6/11/13

Problems with dying bees bring in farming heavyweights

                                ST. LOUIS (AP) -- One of every three bites of food we consume depends on polination by honeybees, but these overlooked contributers to our
                                food system are continuing to die in stubbornly perplexing ways. Beekeeping groups have held exhaustive conferences. Researchers have
                                organized task forces. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has contributed some of its streached resources to tracking down the cause of the
                                myserious deaths, and in a report issued last month, delivered a frustratingly complex answer. Many factors may be responsible, from stress to
                                pesticides.
                                Now agricultural and chemical heavyweights are getting into the mix. Monsanto Co. which two years ago bought an Israeli bee
                                company, hosts an industry conference on bee health at its headquarters in Creve Coeur this month. Bayer CorpScience is building
                                5,500-Square-foot "bee health center" in North Carolina, and with fellow chemical giant, Syngenta, has developed a "comprehensive
                                for bee health.
                                "The beekeeping industry has always crawled on its hands and knees to USDA and universities, begging for help,"  said Jerry Hayes,
                                a bee industry veteran recently hired by Monsanto to run its bee research efforts. "Now we have this very large company involved that
                                knows how important bees are to agriculture."
                               And to the bottom line. Bees pollinate up to $20 billion in American agricultural crops, a number that gets the attention of the industry. Monsanto.
                               for one, owns Seminis, the country's largest fruit and vegatable seed producer -- and many of those seeds depend on bees. Beyond that,
                               Monsanto and its rivals have a financial interest in developing a marketable cure that has so far remained elusive.
                               But as researchers, and now the private sector, puzzle over the issue, some scientist and enviormental groups are pointing to a major culprit. The
                                very companies working for solutions, they contend, are a main cause of bee deaths in the first place.
                                In 2006, beekeepers started noticing that bees were abandoning their hives, a phenomenon scientists dubbed Colony Collapse Disorder. Since
                                then, the American bee population has dropped by an average of 30 percent every year, sending researchers, beekeepers and farmers into a
                                head-sctratching frenzy to figure out the cause.
                                Specifically and somewhat narrowly, the disorder is being blamed on mites and viruses. More broadly, researchers say, it's a symptom of an
                                agricultural system that relies too heavily on chemicals and monocultures, including the vast swaths of corn and soy beans in the Midwest.
                                While bees, historically, have not foraged on these crops for food, the widespread presence of single crops means fewer dinning options for the
                                 bees -- and that could be leading to weakened immune systems.