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Archive for May, 2009

© Richie Gerber

© Richie Gerber

By Richie Gerber

Can you guess the connection between Bees and Headaches? Most people can’t. Here is my first hint: aspirin. Can you now guess the connection? Probably not so here my second hint: Bayer. Still don’t know? Then here is the final giveaway hint which will make the connection obvious, neonicotinoids? Clothianidin aka Poncho® ? Imidacloprid aka Gaucho®? Humm…not as easy as I thought.

Give up? Here is what Bees and headaches have in common. Bayer, you heard me correctly. Bayer, the aspirin people with global sales of $45 billion, owns a subsidiary call Bayer CropScience AG that manufactures herbicides, fungicides, and insecticides (mentioned above) as well as treated seeds. CropScience alone does $8.8 billion in global sales that is about 20% of Bayer’s business. The EPA in a fact sheet issued 5/31/2003 has described Bayer’s Clothiantin, one of who’s trade names is Poncho® a pesticide from Bayer’s CropScience division, as follows: “ Poncho® is highly toxic to honey bees on an acute contact basis (LD50 > 0.0439 µg/bee). It has the potential for toxic chronic exposure to honey bees, as well as other nontarget pollinators, through the translocation of Poncho® residues in nectar and pollen. In honeybees, the effects of this toxic chronic exposure may include lethal and/or sub-lethal effects in the larvae and reproductive effects in the queen.” Is this starting to give YOU a headache? It sure is for me. It’s even worse for the bees.

In May 2008 Germany banned the use of Poncho® when German beekeepers reported loosing over 50% of their hives after a Poncho® application was linked to the deaths of millions of bees in the Baden-Württemberg region. Bayer responded that the toxic effect was an isolated incident caused by an “extremely rare” application error. So Poncho® is banned in Germany where Bayer was founded in 1863 and has its global headquarters. After the “extremely rare” application error people started to link Poncho®with Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). CCD has been ravaging bee populations and nobody knows its cause. Beekeepers thought they had the smoking gun.

So why does the EPA still allow the use of this insecticide in the US even though they described it in 2003 as “highly toxic to honeybees”? And why does the EPA still allow the use of this insecticide when its use has been banned in Germany where Bayer was founded 146 years ago, and has its global headquarters? Sure beats me. The EPA issued a Press Release on 7/1/08 stating its position on the subject. They state, “EPA believes this incident in Baden-Württemberg is not related to CCD. Although pesticide exposure is one of four theoretical factors associated with CCD that the United States Department of Agriculture is researching, the facts in this case are not consistent with what is known about CCD.” So for this specific incident the EPA does not see a connection between Poncho® and CCD. I am fine with their position that for this specific incident Poncho®, a “highly toxic” pesticide to bees, caused widespread bee deaths and that the Baden-Württemberg incident was not consistent with CCD. OK, I’ll buy that.

Then in August 2008 the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) filed a lawsuit in federal court to force the EPA to disclose studies of the effect of  Poncho®  on honey bees. They believe that the EPA has evidence of the link between CCD and pesticides, which it has not made public. So far the EPA has not responded to the NRDC’s request for information. This is quite strange indeed. It appears to me that “everybody’s got something to hide except for me and my monkey”.

Numerous theories have been floating around regarding the cause of CCD but none has been proven. Some of the challenges facing bee populations are: parasites such as Varroa mites, bacterial or fungal disease, commercialization and industrialization of beekeeping, pesticides, insecticides, fungicides, herbicides, climate and more. I believe that it may be a combination of several or all of these factors as well as others we do not even know about at this time.

I always told my Maine neighbors as well as my Bread of Life customers, I try not to eat food that has been treated with stuff whose instructions are: wear a long sleeve shirt and long pants, gloves, hat and respirator. Do not inhale or get in contact with skin or eyes. Then they dump this stuff on their food and EAT it. No way Jose!!! But those are pretty much the instructions for the application of Poncho®.

Epp-BEE-Log: I think the name Poncho® for an insecticide is cool. That is why I used it so much in this article. Great marketing! The EPA needs to redouble its efforts to analyze many of the substances on the market to see if they are part of the CCD problem. Maybe it might be a combination of chemicals. Maybe one farmer is applying chemicals while a nearby field is being pollinated. The EPA must also release any and all information on chemicals that are being applied to our food so we can see what is going on. All I can say to the EPA is, take two aspirin and call me in the morning!

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By Richie Gerber

paperplastic_2

Back in the mid eighties, when I owned The Bread of Life Natural Foods Stores, Paper vs. Plastic was the controversy of the day. Until then I only offered paper bags. All of us health food guys resisted going to the dark side: plastic. It was at a time when the Natural Products Industry started going through the growing pains of modernization. Gaining wider appeal in the mass-market ignited a wave of new customers to the Health Foods Industry and the need to adopt new ways in order to make them feel more comfortable shopping at our stores.

I started giving people a choice of paper or plastic bags. It became the hot topic of the day. Petro chemical, mass-market environmental hazard, non-recyclable, non renewable and unnatural were a few examples of the phrases going around describing the plastic bags. Several very committed customers expressed their displeasure with me offering plastic bags. Several even stopped shopping at my store.  Later they returned because all the stores started giving the same choice.

My rap was, and still is the following; EVERYTHING has consequences. Although paper had several positive aspects, especially that it is biodegradable among other things; there were negative problems that were not being talked about. It really is not a black and white issue. Here are several of the problems regarding paper bags. If you have ever seen a bundle of 1/6 Barrel Bags you would know what I am talking about. They are the brown paper shopping bags everyone loves to double up on, with or without handles. One bundle of these bags probably weighs over 10 pounds and they take up huge amounts of space. Critters love to live in and/or eat the paper and the glue that holds them together so who knows what happens in the distributors warehouse in order to prevent infestation. Don’t ask, don’t tell.

The transportation impact of fuel used to transport both favors plastic.  It is much lighter and more compact. So you can fit more plastic bags on a truck. It would take two trucks to carry the paper bags compared to one truck to carry the same amount of plastic bags, and the plastic bags weigh less, which burns less fuel to transport as well. And again, in real life people love to have their groceries double bagged. It’s part of the beast. Recently several environmentally conscious companies eliminated plastic bags altogether. No more choice.

Well actually they do give a choice of paper or BYOB (bring your own bag). BYOB is by far the best solution to this decades old dilemma.  I commend these forward thinking companies for bringing this issue back to the forefront. Reusable bags are hands down the BEST SOLUTION.

Julie and I always have canvas bags with us when we go grocery shopping. This is one very easy feel good act. Sometimes we are out and about and end up with a plastic bag. My tip for the day, use these plastic bags as garbage bags. They work great and you use less store bought trash bags.

Epp-BEE-Log: When it comes to the paper vs plastic debate the best answer is neither. They both have good and bad points, which tends to minimize or even equalize these two. If you are looking for the REAL answer it has to be BYOB.

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By Richie Gerber

ProduceIt happens to me every time I go to a party or gathering with Julie. Someone always brings up some permutation of an issue regarding the alternative lifestyle in order to, “pick my brain”. I guess these issues are all over the media, making people wonder about them. That’s great. At a recent gathering I was surrounded by several couples that wanted my point of view. They wanted to know which produce, local or organic, was better for the environment. The discussion heated up very quickly as I realized I was being ambushed. They were all Local Yokels and I am an Organic Fanatic.

Being a highly trained orator and forensic debater I immediately started to shower them with personal attacks and insults spiced with profanities (only kidding). I have been outnumbered before in similar situations so this did not faze me one bit. Here is what I told them.

My view of the Local vs. Organic question is as follows: If the Local produce is Organic then it is a moot point. Local Organic produce is the best. Local Organic is a no brainer as the number one choice since it supports organic farmers in your local community as well as reduces the negative impact of toxic chemicals on the environment, farm workers and your family.

So that narrows the real argument to Local Conventional Produce vs. Organic. Here is “Richie Gerber’s” produce hierarchy from most desirable to least:

 1. Local Organic= best

 2. Organic= great

 3. Local Conventional= avoid

Pretty simple. In my opinion the position for Local is very myopic. Its highest and best value is the reduction of greenhouse gases because of the reduced transportation impact on shipping the produce. It has less of a carbon footprint than Organic produce trucked in from other places. Reducing the carbon footprint is the most popular hot button environmental issue of the day. This is a valid point. I fully agree. But I have one caveat. Since EVERYTHING has consequences, we need to determine what, if any, consequences Local has. In my humble opinion: many. First off, this carbon footprint thing is a trade off issue that has other consequences, which I will explain shortly. On the other hand Local earns bonus points for supporting neighbors and local farmers. This is a very big deal so that it a big plus.

Remember, EVERYTHING has consequences. Local Conventional farming relies heavily on cides. I say, don’t take cides, eating Herbicides, Pesticides, Insecticides and Fungicides is committing suiricide. Don’t Take Cides. All these cides leave their everlasting residue on our land, in our rivers, in our streams and in our bodies! If that’s not enough, the Local produce could be grown from seed altered with Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s). And if that is not enough to freak you out get this one. Drum roll please. The produce could be irradiated!!! Watch Out, that tomato you are about to eat is a pesticide ladened, gene spliced nuked nightshade. I admit this is extreme but it is definite that some of the above has happened to your tomato.

Earlier I gave Local produce bonus points for supporting neighbors and local farmers, a huge and noble act. Here is where we part ways. I think health is the highest and greatest issue. Health overrides everything. Your family’s health, farm workers health and the health of our planet trump everything. Everything.

 All the gains from reducing the carbon footprint for Local are totally washed out with the horrible chemical residues damaging our environment and the health of the people who eat these products. I should throw in the exposure of these toxic chemicals on the agricultural workers as well. Toxic chemical residues on our food as well as runoff into our streams and lakes are a cause for alarm. Children are more susceptible to the dangers lurking in chemical produce. I finished up with my usual over the top inflammatory statement to nail my point.  “I would rather give up a few feet of glacier in the ant-arctic than feed my kid poison for dinner tonight”.

You can probably imagine that I was the most popular person at the party. I know it is a crude statement but it does crystallize this argument as well as personalize it. Questions and discussion flowed back and forth after I expressed my unconventional point of view. Everyone was shaken out of their comfort zone and now had more information to think about. I also wanted everyone to understand that I did not want to throw the Local farmers under the bus. I explained to the partiers the need to educate our Local farmers on the benefits of Organic agriculture. Help them cut off their dependence on chemical agriculture. Show them safer methods of farming from their agricultural extension service or other agencies involved in alternative agricultural methods. Help them become part of the solution.

Epp-Bee-Log: EVERYTHING has consequences. This is not a black or white issue. Even though global warming might be helped, adding more toxic chemicals to the world is not a sustainable solution. So, as I said before, I will gladly say again, don’t take cides, eating Herbicides, Pesticides, Insecticides and Fungicides is committing suicide. Don’t Take Cides!!!

So count me in on the Organic Side.

 

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News Flash: 10 Billion Bees descend on California’s Central Valley!

Bee on Richie's Mango Tree ©Richie Gerber

Bee on Richie's Mango Tree ©Richie Gerber

This might sound like an alarm or call to action but in fact it is a yearly occurrence. It is the largest migration of “workers” in the US, actually in the world. Every February over 2,200 18-wheelers carrying more than 1.2 million hives from all parts of the US descend on California with their 10 billion bees. No, it is not Woodstock for the bees! The 10 billion bees descend on California in order to pollinate the almond crop.  It’s nuts, literally. That is equal to lining up 2,200 trucks end to end from Midtown Manhattan to Greenwich, Connecticut 30 miles away.

California’s Agricultural Industrial Almond Complex yields over 80% of the world’s almonds. This makes almonds the number one horticultural export crop in the US and generates over 2 billion dollars in income. It is also California’s #1 agricultural export. Over 1,100 square miles in central California are devoted to almonds. 700,000 acres with about two hives per acre dot this area every February.

For about three weeks in February ¾ of all the nations commercial honeybees are working in the almond groves of California. Just to put things into perspective next year the almond growers will need to increase the number of hives from 1.2 million to 2 million because of new trees maturing as well as increased acreage. This means that the need for honeybees to pollinate the almond crop will increase from 10 billion bees to over 16 billion bees in just one season for just one crop, for just three weeks. Astounding!!! Bee-yond Bee-lief.

After the three week almond bloom is over and the trees have passed flowering the beekeepers pack up the hives with their special forklifts and load them back onto their flatbed tractor-trailers. Than they deliver the hives to the next crop to bloom. After that, the next crop bloom and on and on; apples in Washington State, cranberry bogs in Cape Cod, blueberries in Maine, citrus in Florida, watermelons, cantaloupes, melons, cucumbers, squash, mangos, avocado, cherries, pears etc.… This is the life of the migrant bee, over worked, under paid and underappreciated. 

Bees have always been primarily prized for their honey, which has been a food staple since prehistoric times. Since the advent of modern agricultural industrial methods the relationship of bees and food production has changed dramatically. The role of the bee has grown from a producer of food to a pollinator service provider.

The commercial beekeeper harvests his honey but that has become a smaller percentage of his income compared to renting out his bees. The almond farmers pay about $165 per box (hive) for the three-week bloom. If a beekeeper ships his 30,000 hives for the almond bloom he or she can expect to receive $500,000. Yes, you heard me right, a half a million dollars for THREE WEEKS. Don’t get me wrong; I am not criticizing the beekeeper for making money. I think that is wonderful. It is hard work and with hive loss etc. it is a very risky business. The same goes for the farmer. It is a tough and risky business. 2008’s bumper crop produced 1.5 billion pounds of almonds. 2009 will probably be about 1/3 less because of weather conditions as well as weak pollination. So both the farmer and beekeeper must deal with the age-old feast or famine dilemma. I respect them both immensely.

Bees, you can live with them but you can’t live without them.

Bees have been around over 25 million years. In today’s world they have become an essential part of our agricultural food production industry. While they pollinate one third of the food we eat we have been oblivious to their buzz for help. They are exposed to all sorts of toxic herbicides, pesticides, insecticides and other toxic substances. Each different agricultural area and crop requires it’s own unique chemical cocktail. Although the crops are never sprayed during the pollination season they are certainly treated before the bees arrive. There must be some residue remaining on the plants, which may be toxic to the bees.

Epp-BEE-Log: Since modern woman/man has changed the job description of the noble bee from food producer and added on pollinator service provider we must be more conscious of how bees are treated. Trucking them tens of thousands of miles a year to various agricultural areas with diverse climates and crops must take some toll on them. They also are exposed to more toxic substances living this nomadic life.

Let’s heed their buzz. All we are saying is,” GIVE BEES A CHANCE’.

There is much more to this story that I will cover in future articles. 

* California Almond Board

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