Archive for March 29th, 2010
March 29, 2010: Garance Burke and Seth Borenstein – Associated Press (AP) – March 24, 2010
MERCED, Calif. – The mysterious 4-year-old crisis of disappearing honeybees is deepening. A quick federal survey indicates a heavy bee die-off this winter, while a new study shows honeybees’ pollen and hives laden with pesticides.
Two federal agencies along with regulators in California and Canada are scrambling to figure out what is behind this relatively recent threat, ordering new research on pesticides used in fields and orchards. Federal courts are even weighing in this month, ruling that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency overlooked a requirement when allowing a pesticide on the market. And on Thursday, chemists at a scientific conference in San Francisco will tackle the issue of chemicals and dwindling bees in response to the new study.
Scientists are concerned because of the vital role bees play in our food supply. About one-third of the human diet is from plants that require pollination from honeybees, which means everything from apples to zucchini. Bees have been declining over decades from various causes. But in 2006 a new concern, “colony collapse disorder,” was blamed for large, inexplicable die-offs. The disorder, which causes adult bees to abandon their hives and fly off to die, is likely a combination of many causes, including parasites, viruses, bacteria, poor nutrition and pesticides, experts say.
“It’s just gotten so much worse in the past four years,” said Jeff Pettis, research leader of the Department of Agriculture’s Bee Research Laboratory in Beltsville, Md. “We’re just not keeping bees alive that long.”
This year bees seem to be in bigger trouble than normal after a bad winter, according to an informal survey of commercial bee brokers cited in an internal USDA document. One-third of those surveyed had trouble finding enough hives to pollinate California’s blossoming nut trees, which grow the bulk of the world’s almonds. A more formal survey will be done in April.
“There were a lot of beekeepers scrambling to fill their orders and that implies that mortality was high,” said Penn State University bee researcher Dennis van Engelsdorp, who worked on the USDA snapshot survey.
Beekeeper Zac Browning shipped his hives from Idaho to California to pollinate the blossoming almond groves. He got a shock when he checked on them, finding hundreds of the hives empty, abandoned by the worker bees. The losses were extreme, three times higher than the previous year.
“It wasn’t one load or two loads, but every load we were pulling out that was dead. It got extremely depressing to see a third of my livestock gone,” Browning said, standing next to stacks of dead bee colonies in a clearing near Merced, at the center of California’s fertile San Joaquin Valley.
Among all the stresses to bee health, it’s the pesticides that are attracting scrutiny now. A study published Friday in the scientific journal PLOS (Public Library of Science) One found about three out of five pollen and wax samples from 23 states had at least one systemic pesticide — a chemical designed to spread throughout all parts of a plant. EPA officials said they are aware of problems involving pesticides and bees and the agency is “very seriously concerned.”
The pesticides are not a risk to honey sold to consumers, federal officials say. And the pollen that people eat is probably safe because it is usually from remote areas where pesticides are not used, Pettis said. But the PLOS study found 121 different types of pesticides within 887 wax, pollen, bee and hive samples. “The pollen is not in good shape,” said Chris Mullin of Penn State University, lead author.
None of the chemicals themselves were at high enough levels to kill bees, he said, but it was the combination and variety of them that is worrisome. University of Illinois entomologist May Berenbaum called the results “kind of alarming.”
Despite EPA assurances, environmental groups don’t think the EPA is doing enough on pesticides. Bayer Crop Science started petitioning the agency to approve a new pesticide for sale in 2006. After reviewing the company’s studies of its effects on bees, the EPA gave Bayer conditional approval to sell the product two years later, but said it had to carry a label warning that it was “potentially toxic to honey bee larvae through residues in pollen and nectar.”
The Natural Resources Defense Council sued, saying the agency failed to give the public timely notice for the new pesticide application. In December, a federal judge in New York agreed, banning the pesticide’s sale and earlier this month, two more judges upheld the ruling.
“This court decision is obviously very painful for us right now, and for growers who don’t have access to that product,” said Jack Boyne, an entomologist and spokesman for Bayer Crop Science. “This product quite frankly is not harmful to honeybees.”
Boyne said the pesticide was sold for only about a year and most sales were in California, Arizona and Florida. The product is intended to disrupt the mating patterns of insects that threaten citrus, lettuce and grapes, he said.
Berenbaum’s research shows pesticides are not the only problem. She said multiple viruses also are attacking the bees, making it tough to propose a single solution. “Things are still heading downhill,” she said.
For Browning, one of the country’s largest commercial beekeepers, the latest woes have led to a $1 million loss this year. “It’s just hard to get past this,” he said, watching as workers cleaned honey from empty wooden hives Monday. “I’m going to rebuild, but I have plenty of friends who aren’t going to make it.”
The Tonka Report Editor’s Note: If the honey bees continue to die off, the world food supply will be devastated resulting in mass starvation… – SJH
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Pope Benedict XVI is facing growing pressure over his handling of paedophile priests as new cover-ups come to light in Italy, the country with the greatest concentration of Roman Catholic clerics.
After the latest allegations – that Benedict took no action in the US when he was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican’s enforcer – the church is now “terrified” as more victims stand up to be counted in Italy, according to Roberto Mirabile, head of La Caramella Buona, an Italian anti-abuse group. “With the scandals erupting abroad, we will see a huge growth in victims’ groups in Italy in coming weeks,” said Mirabile yesterday. As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Benedict handled abuse cases at the Vatican for 24 years before he became pope in 2005.
“We are likely to discover that the Vatican worked even harder in Italy with bishops than elsewhere to hide cases, simply because the contact was closer and the church is so powerful in Italy,” Mirabile added.
Sergio Cavaliere, an Italian lawyer who has documented 130 cases of clerical paedophilia, also believes that the Vatican’s backyard could follow Ireland, the United States and Germany in producing a wave of abuse revelations. “The cases I have found are just the tip of the iceberg given the reluctance of many victims to come forward until now,” said Cavaliere. “And in no single case did the local bishop alert police to the suspected abuse.”
Another startling development is how recent most of the allegations are, unlike the decades-old cases in Munich and Milwaukee that Benedict was last week accused of failing to act on.
Monsignor Charles Scicluna, who investigates abuse accusations passed on to the Vatican, denied this month that abuse had reached “dramatic proportions” in Italy, but he was concerned about “a certain culture of silence” among Italy’s 50,000 priests.
In February, the Vatican opened an investigation into allegations by 67 former pupils at a school for the deaf in Verona that 24 priests, brothers and lay religious men abused pupils from the 1950s to the 1980s. Three of the accusers repeated their claims on Italian prime-time television on Friday.
In a case recalling the accusations against Father Lawrence Murphy in Milwaukee, who was claimed to have abused up to 200 deaf children, one Italian former pupil claimed that priests had sodomised him so relentlessly that he came to feel “as if I were dead”.
A second pupil has accused Verona’s late bishop, Monsignor Giuseppe Carraro, who is being considered for beatification, of molesting him.
In Ireland, the leader of the Catholic church has been named in more than 200 civil actions by victims of alleged clerical abuse, putting him under further pressure to resign. The victims claim that Cardinal Seán Brady failed in his duties by neglecting to protect them from paedophile priests and other sex abusers. There is no suggestion that he took part in any abuse.
Legal sources in the republic confirmed that 230 separate victims of alleged clerical abuse are taking the church to court. They said these include five victims of Father Brendan Smyth, one of Ireland’s most notorious paedophiles.
Smyth’s arrest and conviction opened the floodgates for dozens of cases concerning priests abusing children in dioceses all over Ireland, alongside widespread and systemic abuse in church-run orphanages and industrial schools.
Brady has confirmed that he was present at a closed canonical tribunal into the activities of Smyth, who died in jail 13 years ago while serving 12 years for 74 sexual assaults on children.
“Smyth’s victims will argue that the church knew as far back as 1975 that he was abusing children. But the hierarchy’s secret deal with two of his young victims that year left Smyth free to abuse others many years afterwards,” one senior legal source told the Observer.
“The cardinal now faces being named in hundreds of cases, some of which will go through the courts.”
Asked if the church was aware that Brady had been named in so many civil actions through the Irish courts, a spokesman for the Catholic Press Office in Ireland said: “The bishop who occupies the position of primate of all Ireland [Brady] is often named as co-defendant in judicial proceedings by people who mistakenly presume him to be the ‘CEO’ for the Catholic church in Ireland. In answer to your query, I do not know the exact number of cases taken by alleged victims of clerical sex abuse who have named Cardinal Seán Brady in their actions.”
Voice of the Faithful, an international lay Catholic organisation campaigning for reforms in the church, said it was “deeply significant” that Brady has said he is spending the run-up to Easter reflecting on his position.
Seán O’Connaill, the group’s Irish co-ordinator, said: “The situation regarding the church in Ireland and Cardinal Brady’s position is very confused and fluid.
“The problems facing the Catholic church, however, will not be resolved alone by heads rolling. Both the people and the leadership have to realise that there has to be a major reform programme within the church to turn this around.”
The Tonka Report Editor’s Note: Over 1 billion pious Catholics who believe that the Pope is the Vicar of Christ. What a scam… – SJH
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