna that might keep the Nosemas in check (like a yeast infection in the human gut after a round or two of powerful anti-biotics).

    So the fact that these bugs jump species isn’t new. The paper might offer empirical evidence, but it seems to be just another attempt to distract us from the discussion that needs to happen about these substances and how they are dangerous to all pollinators.

    Consider also that Bumble Bees are ground dwelling bees, and that their direct contact with contaminated soil would be chemically dangerous to the Bumble bee’s immune system, and it would bring them into direct contact with soil that has been loaded to cause Nosema infections before they even fly to a flower that an infected honey bee has visited.

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