This is an interesting story and is not getting as much play as it should. It is the first news that has made me think we may have a serious idea of what might be causing bee colonies to disappear, commonly called Colony Collapse Disorder.
This is a must read--why? Because a pesticide called clothianidin was approved for use in the US in 2003 (this pesticide is banned in France, Germany, Italy and Slovenia). Colony Collapse Disorder was first on the Beekeeper RADAR in the winter of 2004/2005 and became a media headline in 2006.
A beekeeper by the name of Tom Theobald wrote an article for Bee Culture magazine this past summer about clothianidin. It is a pesticide produced by Bayer that is absorbed by plants and then released in pollen and nectar to kill pests. Basically, anything that pollinates can get a dose.
After the article came out, an Environmental Protection Agency employee contacted Theobald and told him that his article led to a study about the pesticide. He asked if could get a copy of the study and the EPA employee emailed it over . You can look at a PDF of it here.
Here are some interesting quotes from that memo that raised BIG RED FLAGS to me in several areas of my life:
As a beekeeper:
"Clothianidin’s major risk concern is to nontarget insects (that is, honey bees). Clothianidin is a neonicotinoid insecticide that is both persistent and systemic. Acute toxicity studies to honey bees show that clothianidin is highly toxic on both a contact and an oral basis. Although EFED does not conduct RQ based risk assessments on non-target insects, information from standard tests and field studies, as well as incident reports involving other neonicotinoids insecticides (e.g., imidacloprid) suggest the potential for long term toxic risk to honey bees and other beneficial insects. An incident in Germany already illustrated the toxicity of clothianidin to honeybees when allowed to drift off-site from treated seed during planting."
"This compound is toxic to honey bees. The persistence of residues and potential residual toxicity of Clothianidin in nectar and pollen suggests the possibility of chronic toxic risk to honey bee larvae and the eventual instability of the hive."
As a birder:
"This compound is toxic to birds and mammals. Treated clothianidin seeds exposed on soil surface may be hazardous to birds and mammals. Cover or collect clothianidin seeds spilled during loading."
And can I point out as a birder who loves hummingbirds, which are a native pollinator--are they affected by this too??
As a fishing enthusiast:
"This product is toxic to aquatic invertebrates. Do not apply directly to water or to areas where surface water is present or to intertidal areas below the mean high-water mark. Do not contaminate water when cleaning equipment or disposing of equipment washwaters. Do not apply where runoff is likely to occur. Runoff from treated areas may be hazardous to aquatic organisms in neighboring areas. Apply this product only as specified on the label.
What do we need to do? Get the EPA to recall this pesticide now! This is not a matter of "Oh no, Neil and I might lose our cute bees," this is a matter of, "Holy crap, this affects the world wide food supply!"