Plant Fungicide Might Harm Honeybees

    19 August, 2013


    From VOA Learning English, this is the Agriculture Report.

    New studies have found that a chemical commonly used to fight plant disease is harming honeybees. Experts say the chemical may be partly to blame for the widespread loss of honeybees in the United States.

    The insects are important to farmers. When a honeybee lands on a flower in plant, pollen sticks to its legs. When the bee lands on another flower, some of the pollen falls off and fertilizes the second plant.

    The act of pollination is responsible for many fruits, vegetables, nuts and other crops. Yet about 30 percent of honeybees in the United States and other areas have died in recent years.

    Dennis VanEngelsdorp is a researcher at the University of Maryland. He wants to learn why so many bees are dying.

    "The number of colonies that die every winter has been one in three. So on average 30 percent of the colonies have died every winter over the last six winters. And that's an astronomical number."

    His research team examined the pollen grain that honeybees carried to their homes. They found that the pollen contained high levels of 35 different pesticides, chemicals use to protect plants. They also found that bees eating some fungicides of biological organisms became infected with a deadly micro-organism called Nosema.

    Yet fungicides are necessary to use for agricultural purposes in the United States. Mike Leggett studies pesticide for the pest management industry group -- CropLife America.

    "Fungicides are used, and have been used, pretty broadly, for centuries, for protection of plants from plant disease."

    He says that many of the pesticide found in the pollen examined by Dennis VanEngelsdorp actually protect bees from Nosema.

    Maryland farmer and beekeeper Keith Ohlinger has watched many of his bees die every winter. Mr Ohlinger thinks widespread bee death is result of several things happening at once. But he does not feel sure that pesticides are a part of the problem.

    "What I felt it was, was a compilation of a lot of little things. I didn't feel that there was probably one smoking gun. But there's a division there, some people feel that it is just one thing. Maybe I'm just not educated enough, I don't know, but my view is, if you can take a bath in it, it's probably safe. And I don't know many of the things that they're putting out right now that anybody would come out of a bath in for any length of time and go, ‘Wow, that was great, I feel much better!'"

    Honeybees are important to agriculture. This makes the search for an answer to their death especially urgent for Mr VanEngelsdorp's team.

    As he knows, one in every three bites of food we eat is somehow pollinated by honeybees.

    And that's the Agriculture Report from VOA Learning English.