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GENEVA (AFP) – The UN on Thursday expressed alarm at a huge decline in bee colonies under a multiple onslaught of pests and pollution, urging an international effort to save the pollinators that are vital for food crops.
Much of the decline, ranging up to 85 percent in some areas, is taking place in the industrialised northern hemisphere due to more than a dozen factors, according to a report by the UN's environmental agency.
They include pesticides, air pollution, a lethal pinhead-sized parasite that only affects bee species in the northern hemisphere, mismanagement of the countryside, the loss of flowering plants and a decline in beekeepers in Europe.
"The way humanity manages or mismanages its nature-based assets, including pollinators, will in part define our collective future in the 21st century," said UNEP executive director Achim Steiner.
"The fact is that of the 100 crop species that provide 90 percent of the world's food, over 70 are pollinated by bees," he added.
Wild bees and especially honey bee colonies from hives are regarded as the most prolific pollinators of large fields or crops.
Overall, pollinators are estimated to contribute 153 billion euros ($212 billion) worldwide or 9.5 percent of the total value of food production, especially fruit and vegetables, according to the report.
Honey bee colony declines in recent years have reached 10 to 30 percent in Europe, 30 percent in the United States,and up to 85 percent in Middle East, said scientist Peter Neumann, one of the authors of the first ever UN report on the issue.
But in South America, Africa and Australia there were no reports of high losses.
"It is a very complex issue. There are a lot of interactive factors and one country alone is not able to solve the problem, that's for sure. We need to have an international network, global approaches," added Neumann of the Swiss government's Bee Research Centre.
Some of the mechanisms behind the four-decades-old trend, which appears to have intensified in the late 1990s, are not understood. UNEP warned that the broad issue of countryside management and conservation was involved.
"The bees will get the headlines in this story," UNEP spokesman Nick Nuttall told journalists.
"But in a sense they are an indicator of the wider changes that are happening in the countryside but also urban environments, in terms of whether nature can continue to provide the services as it has been doing for thousands or millions of years in the face of acute environmental change," he added.
Nonetheless, scientists have been unable so far to quantify the direct impact of bee decline on crops or plants, and Neumann insisted that some of the impact was qualitative.
Citing British research, the report estimated that pollination by managed honey bees is worth 22.8 billion to 57 billion euros in terms of crop yields, and that some fruit, seed and nut crops would decrease by more than 90 percent without them.
One key driving force behind bee destruction in Europe and North America has been a type of mite, the varroa destructor pest, which attacks bees and that beekeepers struggle to control, Neumann said.
"It's quite shocking how little we know about this essential pest of honey bees although it has caused havoc in agriculture for more than 20 years."
"African bees are tolerant, we don't know why," he added.
Meanwhile, frequent changes in land use, degradation and fragmentation of fields, trade carrying hostile species such as the Asian hornet into France or virulent fungi, chemical spraying and gardening insecticides as well as changing seasons due to climate change have added to the hostile environment for bees..
Clothianidin = "Colony Collapse Disorder" One of the most important food crops is corn. Corn is also used to make ethanol for fuel. But modern varieties of corn are vulnerable to diabrotica vergifera vergifera. Commonly known as the "root worm," the bug burrows into the newly forming roots of the corn plant and causes the plant to wither and eventually die. By 2003, Bayer Pharmaceutical had developed "Clothianidin" to address the rootworm problem. Bayer’s own studies showed that its pesticide was highly toxic to bees but claimed that, because it would be applied to corn seed and would be buried in the soil, it would be harmless to other creatures. Farmers were instructed to buy special machines to apply clothianidin to their seeds with a special adhesive seed coating manufactured by Monsanto. The poison is supposed to stick to the seed coat and to be toxic to the rootworm. These poison-coated seeds are now growing all over the globe. Oooooops!
(CBS) In California the almond orchards are in blossom and millions of honeybees are at work, pollinating, doing a job only they can do.
Almonds are the first big bloom of the season and the first big test of honeybee health, CBS News correspondent John Blackstone reports.
"It's not a vibrant hive, it's not full of bees," said Brett Adee. "A hive this time of year should be just busting bees. And it's just a scrawny little bee hive."
Adee, whose family runs the largest beekeeping operation in the country, says bees are dying at least as fast as they did last year.
"It's off the chart this year. It's not a sustainable thing, what's happening now," he said.
What's happening in the almond orchards doesn't bode well for crops everywhere that require pollination.
U.S. Department of Agriculture researcher Jeff Pettis has been tracking the bee die off.
"Certainly if the bees are not in almonds they're not going to be available for apples and pears and vine crops: the fruits and vegetables we need," he said.
What is called "colony collapse disorder" hit bee keepers in more than half the country last spring. Now it has spread to all but a handful of states.
Hives can go from healthy and active to dead and gone. Theories on what's bugging the bees include mites and viruses and pesticides to poor nutrition. Maybe all of those together.
"That's been a frustrating part," Pettis said. "We know some things that are contributing, but we can't point to a single factor as a cause."
Two years ago Louise Rossberg had nearly a thousand hives. Now she has just 200 and is struggling to stay in business.
"What else am I going to do?" Rossberg asked. "I like doing bees, I've been here so long."
But Rossberg has lost so much income, her house is in foreclosure, and even the spring blossoms don't seem to bring much hope.
"I've lost my home, I've lost my vehicle, let's see, so I'm living with a friend right now," she said.
But beekeepers say this isn't just a crisis for them - it's a crisis for everyone.
"I mean bees are vital element to the production of food in this country and if we can't feed ourselves, then we got a problem," Adee said.
As an essential link in the food chain, the hardworking bee has suddenly become the weakest link.
People are getting screwed because of this, and its gonna affect ALL of us if we don't do something about these evil as hell companies that are causing it.