By Heather Callaghan.
While chemical corporations and critics of bee activists want people to remain focused on addressing symptoms of colony collapse disorder, and fund research aimed at that goal, one Harvard PhD stands out as he presses on pesticides.
Researcher and Harvard professor, Chengsheng (Alex) Lu, has been outspoken about the effects of neonicotinoid pesticides and their contribution to colony collapse disorder. Especially so, since conducting his own tests for a number of years now.
But he now warns that a pollinator drop could be the least our worries at this point. That it may be a sign of things to come – bees acting as the canary in the coalmine. That not only are we connected to bees through our food supply, but that the plight that so afflicts them may very well soon be our own.
A lot of farmers appear to be happy with what neonicotinoids offer – less pesticide use, less work. However, this is because they are treated on seeds and become a part of the plant. Unfortunately, they cannot wash off and are non-discriminating when it comes to friendly pollinators.
Lu finds a vicious cycle: not only do neonicotinoids wind up in the whole part of the plant (pollen) but he finds that they show up in end products like high fructose corn syrup which is fed back to bees through unsuspecting beekeepers. (Findings like this makes one wonder what the additional implications are for human health)
I wrote about his work previously here:
Similarly, a different study in April recreated HFCS feedings; and, thus, recreated CCD showing that the pesticides are present in the final food product for bees – HFCS.
“We tried to mimic commercial beekeepers’ practices. I believe one reason that commercial beekeepers are experiencing the most severe colony collapse disorder is because of the link between high-fructose corn syrup and neonicotinoids.”
A Harvard staff writer reported recently:
It is that last possible cause [pesticides] that stands out to Harvard School of Public Health’s (HSPH) Chengsheng (Alex) Lu, an associate professor of environmental exposure biology, who believes that the potential human health implications of colony collapse disorder extend beyond the drop in pollination — though that is worrisome enough — to the impact on humans of long exposure to low-level poisons like neonicotinoid pesticides, which have been suspected in the bee disorder. To Lu, it is an open question whether there are links between the pesticide and the recent increase in neurological conditions in children such as autism and ADHD.
To get to the bottom of the mystery, Lu has conducted pioneering research on the impact of neonicotinoid pesticides on honeybees. In a study published in 2012, he replicated colony collapse disorder experimentally, feeding bees sugar water with different levels of neonicotinoids over 13 weeks in the summer and watching what happened.
At first, nothing did. The hives seemed unaffected and healthy as they got ready for winter. Then, the week before Christmas, roughly three months after the neonicotinoid treatment was halted, hives began to fail. Eventually, 15 of 16 hives collapsed, even those treated with the lowest dose.
Then he drops this bombshell:
One particularly disturbing aspect of the work, which Lu described during a lunchtime “Hot Topics” talk on Aug. 12 at HSPH’s Kresge Building, is that the bees that abandoned the hive during the collapse weren’t the individuals that ate the sugar water laced with neonicotinoids. During summer’s period of high activity, bees live just 35 days, so the colony that collapsed contained the next generation of bees, indicating that the effect may have been passed on between generations. [emphasis mine]
Thus, he finds that the “honeybee is a good model organism for potential pesticide impact, as well as for potential effects across generations.” He continues to recount the cascading problems like farmers having to dole out $750,000 versus the original $250,000 just to ship in extra pollinator help, which contributes to higher grocery costs.
Especially disturbing is the neurological destruction in bees who hang on – but they get confused, disoriented, fly to the wrong colony or abandon it. “The [phrase] ‘bee-line’ is no longer valid – The question … is do these things also apply to human health?” he says.
While it’s easy to follow the train of all the nuances of the arguments for or against pesticides or whether they cause CCD or not, one can see that a bigger problem remains brewing.