On behalf of Earth Day, which I intend to extend for about another 360-some days, I’m focusing on a series of posts about the pollinators and why they should be on everyone’s To-Bee list. This post includes an interview with Kristina Lefever, a pollinator passionista who discusses the four main causes of pollinator decline. Subsequent posts will explore ways we can all beecome pollinator superheroes advocating for those important little beeings.
Causes of Pollinator Decline
Recently, I was chatting with Kristina Lefever, pollinator protector extraordinaire. As a descendant of Mennonite farmers, for Kristina, the “A” in her DNA stands for agriculture. Her adult life’s work was in business until she discovered organic farming over a decade ago. With OFFC (Our Family Farms Coalition), Lefever had a hand in helping Jackson County become a GE-Free county, and as part of the Pollinator Project Rogue Valley, she was pivotal in making Ashland the 5th Bee City USA in the country. Lefever is now on the Bee City USA subcommittee of the Ashland, Oregon Parks and Recreation Department.
Lefever shared childhood memories on her grandfather’s farm in Pennsylvania sitting on a bridge overlooking the hayfields as the humid, summer air teemed with life, insects. “It was normal for the air to be filled with insects. That doesn’t seem to exist as much in the world anymore. People don’t tolerate things flying around. How can you convey the importance of that to someone if they have never had the experience?” She continued to talk about children, today, who may never have the experience of a symbiotic relationship with those living beings in the air and how the new normal is an intolerance for things that fly and an adaptation to lifeless air.
When asked about the causes for pollinator decline, Lefever listed four main causes: Genetically Modified Crops, Climate Change, Pesticides, and Habitat Loss. She added the Varroa Mites that prey on bees are a secondary contributor, because the bombardment of the other issues are stressing the bees and making them less able to recover from this parasite that, on a human scale, is the size of a dinner plate. When the bees are strong and healthy, they can more easily fend off Varroa Mites.
Genetically Modified Crops
In future posts, I’ll be discussing in more detail the impact of Genetically Modified crops on all-things earth (insects, humans, soil, animals, did I mention humans?). In the meantime, you can read this article from Global Research showing how bees are dying of digestive problems (from GMO pollen) that resemble colon cancer. Could this be the cause for a rise of gut and bowel (including gluten intolerance) diseases in humans as well? Yes, it could be. Read on.
Research from Cornell shows a connection to native bee decline (23% for the five years spanning 2008-2013) and Big Ag (intensive agriculture), and this article discusses in more detail the decrease in a bee’s immunity with genetically modified crops.
To learn more about GMO’s and six reasons to avoid them, check out the GMO Journal. Several years ago, I wrote a series of articles about the detrimental impact of GM crops and GMO’s. Some of these can be found at Society for a G.E. Free B.C. Subscribe to this blog if you’d like to stay updated. You will be alerted when I add new posts. I’ll be writing more about this topic in the future.
The words genetically modified food crop and pesticides go hand-in-hand, because genetically modified crops require the use of synthetic pesticides. There is an ever-increasing use of pesticides, because farmers are unable to contend with the pesticide-resistant weeds creating a perpetual need for higher levels of herbicide or insecticide applications.
The main GM crops in the US are corn, soy, canola, cottonseed, and sugar (beets). There are also alfalfa and papaya (Hawaii) to name a few. In the United States, Hawaii seems to field trial central when it comes to GM crops. According to Scientific American, Hawaii has had more than 2200 field trials spanning 4800 acres. The paradise islands will one day be paradise mainly for BigAg that is making the big bucks. The native flora and fauna along with human residents will all be on the losing end of this endeavor.
It’s a fairly safe bet that if you are consuming those products (above) in their non-organic form, then you are ingesting genetically modified foods, which to this writer, equates to ingesting pesticides. That said, I do not minimize the efforts of small-scale, local farmers who may not be certified organic (it is a grueling process from what I understand) but who use natural methods of dealing with weeds and insects. Ask. Go to your local farmer and ask about their philosophy on pesticide use.
What does climate change have to do with the decline of pollinators?
Lefever shared some insight about warming temperatures causing earlier blooms that don’t jive with the timing of pollinator emergence. The Guardian expounds on that concept by explaining more about the timing mismatch. For example, a tree that buds late winter may feed a specific moth whose eggs turn into caterpillars that feed a particular bird. With the mismatch of timing and rising temperatures, the buds arrive earlier, disrupting the entire system thus rendering the chain of dependents –the moth, the moth’s offspring (caterpillar), and the bird that eats the caterpillar without food, at best malnourished. This relationship between insects and their host plants is being disrupted throughout the globe. It’s not an isolated problem with the pollinators, it is occurring with species all over the planet, including humans in some parts of the world. It is, in this photograblogger’s opinion, only the tip of the proverbial melting iceberg for humans as we stand by and witness or worse, ignore, the impact on the very beings responsible for our food, pollinators.
According to Nature News, rising temperatures are causing bee habitat to shrink. Basically the southern portions of North American and European bee habitat ranges are moving north by as much as 180 miles. This is providing less space at the ideal temperature for them. Some pollinator species are overcoming this change by adapting, but not the bees.
Pesticide is the umbrella term for insecticides and herbicides. As you read on, you’ll see the connection between synthetic pesticides and Genetically Engineered (GMO/GM/GE) crops, because these crops and the bottom line of Agrochemical companies are reliant upon pesticides for their success. This is not a strictly US-related problem. It exists practically everywhere around the globe. Below are some photos from Mexico and South Africa.
Pesticides. Pesticides. Pesticides. I cannot read or hear that word without thinking genocide. Lefever discussed the decline of pollinators and how pesticides come to mind, first. “Synthetic pesticides are a really big problem, but are they the only problem? Even OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute) approves insecticides like Spinosad that can impact the butterflies and bees. If sprayed at the wrong time, it can kill them. It has to be sprayed before the bees come out. There are still residual effects.”
According to Lefever, the use of pesticides is so prevalent it’s practically unavoidable. There are pesticides applied by people/individual homeowners and business owners, pesticides applied by the conventional beekeeper, and pesticides used ubiquitously in farming.
Check out Rodale’s Organic Life and the history of pesticides to learn more about how we arrived here at this place of insectinsanity.
Almonds, the Insidious Bee Killers
Lefever explained this to me, and days later I’m still dumbfounded.
Like many (about 1400) crops, the almond industry uses honeybees (from the commercial bee industry) to pollinate almond trees. In the US, over one million honeybee hives are trafficked from other states to pollinate almond orchards in California. Being shipped in containers and driven thousands of miles is a stressor impacting a bee’s ability to just be. No matter, the bees arrive and work their beeautiful magic. But unless the almond orchard is organic, the trees are routinely sprayed with synthetic insecticides or fungicides. The bees have just worked off their bee butts, doing a stellar job helping to make almonds, and are killed. Here’s how Lefever sums it up:
“Bees are captured, transported potentially thousands of miles, fed a low nutrient diet of sugar water, put to work, and then sprayed to death.”
It doesn’t make sense, right? It’s not in the almond grower’s best interest to kill the very being responsible for making this commodity. An article from Mother Jones explains that in addition to two types of pesticides, almond growers have more recently begun to use a solution, an adjuvant, to help spread the pesticides more efficiently. It appears this improvement in efficiency may one valid reason (among others) for bee colony decline.
Bees are Exploited, Abused, and Killed
Lefever does not buy almond butter nor almond products and from this point forward I will join her ban against this industry that exploits the bees. Add to it, the almond industry uses exorbitant amounts of water in drought-stricken California.
Having just watched the stunningly beautiful and moving movie Wings of Life, I also learned more about how the journey of being transported to pollinate almond orchards causes a bee great stress and reduces her lifespan.
Glyphosate – Roundup
Glyphosate is the primary chemical in Monsanto’s leading herbicide, Roundup. I feel my hackles rise every time I hear that word. According to EcoWatch, since Roundup was first commercially sold (1974), the US has used more than 3.5 billion pounds of glyphosate. This is 19% of the glyphosate used worldwide. What’s more alarming is that two-thirds of that consumption have been within the past decade. I’ve read elsewhere the US consumes up to 25% of the glyphosate used worldwide.
**2.33 billion pounds of glyphosate for the last ten years, that is, two hundred thirty-three million pounds a year used in the US. There are now 73 million children in the US which would mean 3.2 pounds of glyphosate per child annually.**
The way this correlates to the issues related to Genetically Engineered Crops (aka GMO/GE/GM) is that these crops account for 56% of global glyphosate consumption meaning 116.5 million pounds of glyphosate is being dumped on GE crops annually. Again, this does not account for the use of other synthetic pesticides, and there are many others.
According to Lefever, “Glyphosate [again, most commonly known as Roundup, a toxic herbicide developed by Monsanto] is used ubiquitously on our planet and is sold as a benign substance for people and the planet. WHO has come out to say it’s probably a carcinogen. There are counties and cities banning glyphosate because it’s found everywhere – rain water, breast milk, urine. It’s sold to kill weeds. It’s cheap. BigAg uses it on GM crops. It was created for the Green Revolution.”
The Green Revolution is the highly propagandized establishment for increasing synthetic inputs (thus lining the pockets of Agrochemical) like fertilizer and pesticides. But the Green Revolution is really just a big steaming pile of shite. Vandana Shiva discusses the Green Revolution’s myths here.
The excessive prevalence of synthetic pesticides is highlighted in recent research showing 57 different pesticides found in honeybees, according to Science Daily.
That glass of Glyphosate pairs nicely with those bee-exploiting almonds.
The prevalent use of glyphosate is interfering with all aspects of our lives, more recently tests have shown glyphosate contamination in California wine. This past February Reuters reported sixteen beers tested positive for glyphosate. The site Beer Tutor details the many synthetic chemicals found in beer.
Roundup Ready Monarchs
Roundup has had a most deleterious effect on the monarch butterfly. Each year about 50% of the migrating monarchs fly through the midwestern corn belt to overwintering sites along the Californian coast or to the state of Michoacán in Mexico. The female Monarch only lays her eggs on milkweed, and Monarch larvae only feed on milkweed. Eighty percent of corn and soybeans are grown in the Midwest. There was a time when these fields had milkweed in great abundance. Glyphosate, which is heavily used on these fields, has virtually destroyed this most vital plant necessary for a Monarch’s survival, milkweed. An interesting but somewhat dense study can be found here. In 2013, we had a most auspicious encounter with one of the leading Monarch scientists, Dr. Lincoln Brower, while visiting Monarch sanctuaries in Michoacán Mexico. That year, we were told, was the record low for Monarchs.
No milkweed, no Monarchs.
The Glyphosate Connection to Autism and Alzheimer’s and other Diseases
According to Autism Speaks, an estimated 1 in 45 American children have autism. This is 2% of American children. Other research shows that in the last five years, 1 in 50 children have been diagnosed with Autism. Recent research shows a gut bacteria-Autism connection. Glyphosate suppresses growth of our beneficial gut bacteria as shown in a publication by The National Center for Biotechnology Information. Glyphosate usage increased 2 fold in the last five years.
Food Democracy Now has a more palatable article on the connection between gut microbes and glyphosate and the impact on humans. Something to consider: if you are or know someone with Autism, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, any gut-related disease, or most of the diseases associated with the Western diet (including all the above), take an inventory of 1) what you’re eating, 2) what you’re spraying, and 3) what your neighbors or city is spraying. Learn more here and check out the video if you have one hour to devote to your health.
There’s a new badass in town, and its name is Neonicotinoid. Referred to as neonics, this synthetic pesticide made by companies like Bayer (you may recognize this name from your aspirin bottle) can persist in soil for months or years after a single application according to the Xerces Society.
Monsanto, Syngenta, Dupont, Bayer all market genetically modified soybeans doused in the toxic pesticide from the toxic Neonicotinoid family.
Do you ever wonder why soy gets such a bad wrap? How people develop allergies to it? Could it be the human body’s way of rejecting the GM toxins?
Lefever explained how these pesticides are used by Big Ag for genetically modified crops: “The seed is coated in the chemical, the corn or soy or cotton is coated with Neonicotinoids and Talcum powder supposedly to protect the plant from pests. Any person can go to their local store and buy products off the shelf that contain Neonics. The worst thing about them is that they are a systemic pesticide. Worse than glyphosate in this sense. Agrochemical companies put a coating on the seeds thus every cell on the plant has neonics on it, including the stem, roots, leaves, flower, pollen, and fruit. If you have a plant with Neonics then soil can also be affected. Neonics are also affecting the beneficial beetle population on farms because the slugs eat the soybeans or corn plants and may not be affected, but the beetles – their natural predator – eat the slugs and they die. The nursery industry uses it, so pollinator friendly plants at your local grocery store might actually have neonics on them. There are big campaigns for Lowes and Ace to stop selling neonic products and plants grown or treated with it.”
A systemic pesticide is an inherent part of the fruit or vegetable and cannot be washed off, so no matter how well you scrub that food it will still contain this
Neonics in Baby Food? Yes.
The Rolling Stone article, What is Killing America’s Bees and What Does It Mean for Us? explains “Neonics are used on 100 million acres of American farmland, though the real number is probably much higher. More than 90 percent of corn and soybeans grown in the U.S. are genetically modified; they cover an estimated 89 million and 85 million acres, respectively. A 2012 U.S. Department of Agriculture survey found neonics in 30 percent of cauliflower, 22 percent of cherry tomatoes and in more than a fourth of bell peppers. In 2011, the Food and Drug Administration found them in 29 percent of baby food.”
Your Toxic Dinner
Do you spray your garden or cook with canola oil? If your canola is not organic or a brand labeled NonGMO, then you are likely cooking with neonics. If you spray your garden with any of these trademarked names, you are using neonics. What does this mean for you and your family? You think it’s a healthy meal, but instead it’s a toxic meal, because neonics cannot be washed off your food.
What about the pollinators?
At this point, who cares?
Many. Many care. All hope is not lost. The situation is not good, but things usually get messy before they get tidy again.
Pesticides, according to Lefever, harm pollinators in different ways. For instance, neonics kill the insects, but also the snail that eats the toxic plant is eaten by a frog that gets eaten by a heron and so on. The poison persists up to nineteen years according to studies mentioned in the Guardian. A Harvard study proves why the bees are all disappearing.
If you see any of the following ingredients on an insecticide bottle, you have a neonic on your hands and if you spray regularly your actions are likely contributing to the decline of beneficial insects like the pollinators, and you are probably causing harm to your own life and the lives of your family members:
But wait! There’s more. 2, 4-D. Recognize this?
WHO gives a damn about 2, 4-D
2, 4-D an ingredient in Weed & Feed is very toxic. Previously a component of Agent Orange, 2, 4-D has been increasingly found in ground and surface water, it is a potential (one must use such qualifier words as not to get sued by Big Ag who has money flowing out of every dark crevice) endocrine disruptor, which could lead to thyroid issues, it causes immune disorders, and it may be related to neurological disorders like Parkinson’s.
And now in addition to WHO’s claim that glyphosate is a probable carcinogen, WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has concluded that 2,4-D, another commonly used weed killer, is “possibly” carcinogenic to humans according to Civil Eats.
It’s a big messy topic, pesticides. Through the Master Gardener program at OSU, I’ve been exposed to the other side of this argument and realize there may be a place, albeit minuscule, in our world for pesticides. Invasive species come to mind (using the most minimal amount and painting the poison directly on the plant’s stalk after cutting it down to the ground and putting cross slices in the top of the stalk- called the Cut Stump Application). However, the instructor who was describing this method is a scientist. She and her cohorts were on a restoration project, and they knew how to properly identify the invasive plant, the damage it would cause were it not to be removed, and which controls would eradicate it. The average person/homeowner is not looking to restore native habitat nor knows how to identify invasive species nor knows all the details necessary in handling the problem. This is where your local county extension office is a remarkable source of information. Challenge yourself on seeking the least harmful option first. Upcoming posts will offer some solutions to help.
So, while WHO didn’t actually mention giving a damn about the pollinators, one could infer (with a stretch) that WHO gives a damn about them.
All of the previous causes of pollinator decline are related to one another and they are all related to habitat loss. Genetically modified crops must be sprayed (to meet quotas) with pesticides (herbicides and insecticides) thus in addition to killing the insects directly, the habitat of these insects (where they live, eat, lay eggs) is destroyed. The topographical changes occurring because of climate change, too, are reducing habitat that can no longer handle the temperature changes or are creating unhealthy environments for invasive plants to thrive and take over the habitat of native plants. Homeowners insist upon having their perfectly sterile, sprayed lawns in lieu of creating abundant pollinator gardens comprised of native plants that would otherwise create happy homes for these most important critters to thrive.
Despite pesticides being a pervasive problem, Lefever is more concerned with habitat loss. “Five years ago, fifty years ago, one hundred years ago? This valley [Rogue Valley Southern Oregon] had a completely different landscape. Bees don’t live in people’s houses. Where do they go when their habitat is being taken up by development? So while there is a slow awakening to the harmful effects of pesticides either because people care about their health or their children or the fact water is poisoned, we still have a lot to do when it comes to the basic need for habitat for our pollinators. Bees, for instance, live for a month. If she doesn’t have food, she’s not going to live, and she can’t reproduce.”
Lefever continued, “Honeybees get a lot of attention because they’re the domesticated ones. What about the native bees? The native bees don’t have anyone looking out for them. There are 1 possibly 2 native bees that have gone extinct in Southern Oregon.” She reiterated that the habitat is shrinking.
Life cycle of a native bee?
It’s about the same as honeybees. Natives can go in the ground or a crevice. The queen lays her eggs and goes to hibernate and comes out in the spring. They help her while she lays more eggs. “Honeybees are tame”, added Lefever, “we have done so much to domesticate them. We put them in little boxes (Langstroth Hive) and make them create their comb on plastic. They are supposed to build their own comb. But they have to create the wax. The babies are growing up on the plastic. We don’t let them be. From 100 years ago, beekeeping practices have changed dramatically.”
On my interminable search for hope, I remain cautiously optimistic. This is because I believe in the human capacity to ultimately solve problems and to right wrongs. Solutions are coming up next. Stay tuned. Thanks to Kristina Lefever for imparting her time, passion, and wisdom.
I feel that good food should be a right and not a privilege, and it needs to be without pesticides and herbicides. And everybody deserves this food. And that’s not elitist.
Pesticides came about after the first world war. Some brainy petrochemical money maker said, ‘Hey, that mustard gas worked great on people, maybe we could dilute it down and spray it on our crops to deal with pests.
I’ve said this over and over, but I’ll say it a million more times – I’m concerned more about the death of a bee than I am about terrorism. Because we’re losing hives and bees by the millions because of such strong pesticides.
The industrious little soul of black and gold busy at her vocation.
Along came the spray, she was caught in the fray, buzzing the wrong location.
Wings laden with poison she returns to the hive,
Will any of the other bees there survive?
How could the fluffy powdery grain cause such cruel irreparable pain?
It was just flower pollen, the simplest little grain.
Now all the bees have fallen, an end to a queen’s reign.
~Kenda Swartz Pepper