Skip to content Skip to footer

Beekeeper Who Sounded Alarm on Colony Collapse Disorder Loses 90 Percent of His Hives

How much longer will these poisons be allowed on the market?

Within the space of one winter, beekeeper David Hackenberg lost over 1400 hives. (Photo: Kent Kanouse / Flickr; Edited: JR / TO)

David Hackenberg, who first announced the phenomenon now known as ‘Colony Collapse Disorder’ (CCD) back in late 2006, has lost 90 percent of his bees. Again.

“We’ve lost our bees before, but it’s never been this bad,” says 43-year-old Davey Hackenberg who now runs Buffy Bee, his father’s East Coast operation. The father-and-son team went from 1700 hives at the beginning of winter to a little less than 300. And for the first time in years, they’re not driving cross-country to the Central Valley to pollinate almonds. They don’t have enough bees. Many commercial beekeepers depend on the lucrative almonds – a 6.5 billion dollar crop that spans 500 miles—to stay in business.

Bret Adee, the biggest beekeeper in the world, also recently lost a massive amount of hives. He went from 90,000 hives to 40,000. This is not the first time Bret has lost a big part of his operation.

“We haven’t seen any of this colony collapse disorder here,” Adee first stated back in 2007, during the filming of my award-winning documentary, Vanishing of the Bees, narrated by Ellen Page. We interviewed Adee beside his 70,000 hives in Lost Hills. But a few months later, he returned to discover the largest disaster ever seen in bee-keeping history — 40,000 hives containing two billion bees had disappeared. The event became known as a ‘bee holocaust.’

EPA Sued Over Failed Oversight of Neonicotinoid-Coated Seeds

Hackenberg and Adee continue to try to save their bees. They, along with other beekeepers, farmers, and sustainable agriculture and conservation groups, such as Center for Food Safety (CFS), filed a lawsuit in the early part of January 2016, challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) inadequate regulation of the neonicotinoid insecticide seed coatings used on dozens of crops.

“As a beekeeper for over 50 years, I have lost more colonies of honey bees in the last 10 years from the after-effects of neonic seed coatings than all others causes over the first 40 plus years of my beekeeping operation,” says Hackenberg.

The lawsuit argues that the EPA has illegally allowed widespread environmental contamination to occur from the use of pesticide-coated seeds, without requiring the seeds to be registered under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). “Because the coated seeds are not registered, there are no enforceable labels on the seed bags and no adequate assessments of serious ongoing environmental harm,” explains Abigail Seiler, CFS Media and Communications Manager.

Learn More About the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides

The EPA has essentially skirted the law and not registered these coated seeds thanks to a specific exemption, called “treated article,” which allows the EPA to eliminate “all provisions of FIFRA.” This in turn relieves the EPA of accountability and their duty to require registration of neonicotinoid-coated seeds.

“Because of a major regulatory loophole, neonicotinoid seed coatings are being used without adequate safety testing, proper data gathering, or necessary product labeling,” adds Larissa Walker, CFS Pollinator Program Director.

The truth is that beekeepers cannot afford the three to five years it will continue to take if the EPA chooses to ‘drag out’ the treated article exemption in courts at the request of the pesticide industry. They need them to properly regulate these pesticides today.

“People need pollinated food; somebody must stand up and say no to unregulated killing of pollinators,” says Jeff Anderson, beekeeper and lead plaintiff in the case.

The Insidious Nature of Neonics

Neonicotinoids are a class of insecticides considered to be a major factor in overall bee population declines and poor health. They are also the most commonly used insecticides in the world. Up to 95 percent of the applied seed coating ends up in the surrounding air, soil, and water rather than in the crop for which it was intended, leading to extensive contamination.

CCD is not a random & undefined “disorder” but a direct result of these poisons that have been wreaking havoc on our environment for already more than two decades. And yet, manufacturers like Bayer and Syngenta, along with the EPA, are still denying their effects, despite a growing body of science and empirical observations from beekeepers around the world.

Neonics also harm birds, bats, monarchs, and other vital pollinators. They have been found coursing through our blood and now researchers are even finding neonics in the liver belonging to deers, and maybe even pheasants, muskrats, elk, and moose.

These poisons can stay in our soil for up to 18 years and their metabolites are even more dangerous than the parent compounds. They kill worms and other microorganisms and compromise our soil’s overall health.

All this as the European Academies Science Advisory Council concludes that neonics have severe effects on the pollinators and organisms that provide natural pest control.

Neonics are up to 10,000 times more dangerous that DDT. Enough said.

Pushing Farmers to Use Poisonous Seeds

Treated seeds are very common. EPA has allowed millions of pounds of coated seeds to be planted annually on more than 150 million acres nationwide. Think corn and soy. Not only are those seeds coated with poisons, they are also genetically modified.

EPA’s actions surrounding neonicotinoid seed coatings have led to intensifying and destructive consequences, says lawsuit and CFS attorney Peter T. Jenkins.

According to an article in Civil Eats, most major companies do not even offer uncoated corn seed.

And it’s not like there are many to choose from. Four of the largest seed companies, one of them being Monsanto, control nearly 60 percent of the global patented seed market, according to Mary Hendrickson of the University of Missouri. This fact constrains farmers’ choices.

“Meanwhile, seed treated companies include incentives to buy coated seed in the form of insurance: If their crop fails, the farmer will get a 100 percent rebate. Without the coatings, the rebate is only 50 to 75 percent,” adds the same article.

“That’s one of the reasons we throw everything on the seed,” Matt Hughes, a farmer, told Progressive Farmer.”

Treated seeds are so popular and yet their cost-effectiveness has been challenged in recent years, with numerous studies indicating that their near ubiquitous use is unnecessary — and making EPA’s disregard of their risks all the more harmful.

“EPA can’t bury its head in the sand any longer. Seed coatings are just the latest delivery device of pesticide corporations that pose a threat to pollinators and the food system,” says Marcia Ishii- Eiteman, senior scientist at Pesticide Action Network. “Given widespread use and persistence of these bee-harming pesticides, it’s time for EPA to fully and swiftly evaluate the impacts of seed coatings — and prevent future harm.”

The plaintiffs in the case are beekeepers Jeff Anderson, Bret Adee, David Hackenberg, and Pollinator Stewardship Council, farmers Lucas Criswell and Gail Fuller, and public interest and conservation groups American Bird Conservancy, Center for Food Safety and Pesticide Action Network of North America.

How much longer will these poisons be allowed on the market?

A critical message, before you scroll away

You may not know that Truthout’s journalism is funded overwhelmingly by individual supporters. Readers just like you ensure that unique stories like the one above make it to print – all from an uncompromised, independent perspective.

At this very moment, we’re conducting a fundraiser with a goal to raise $28,000 in the next 2 days. So, if you’ve found value in what you read today, please consider a tax-deductible donation in any size to ensure this work continues. We thank you kindly for your support.