Chemical Management of Pesticides and Fungicides: A Potential Key to Saving the Honey Bee?

chemical management
Appropriate chemical management just may prove to be one solution to the plight of the honey bee.
Image Source: Onésime via Wikimedia Commons

A few years ago, I took up vegetable gardening. I grew up watching my mother tend her vegetable garden, so it seemed doable. Not only was growing my own food budget-friendly, it was healthy and organic. The hobby ended up driving home a major point, one that overrode any lingering childhood fear of stings and allergic reactions: bees are a backbone of agriculture. Like my mother, my thumb is green enough to yield a decent haul every growing season, but it’s so much easier when bees happily buzz around my backyard.

Colony collapse disorder (CCD) first made its appearance in 2006. Entire beehives vanished, leaving behind only a live queen. The losses came on fast and without explanation. Almost a decade later, beekeepers still struggle to keep their colonies viable.

Now multiply my backyard garden plot to the acres and acres that make up commercial crop fields and orchards. Western nations depend on a mobile workforce of beehives to drive the agricultural industry. The honey bee’s natural pollinating ability is not something easily replaced. One summer, I attempted to grow squash. This was before I started planting flowering herbs to attract bees and butterflies to my backyard. The lack of helper insects meant I hand-pollinated the blossoms with a toothbrush. An estimated one-third of our food supply in the U.S. comes from crop pollinated by bees. Can you imagine the amount of labor necessary to replace them? My experience with hand-pollinating squash blossoms turned me off from planting the vegetable ever again.

While research has attempted to solve the mystery of CCD, a definitive cause continues to elude scientists, although recent studies suggest specific pesticides as a key driver. Whether they are the cause of CCD or not, there is no denying the chemicals used in commercial agriculture can have an adverse effect on the pollinator. Since they play a crucial role in agriculture, every effort must be made to preserve this small, but important, insect. One of the ways to do this is to better manage the chemicals used in the industry.

Rosalind James of the USDA suggests chemical labels can be improved in one of two ways:

  • Unclear effects
    Often times, a chemical’s effects aren’t explicitly listed or described on the label. During my years as a research assistant, I’ve had the responsibility of moving laboratories from one space to another. Anyone who has shared that experience can tell you one of the first things you do prior to a move is sort through your chemical inventory and determine which ones can be disposed of. When clearing out old chemical inventory, I’ve seen uncommon terminology used on bottles. They’re not something a layperson would know and if you don’t think to ask, you may never find out.
  • Incomplete information
    There’s a limited amount of space on a container label. You can’t fit all of the information that may be useful to know. The manufacturer may put on the information they consider most important, but that doesn’t mean the information they leave off isn’t. It just means it’s not on there. Often times, warnings about effects to bee health are not prominent enough.

From this perspective, relying on container labels can be risky when it comes to the preservation of bee populations. Many would agree that it’s better to take an active approach to chemical management. Not only would a best practices chemical inventory system keep track of pesticides and fungicides in use, it would also make accessing the associated safety data sheets a snap. Luckily, efforts are currently underway to make chemical labeling clearer. However, the main purpose for this is to protect human life. In order to ensure that the chemicals used on crops are safe for other wildlife, those involved in agriculture must take those necessary steps to maintain appropriate chemical knowledge and practices.

Knowledge about chemicals used in commercial agriculture is crucial to preserving the health of the honey bee. Along similar lines, clear information about the chemicals used in your laboratory can aid in maintaining employee safety and decreasing hazardous risks. A centralized chemical management system can help put this into action. Visit our website today to learn more about the features and benefits of BIOVIA CISPro .

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