Restrict Pesticides to Save Bees

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08 July, 2013

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From VOA Learning English, this is the Agriculture Report.

A decline in the number of honeybees is a growing problem worldwide. The decreasing bee population could contribute to an increase in prices for crops that depend on pollination by honeybees.

Researchers continue to study the decline while beekeepers like Terrence Ingram struggle to keep their bee colonies alive. He says he loves being at the center of a swarm of bees.

"I love beekeeping. It's one of God's greatest miracles."

He has raised honeybees since 1954 in managed colonies behind his house in rural Apple River, Illinois.

Restrict Pesticides to Save Bees
Photo: Adam Vanbergen

"We had 250 hives at one time. We sold five, six tons of honey a year."

But that number is declining.

"Now we're down to about probably four tons."

Not because the 73 year-old beekeeper is slowing down, but because there are fewer bees producing honey. He says the decline in his bee population began in 1996. he blames that decline on the use of insecticides and herbicides on the farmland surrounding his property.

"Every three weeks that summer, they were spraying with the airplane, and by the end of the year, I didn't have any of my 250 hives left."

This caught the attention of researchers like Christian Krupke, a professor at Purdue University who studies bees and other insects.

"There have been similar reports from Europe in the past, and so we looked into it a little bit further from the point of view of wondering first of all what is killing these bees, and second of all how are these bees acquiring whatever this toxic chemical is."

Experts say there are many reasons for the worldwide bee decline, not just insecticides.

But in this case, Proffessor Krupke and his colleagues thought insecticides might be the cause. So they studied the insecticides - known as neonicotinoids - that are applied to seeds as they are planted in the ground, rather than sprayed from above.

"The two compounds that kept coming up when we tested these dead bees were the pesticides clothianidin and thiamethoxam. Those are insecticides that are applied to corn seeds."

About 30 years ago, there were 4 million managed bee colonies throughout the United States. Today, there are fewer than 2 million. Researchers like Professor Krupke blame that in part on the use of insecticides.

"Can we get by without neonicotinoids insecticides in these field crops? I believe we can. I believe we have data that show that we can."

This December, the European Union plans to ban the use of some insecticides that researchers have linked to bee deaths. No such restrictions are planned in the United States.

Illinois beekeeper Terrence Ingram says some of the damage already done is permanent.

"We've got many bee keepers around here that have quit, just gone out of business because they can't succeed."

But not Terrence Ingram, he says his passion for bees is just as strong as it was when he tended his first colony, more than 60 years ago.

And that's the Agriculture Report from VOA Learning English. I'm Christopher Cruise.