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Fungicides Kill Pollinators: Study Reveals Industrial Farming's Threat to Bees

Commercial beekeepers are worried as bee die-offs linked to alarming chemical levels

Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer

Add it to the list of industrial farming chemicals killing off entire colonies of bees.

Common fungicides used on crops, according to a new report from Maryland University, are making bees more susceptible to parasites, which in turn make the bees very ill.

Bees exposed to the fungicide chlorothalonil were three times more likely to be infected by a parasite linked to Colony Collapse Disorder, according to the research published Wednesday in the journal PLoS ONE.

"While fungicides are typically seen as fairly safe for honey bees, we found an increased probability of Nosema infection in bees that consumed pollen with a higher fungicide load," the report states. "Our results highlight a need for research on sub-lethal effects of fungicides and other chemicals that bees placed in an agricultural setting are exposed to."

It has been well documented that insecticides and herbicides used on crops have had a drastic impact on the world's pollinators, leading to bans in several countries—particularly a class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids. The European Union has banned those substances for a minimum of two years, putting a spotlight on U.S. regulators' own lack of action when it comes to limiting these toxic chemicals.

Earlier this year the EPA "put industry first" and approved yet another new pesticide—Dow Chemical Company's sulfoxaflor—despite the EPA's own classification of the insecticide as "highly toxic to honey bees."

Most alarming, the scientists said, was the drastic amount of fungicides that have made their way into bee colonies.

"Commercial beekeepers are worried," reports McClatchy.

The fungicides seem "to really be kicking bees back hard," said Tim Tucker, the vice president of the American Beekeeping Federation. "We’ve definitely noticed it, since the amount of fungicide increased."

"Bees are bringing a lot of agriculture products home with them in the colony," said Dennis vanEngelsdorp, the study’s senior author, "which is not new. We knew there were a lot of different exposures."

"The USDA estimates that a third of all food and beverages are made possible by pollination," adds McClatchy. "Pollination contributes to an estimated $20 billion to $30 billion in U.S. agricultural production each year."


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