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 user 2007-05-03 at 11:31:00 am Views: 107
  • #18112

    Honeybee Die-Off Threatens U.S. Food Supply
    Md. (May 07) – Unless someone or something stops it soon, the
    mysterious killer that is wiping out many of the nation’s honeybees
    could have a devastating effect on America’s dinner plate, perhaps even
    reducing us to a glorified bread-and-water diet.About one-third of the
    human diet comes from insect-pollinated plants, and the honeybee is
    responsible for 80 percent of that pollination, according to the U.S.
    Department of Agriculture.Judi Bottoni, APAbout one-third of the human
    diet comes from insect-pollinated plants, and the honeybee is
    responsible for 80 percent of that pollination, according to the U.S.
    Department of Agriculture.Honeybees don’t just make honey; they
    pollinate more than 90 of the tastiest flowering crops we have. Among
    them: apples, nuts, avocados, soybeans, asparagus, broccoli, celery,
    squash and cucumbers. And lots of the really sweet and tart stuff, too,
    including citrus fruit, peaches, kiwi, cherries, blueberries,
    cranberries, strawberries, cantaloupe and other melons.In fact, about
    one-third of the human diet comes from insect-pollinated plants, and
    the honeybee is responsible for 80 percent of that pollination,
    according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.Even cattle, which feed
    on alfalfa, depend on bees. So if the collapse worsens, we could end up
    being “stuck with grains and water,” said Kevin Hackett, the national
    program leader for USDA’s bee and pollination program.”This is the
    biggest general threat to our food supply,” Hackett said.While not all
    scientists foresee a food crisis, noting that large-scale bee die-offs
    have happened before, this one seems particularly baffling and
    alarming.U.S. beekeepers in the past few months have lost one-quarter
    of their colonies _ or about five times the normal winter losses _
    because of what scientists have dubbed Colony Collapse Disorder. The
    problem started in November and seems to have spread to 27 states, with
    similar collapses reported in Brazil, Canada and parts of Europe.

    are struggling to figure out what is killing the honeybees, and early
    results of a key study this week point to some kind of disease or
    parasite.Even before this disorder struck, America’s honeybees were in
    trouble. Their numbers were steadily shrinking, because their genes do
    not equip them to fight poisons and disease very well, and because
    their gregarious nature exposes them to ailments that afflict thousands
    of their close cousins.”Quite frankly, the question is whether the bees
    can weather this perfect storm,” Hackett said. “Do they have the
    resilience to bounce back? We’ll know probably by the end of the
    summer.”Experts from Brazil and Europe have joined in the detective
    work at USDA’s bee lab in suburban Washington. In recent weeks, Hackett
    briefed Vice President Cheney ‘s office on the problem. Congress  has
    held hearings on the matter.”This crisis threatens to wipe out
    production of crops dependent on bees for pollination,” Agriculture
    Secretary Mike Johanns said in a statement.

    A congressional study said honeybees add about $15 billion a year in value to our food supply.
    the 17,000 species of bees that scientists know about, “honeybees are,
    for many reasons, the pollinator of choice for most North American
    crops,” a National Academy of Sciences study said last year. They
    pollinate many types of plants, repeatedly visit the same plant, and
    recruit other honeybees to visit, too.Pulitzer Prize-winning insect
    biologist E.O. Wilson of Harvard said the honeybee is nature’s
    “workhorse _ and we took it for granted.”"We’ve hung our own future on
    a thread,” Wilson, author of the book “The Creation: An Appeal to Save
    Life on Earth,” told The Associated Press on Monday.Beginning this past
    fall, beekeepers would open up their hives and find no workers, just
    newborn bees and the queen. Unlike past bee die-offs, where dead bees
    would be found near the hive, this time they just disappeared. The
    die-off takes just one to three weeks.USDA’s top bee scientist, Jeff
    Pettis, who is coordinating the detective work on this die-off, has
    more suspected causes than time, people and money to look into them.The
    top suspects are a parasite, an unknown virus, some kind of bacteria,
    pesticides, or a one-two combination of the top four, with one
    weakening the honeybee and the second killing it.A quick experiment
    with some of the devastated hives makes pesticides seem less likely. In
    the recent experiment, Pettis and colleagues irradiated some hard-hit
    hives and reintroduced new bee colonies. More bees thrived in the
    irradiated hives than in the non-irradiated ones, pointing toward some
    kind of disease or parasite that was killed by radiation.The parasite
    hypothesis has history and some new findings to give it a boost: A mite
    practically wiped out the wild honeybee in the U.S. in the 1990s. And
    another new one-celled parasitic fungus was found last week in a tiny
    sample of dead bees by University of California San Francisco molecular
    biologist Joe DeRisi, who isolated the human SARS virus.However, Pettis
    and others said while the parasite nosema ceranae may be a factor, it
    cannot be the sole cause. The fungus has been seen before, sometimes in
    colonies that were healthy.Recently, scientists have begun to wonder if
    mankind is too dependent on honeybees. The scientific warning signs
    came in two reports last October.First, the National Academy of
    Sciences said pollinators, especially America’s honeybee, were under
    threat of collapse because of a variety of factors. Captive colonies in
    the United States shrank from 5.9 million in 1947 to 2.4 million in
    2005.Then, scientists finished mapping the honeybee genome and found
    that the insect did not have the normal complement of genes that take
    poisons out of their systems or many immune-disease-fighting genes. A
    fruitfly or a mosquito has twice the number of genes to fight toxins,
    University of Illinois entomologist May Berenbaum.What the genome
    mapping revealed was “that honeybees may be peculiarly vulnerable to
    disease and toxins,” Berenbaum said.

    University of Montana bee
    expert Jerry Bromenshenk has surveyed more than 500 beekeepers and
    found that 38 percent of them had losses of 75 percent or more. A few
    weeks back, Bromenshenk was visiting California beekeepers and saw a
    hive that was thriving. Two days later, it had completely collapsed.Yet
    Bromenshenk said, “I’m not ready to panic yet.” He said he doesn’t
    think a food crisis is looming.Even though experts this year gave
    what’s happening a new name and think this is a new type of die-off, it
    may have happened before.Bromenshenk said cited die-offs in the 1960s
    and 1970s that sound somewhat the same. There were reports of something
    like this in the United States in spots in 2004, Pettis said. And
    Germany had something similar in 2004, said Peter Neumann, co-chairman
    of a 17-country European research group studying the problem.”The
    problem is that everyone wants a simple answer,” Pettis said. “And it
    may not be a simple answer.”