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Organic Consumers Association

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OCA's Save the Bees Campaign

New Research Finds Higher-Than-Expected Levels of Pesticides in Hives

People generally know that substances that are harmless when taken separately in small doses can lead to disorientation, and perhaps uncharacteristic behavior, when mixed. Honey bees, apparently, do not. After all, dabbling is what honey bees do, and it's what we love them for. These little workers are responsible for billions of dollars' worth of annual agricultural industry dollars, thanks to their pollination services. But bees haven't been staying on task. They've been acting a little weird lately--leaving their hives and not coming back--and attracting a lot of attention for it. Haagen-Dazs even created a flavor of ice cream in an effort to raise awareness about the phenomenon -- called Colony Collapse Disorder -- and funds for research on its causes at Penn State and UC Davis. The disorder is generally attributed to a variety of causes, including (depending on who you ask) parasites, viruses, mites, chemical exposure, and even radiation from cell phone towers.
While pesticides have consistently been acknowledged as a contributing factor within this problematic milieu, recent research at Penn State has revealed that pesticide levels in hives are much higher than researchers predicted. Beekeepers use some pesticides as an inexpensive way to combat varroa mites in their colonies. While the researchers were able to reduce the pesticide levels in beeswax foundation -- the wax that beekeepers use to create hive structures -- through irradiation, this only addresses part of the problem. The extraordinarily high levels of pesticides discovered in the bees, their honey, and their pollen, showed that pesticide exposure outside of the hives is contributing to the problem.

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