When the calendar flipped from 2006 to 2007, beekeepers peeked into their hives and noticed something frightening: Their bees had disappeared.
There was no evidence of mass deaths, and the hives were left intact, but all of a sudden their honeybees were simply gone. The queen was still there, as were her young brood, but all of the worker bees simply didn't come into work that day. And when that happens in a beehive, the complex machinations at work break down. Without any workers, there is no hive. The Environmental Protection Agency, sensing an epidemic that needed to be addressed, dubbed the issue Colony Collapse Disorder.
Since, the disappearance of bees has continued. Experts suggest many beekeepers lose upwards of 50% of their hives due to this mysterious exodus. And while the problem doesn't seem to have gotten any worse over the years, it certainly hasn't gotten better and is still considered one of the biggest environmental problems currently plaguing our planet today.
Many pet theories exist as to why the disappearances began. A few years back, the most widespread reason given was that the expansive use of cell phone technology was somehow messing up the internal navigational system of the bees, sending them on a flight path away from their hives. (Luckily for all of us smartphone users, this theory has since been mostly debunked.) The EPA has also been studying the path of the varroa mite (a ferocious little critter that attaches itself to a bee and feasts on their hemolymph), tracking the spread of Israeli Acute Paralysis disease, looking into whether or not bees have been getting poor nutrition, watching their foraging methods, and even trying to determine if the bees are simply stressed out for some reason.
They've also, of course, been looking at how certain pesticides are being used to make sure they aren't accidentally poisoning the bees. However, as a new lawsuit filed last week alleges, the EPA hasn't been doing the bangiest-up of jobs with their investigations:
The suit, filed by the Center for Food Safety, says the class of insecticides known as neonicotinoids are improperly regulated. The group calls for halting the use of the pesticide until more is known about the effects on bees and other pollinators.
The lawsuit comes a year after beekeepers and environmentalists officially filed a petition to the EPA to get them to look into neonicotinoids, a request that was denied. But as everyone should know by now, simply ignoring the requests of environmentalists isn't going to get them to stop, hence this legal kerfuffle:
The case also challenges the use of so-called "conditional registrations" for these pesticides, which expedites commercialization by bypassing meaningful premarket review. Since 2000, over two-thirds of pesticide products, including clothianidin and thiamethoxam, have been brought to market as conditional registrations.
Those two funny-looking chemical-ey names at the end are the aforementioned "neonicotinoid" classification of pesticides, a nicotine-based poison that works on a pest's central nervous system. Created in the 1980s by Shell, and "perfected" in the '90s by Bayer, the pesticides block receptors that ultimately lead to paralysis and death for the insects. Unfortunately, there's some evidence they don't stop there.
Earlier this month, the American Bird Conservancy examined 200 studies of the pesticide and found that the pesticides' toxicity affected "birds, aquatic invertebrates, and other wildlife." As such, they called for a ban. And now, this Beekeepers & Friends coalition is asking for the same thing. At the very least, they want the pesticide stopped being used until more studies are done to make sure bees aren't affected by the pest poison. Which, seeing as Colony Collapse Disorder is such a global epidemic, seems like a smart idea.
The case is currently in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco, so stay tuned.