Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Colony Collapse Disorder: Update

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Colony Collapse Disorder: it’s been widely reported and it’s more worrisome than a simple lack of honey. The reasons for it are a mystery, but it has already affected half of the states. After starting in the U.S., it’s spread to continental Europe.


Bee colonies in New York State and elsewhere experiencing rapid and serious collapse

“Colony Collapse Disorder” has potential to impact New York’s honeybee industry and other crop production such as apples

Washington, DC – Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton is expressing serious concerns over the rapid decline in honeybee colonies in New York State and nationwide. Joining a bipartisan group of Senate colleagues in a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Mike Johanns, Senator Clinton is asking the Secretary to provide answers on how the USDA is planning to address the increasingly threatening “colony collapse disorder,” which has decimated bee colonies throughout the United States.

“The reports of this disorder demand a swift response to identify the causes of the problem that threatens to not only impact our bee and honey growers but our fruit growers as well. We must determine the appropriate response to restore the health of our beekeeping industry,” said Senator Clinton. “New York farmers know how crucial our agricultural economy is to our statewide economy. This disorder poses a serious threat to our farmers, our agricultural communities and our economy. We must act quickly to preserve and promote our beekeeping industry.”

Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is a new and unexplained condition that has caused some beekeepers to lose as much as 90 percent of their honeybee colonies. The enormous importance of honeybees, responsible for providing pollination to vital crops like apples, is valued at upwards of $14 billion nationally, according to a recent study by Cornell University.

The effects of CCD are just as prevalent in the state of New York. According to New York honeybee producer James Doan, there have been reports of severe losses in colonies, with many losses being reported of close to fifty percent, and some beekeepers reporting losses of nearly eighty percent. Critical to New York’s apple production, Doan reported in his testimony before a U.S. House Committee earlier this year that there are concerns that the loss of bee colonies here in New York will not be able to be remediated in time for apple pollination. Some estimates have shown that nearly all the major beekeepers in the state of New York have lost more than 30 percent of their colonies to CCD.

In their letter to Secretary Johanns, the Senators called on the Secretary to expedite a report on the steps the Department is and will plan to be taking to determine the causes of CCD, and to develop appropriate responses for the serious disorder. The Senators asked for an explanation as to how the Department plans to use its existing resources to work with other third-party research enterprises to combat CCD and to outline the Department’s long-term plans to restore the health of the beekeeping industry across the United States.

The full text of the Senators’ letter to Secretary Johanns is as follows:

The Honorable Michael Johanns


U.S. Department of Agriculture

1400 Independence Avenue SW

Washington, D.C. 20250-0003

Dear Mr. Secretary:

America’s beekeepers and their bees are an indispensable pillar of U.S. Agriculture. Our nation’s beekeepers provide essential pollination services for over 90 different food, seed and fiber crops, contributing over $14 billion of added agricultural value as documented by a Cornell University study in 2000. Crops that depend upon or benefit from honey bee pollination include alfalfa, almonds, apples, avocados, blueberries, cantaloupes, carrots, cherries, citrus, cotton, cranberries, kiwis, plums, pumpkins, seed crops, soybeans, squash, sunflowers and watermelons.

As you are no doubt aware, a new and unexplained condition known as Colony Collapse Disorder (“CCD”) is decimating bee colonies through the United States. CCD is causing some beekeepers to lose upwards of 90 percent of their bee colonies, and is causing serious reductions in the supplies of bees for essential commercial pollination. These severe losses are in addition to other problems such as higher production costs, mite infestations and unfairly traded imports that have been making it very difficult for beekeepers to operate profitably. If these alarming trends are allowed to continue, they will place at risk in excess of $14 billion in annual U.S. farm output that depends on bee pollination. Ultimately, the shortage of pollination services could impact the supply of healthful and affordable food for U.S. consumers.

We are writing on an urgent basis to ask that you provide us with an expedited report on the immediate steps that the Department is and will be taking to determine the causes of CCD, and to develop appropriate countermeasures for this serious disorder. In particular, we ask for a specific explanation of how the Department plans to utilize its existing resources and capabilities, including its four Agricultural Research Service honeybee research labs, and to work with other public and private sector enterprises in combating CCD. We also request that the Department identify any additional resources and capabilities that would be necessary or useful in its efforts to stop the spread of CCD.

In addition, we would also ask that you outline the Department’s long-term plans to help restore the health of the U.S. beekeeping industry, including implementation of a crop insurance program for beekeepers that Congress authorized in 2002.

We look forward to receiving your report and any recommendations on this urgent matter for U.S. agricultural producers and American consumers.

The situation is quite different in Canada, as reported by Heather Jones in Farm Focus:

There are no confirmed cases of Colony Collapse Disorder anywhere in Canada, Joanne Moran said April 12.

The secretary of the Nova Scotia Beekeeper’s Association told Farm Focus that it would be 10 days to two weeks before the majority of the hives in the province were unwrapped. There was no large number of honey bees lost in the fall before they were wrapped.

Moran said to date NS has not been seeing losses like those reported in New Brunswick. “Only one out of 25 has had abnormal losses, the rest were all within the normal range.”

The story is the same in Prince Edward Island. According to Moran, Provincial Apiarist Chris Jordan hasn’t heard of any abnormal losses and does not think CCD is an issue.

While there have been reports earlier this week of “heavy losses” of honey bee colonies in southern Ontario, Provincial Apiarist Doug MacQuarrie believes they were all weather related.

He said there was not a good nectar flow in the fall, Moran explained. In January the bees began raising their brood and when the cold snap arrived they starved to death.

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  1. I have just written a brief article about ‘Colony Collapse Disorder’ which you might find of interest http://fishinsects.suite101.com/article.cfm/colony_collapse_disorder

  2. Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is becoming an increasingly overrated topic as it pertains to the theoretical decline in global pollination. It is true that we are witnessing a large decline in the population of many colonies. This is only temporary and can be explained through hive politics. A hive, as in any tightly knit community, is highly susceptible to foreign intrusions, including disease. A plan must be in place to insure the survival of the hive if such an intrusion were to present itself. It can be likened to apoptosis in the human body where roque cells commit "cellular suicide" in order to prevent further damage. This is the reason why there are no bees found dead in the hive, or anywhere near the hive. The infected bees have "instinctual orders" to fly as far from the hive as possible, when detection of a pathological condition is evident, before dissolution. This is very difficult to prove since there will be no evidence of infection where there are no carcasses. Hence the case. However, if chemical flourescence are used to track departing bees, they can be found expired alone far from the hive where there will be no chance of hive infection. The nature of the disease has yet to be determined. It must be one of great difficulty for the infected colonies to battle since the bees seem to find it late in the gestation process. Otherwise so many bees would not be forced into isolation, and it would take far less departures to cleanse the hive. We must conclude that there will be reamining bees that will undoubtedly have a resistance to the disease, maybe not even show any symptoms while infected, and therefore will not find it necessary to leave the hive. Nature has a built in survival kit. Survival of the fittest will prevail, as they always have.


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