EPA defines a bee killer

A wild bee collects pollen from a flower.“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, we find it attached to the rest of the world.”  – Naturalist and preservationist John Muir, 1838-1914

The quote received a bit of supporting illumination from the Environmental Protection Agency this week – a little reminder that this great life-system of which we humans are part is a sophisticated (some might say complicated) bit of cosmic machinery.

In a report published Wednesday (Jan. 6, 2016), the EPA said it has figured out what is killing honey bees. The culprit (or one of the culprits), it seems, is neonicotinoids-based pesticides. That has been a suspicion in some quarters as an explanation for what is generally termed “colony collapse disorder.”

It is an important finding. About one-third of the food we humans consume relies on honeybees for its existence. Apple trees, for instance, will be making blossoms around my home grounds in a few months. One hopes the blossoms become apples – for apple sauce, apple pies, apple crisp (my personal favorite) – but without the bees to transfer pollen among the posies, that will not happen.

Other plants, such as cucumbers, squash, avocados and almonds are on the list of plants that depend on bees, or largely on bees, for pollination, an absolutely necessary step in plant life procreation. An apple, after all, is just a container for the seeds of future apple trees.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, “a whopping 42 percent of U.S. bee colonies collapsed in 2015, well above the average 31 percent that have been dying each winter for nearly a decade.”

So all that remains is for the EPA to come up with a regulation banning neonicotinoids in pesticides. Right?

Wrong. It turns out, bees that ply their trade on cotton and citrus plants are in line for the Great Bee Demise. But bees that work in corn and tobacco fields are not similarly affected.

That, one might expect, is bad news for companies such as Monsanto, Bayer and other pesticide makers. They make a ton of money on their products and they’re poised to lose some of that income when growers of certain popular crops stop using the stuff.

And it is bad news for organizations that have lobbied hard the past few years to halt the use of all neonicotinoids. Readers may recall a news clip in Spring 2013 reporting the sudden death of about 50,000 bees almost immediately after a group of linden trees were sprayed in a Target parking lot in Oregon.

Congress and government bureaucrats have a well-earned reputation for being understanding about the needs of Big Business. Last month, that august body performed an almost unimaginable feat of quickly passing legislation, first in the House and then the Senate, banning plastic “microbeads,” used in a variety of personal care products from toothpaste to facial wash. The beads act like sandpaper to remove undesired dirt and other foreign matter.

But they also slip easily through wastewater treatment facilities. Once in the downstream water flow they soak up toxins that may infect ducks, fish and other creatures that mistake them for food. They reportedly plug up fish gills, and sandpaper digestive tracts.

But companies already have purchased large stockpiles of the teeny plastic particles, and have already manufactured a supply of the products that contain them. Thus the beads will become illegal to use in manufacture after July 1, 2017, and illegal for sale beginning in July 2019.

Both product results point to a need for more deliberate research before such substances are included in our food supply. Unfortunately, we too often discover, as we examine the effects of our biological tinkering, that the string on which we tug is attached to us.

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