FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Did Commercialization Kill the Bees?

In the early 1990s, the USDA conducted risk assessments of the interstate transport of bumble bees for commercial greenhouse pollination, particularly tomatoes. Because of the risk of introducing non-native pests and diseases into new areas, they concluded that commercially reared bumble bees should not be shipped beyond their native range (They also prohibited the importation of bumble bees from outside the country, with the exception of Canada). At the time, it seemed a simple solution to growing concerns that the fledgling industry had taken off before adequate regulatory measures were put in place.

There was already some concern that the genie had gotten out of the bottle. Between 1992 and 1994, queens of two North American species—Bombus impatiens and Bombus occidentalis—were sent to Europe where they were reared in facilities along side European bumble bees. The colonies were then shipped back to the United States and distributed for crop pollination.

Fast forward to 1997. The commercial bumble bee rearing industry in North America suffers such catastrophic losses of Bombus occidentalis, a western bumble bee that it wipes out nearly its entire stock. In the following years, scientists begin to observe the precipitous decline of several North American bumble bee species, all belonging to the same subgenus. Dr. Robbin Thorp, a bee researcher and Professor Emeritus at UC Davis, upon learning of the commercial declines wonders if there is some connection. Could the wild bees be dying of the same disease that swept through commercial facilities?

Thorp has come up with a thesis: that the recent decline of four North American bumble bee species is the result of a pathogen brought into the country by bees that were shipped to Europe. In short, he argues that the North American bees acquired a selectively virulent strain of Nosema bombi, a gut pathogen, while being reared alongside the European bumble bee Bombus terrestris. When the bees were sent back to the US and distributed, the pathogen made its way into the wild, decimating several closely related species.

This all ties back to the USDA’s attempt to regulate the interstate shipment of bees because, in 1998, after commercial stocks of Bombus occidentalis were wiped out the industry was left with a single North American product: Bombus impatiens, an eastern bumble bee whose range extends from Maine to southern Florida. In 1998, USDA, against its own risk assessments, allowed the shipment of impatiens throughout the country. The largest greenhouse tomato-producing states – Arizona, Texas, and Colorado – are all states in which the bee is not native. It has been well documented that commercial bees can easily escape from greenhouses if necessary precautions are not taken.

In a story that I wrote for CounterPunch last fall, Wayne Wehling, senior entomologist at the USDA-APHIS, said that they still agreed with their earlier risk assessments.

“Certainly we have been all over the board with that,” he told me. “And I think we’ve been all over the board largely because of the lack of clarity in the regulatory authority as to what our capacities really are.”

To help clarify what the USDA Department of Animal Plant Health Inspection Service should be doing to protect our wild bees, the Xerces Society, a non-profit conservation group that focuses on protecting invertebrates, has filed a petition asking the USDA to regulate the interstate movement of bumble bees and to require that commercial breeders demonstrate that their bees are disease free. Along with the NRDC, Defenders of Wildlife, and Dr. Thorp, they write that, “The continued shipment of bumble bee pollinators to areas outside of their native ranges poses a grave threat to the wild populations of closely related bumble bee species. Without better regulation, we are likely to continue to see catastrophic declines, and possibly extinctions, of bumble bee pollinators.”

APHIS is under no obligation to respond but Sarina Jepsen, Endangered Species Program Director at Xerces said in an email that, “Our hope is that pressure from various sectors (scientists, conservation orgs, sustainable agriculture groups, policy makers and others) coupled with this petition will encourage them to promulgate new regulations.” According to USDA-APHIS, they are currently reviewing the petition to “determine our response.” Perhaps when they do respond, they’ll better clarify their regulatory authority.

ADAM FEDERMAN is a contributing writer to Earth Island Journal, where this article originally appeared. His last article for the magazine was on illegal logging in Siberia. He can be reached at: adamfederman@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

Adam Federman is a contributing editor at Earth Island Journal.He is the recipient of a Polk Grant for Investigative Reporting, a Middlebury Fellowship in Environmental Journalism, and a Russia Fulbright Fellowship. You can find more of his work at adamfederman.com.

November 20, 2018
John Davis
Geographies of Violence in Southern California
Anthony Pahnke
Abolishing ICE Means Defunding it
Maximilian Werner
Why (Mostly) Men Trophy Hunt: a Biocultural Explanation
Masturah Alatas
Undercutting Female Circumcision
Jack Rasmus
Global Oil Price Deflation 2018 and Beyond
Geoff Dutton
Why High Technology’s Double-Edged Sword is So Hard to Swallow
Binoy Kampmark
Charges Under Seal: US Prosecutors Get Busy With Julian Assange
Rev. William Alberts
America Fiddles While California Burns
Forrest Hylton, Aaron Tauss and Juan Felipe Duque Agudelo
Remaking the Common Good: the Crisis of Public Higher Education in Colombia
Patrick Cockburn
What Can We Learn From a Headmaster Who Refused to Allow His Students to Celebrate Armistice Day?
Clark T. Scott
Our Most Stalwart Company
Tom H. Hastings
Look to the Right for Corruption
Edward Hunt
With Nearly 400,000 Dead in South Sudan, Will the US Finally Change Its Policy?
Thomas Knapp
Hypocrisy Alert: Republicans Agreed with Ocasio-Cortez Until About One Minute Ago
November 19, 2018
David Rosen
Amazon Deal: New York Taxpayers Fund World Biggest Sex-Toy Retailer
Sheldon Richman
Art of the Smear: the Israel Lobby Busted
Chad Hanson
Why Trump is Wrong About the California Wildfires
Dean Baker
Will Progressives Ever Think About How We Structure Markets, Instead of Accepting them as Given?
Robert Fisk
We Remember the Great War, While Palestinians Live It
Dave Lindorff
Pelosi’s Deceptive Plan: Blocking any Tax Rise Could Rule Out Medicare-for-All and Bolstering Social Security
Rick Baum
What Can We Expect From the Democrat “Alternative” Given Their Record in California?
Thomas Scott Tucker
Trump, World War I and the Lessons of Poetry
John W. Whitehead
Red Flag Gun Laws
Newton Finn
On Earth, as in Heaven: the Utopianism of Edward Bellamy
Robert Fantina
Shithole Countries: Made in the USA
René Voss
Have Your Say about Ranching in Our Point Reyes National Seashore
Weekend Edition
November 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jonah Raskin
A California Jew in a Time of Anti-Semitism
Andrew Levine
Whither the Melting Pot?
Joshua Frank
Climate Change and Wildfires: The New Western Travesty
Nick Pemberton
The Revolution’s Here, Please Excuse Me While I Laugh
T.J. Coles
Israel Cannot Use Violent Self-Defense While Occupying Gaza
Rob Urie
Nuclear Weapons are a Nightmare Made in America
Paul Street
Barack von Obamenburg, Herr Donald, and Big Capitalist Hypocrisy: On How Fascism Happens
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fire is Sweeping Our Very Streets Today
Aidan O'Brien
Ireland’s New President, Other European Fools and the Abyss 
Pete Dolack
“Winners” in Amazon Sweepstakes Sure to be the Losers
Richard Eskow
Amazon, Go Home! Billions for Working People, But Not One Cent For Tribute
Ramzy Baroud
In Breach of Human Rights, Netanyahu Supports the Death Penalty against Palestinians
Brian Terrell
Ending the War in Yemen- Congressional Resolution is Not Enough!
John Laforge
Woolsey Fire Burns Toxic Santa Susana Reactor Site
Ralph Nader
The War Over Words: Republicans Easily Defeat the Democrats
M. G. Piety
Reading Plato in the Time of the Oligarchs
Rafael Correa
Ecuador’s Soft Coup and Political Persecution
Brian Cloughley
Aid Projects Can Work, But Not “Head-Smacking Stupid Ones”
David Swanson
A Tale of Two Marines
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail