Honeybees overcome negative buzz in Washington

Jun 23, 2009 By Robert Hotakainen

Official Washington is all abuzz over honeybees.

At the White House, two types of parasite-resistant developed by U.S. scientists will be delivered to the first family's new garden next month.

On Capitol Hill, California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer wants Congress to spend $20 million to research colony collapse disorder, which has caused big losses for the nation's beekeepers in recent years.

Both developments are welcome news for honeybee backers, who have found themselves getting slapped around this year.

When an early version of an economic stimulus bill contained $150 million in subsidies for honeybees and other farm products, many Republicans howled in protest.

"This is nonsense," huffed Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate's minority leader.

And when Congress passed a $1.7 million earmark for Texas honeybees as part of a broader appropriations bill, critics cited it as a prime example of pork-barrel spending.

Beekeepers find themselves on the defensive and say they must educate members of Congress about the importance of their industry. They're doing it with the help of lobbyists. Yes, bee lobbyists.

"Life is interesting. My inbox is rather eclectic," said Thomas Van Arsdall, a bee lobbyist or, more officially, the director of public affairs for the Pollinator Partnership.

He's busy making plans for the third annual National Pollinator Week, June 22-28, a time for schools, churches, garden clubs and others to celebrate honeybees and other . "They're important if you like to eat," explained Van Arsdall.

Beyond the Beltway, at research labs at the University of California, Davis, scientists are out to build a better bee.

Researchers are using imported semen from bees in Italy, Germany and Turkey to develop new crosses of honeybees that will be more resistant to pests and disease.

Their work is financed partly by Oakland-based Haagen-Dazs, which relies on fruits and nuts pollinated by bees for nearly 40 percent of its ice cream flavors. As part of the national campaign, the company also created a new Honey Bee vanilla ice cream last year.

Colony collapse disorder, first reported in 2006, is marked by a sudden decline in a bee colony's population and the mysterious absence of dead bees. Many scientists believe that it's caused by stresses that can include parasites, pesticides and pathogens that build up in bee colonies.

As Congress considers spending more on honeybee research, beekeepers such as Barry Olmstead are hoping to cash in. He and his son, Joshua, have created the Save the Bee Foundation and plan to apply for a federal grant to study why so many honeybees are disappearing.

"That's the biggest thing, because everybody's losing more than half their hives each year," said Olmstead, 48, of Elk Grove, Calif., who figures he has been stung about 200 times.

"Here's the thing that people don't really understand: About one-third of the world's produce is pollinated by bees," he said.

If he gets a grant, Olmstead said, he and his son would work with university researchers, local and national bee associations, and apiarists to advance the cause of honeybee research.

"We gotta figure out what's going on here," he said.

Before Congress passed the $787 billion stimulus bill in February, the honeybee subsidies became a target of ridicule for many opponents.

An early version of the stimulus bill included $150 million for disaster relief for honeybees, livestock and farm-raised fish, but that was removed after critics complained that it was a waste of money.

It became "a hit of the pundits," said Troy Fore, director of government relations for the Georgia-based American Beekeeping Federation Inc.

Expect to hear a lot about honeybees in coming months. They'll get a big moment in the sun in July, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture takes its new mite-resistant bees to the White House garden. One of the new bees is based on a strain of honeybees from Russia, which are highly tolerant of cold weather and require less artificial breeding than typical honeybees.

And on Capitol Hill, Congress will decide whether to spend more on honeybees when members tackle the appropriations bills.

In a letter to Senate appropriators last month, Boxer said Americans take "the indispensable services" of honeybees for granted and that federal support of honeybee research has been lagging. In arguing for her proposed $20 million in research funds, she noted that the number of managed honeybee colonies in the United States has dropped by half since 1940.

Fore said beekeepers are counting on Boxer's bill to provide the money for more research into the mysteries of colony collapse disorder.

"Our main goal is for science," Fore said. "We don't know what's causing CCD, and we don't know what to do about it. ... The truth is that beekeepers do need help. That's the truth of the story."


(c) 2009, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
Visit the McClatchy Washington Bureau on the World Wide Web at www.mcclatchydc.com

Explore further: Scientists discover new 'transformer frog' in Ecuador

Related Stories

Scientists search for cause of bee deaths

May 14, 2007

A U.S. scientist says parasites, pathogens and pesticides are all possible suspects in the recent staggering decline in the number of the world's honeybees.

Survey finds slower decline of honeybee colonies

May 20, 2009

(AP) -- The decline of honeybee colonies has slowed slightly since last fall, but a mysterious combination of ailments is still decimating the insect's population, federal researchers say.

Queen bee promiscuity boosts hive health

Dec 11, 2006

Though promiscuity may be risky behavior for humans, it's healthy for honeybees: Queen honeybees who indulge in sexual surfeits with multiple drones produce more disease-resistant colonies than monogamous monarchs. ...

Hives ferment a yeasty brew, attract beetle pest

May 16, 2007

The honeybee's alarm signal may not only bring help, but also attract the small hive beetle. Now, an international team of researchers has found that small hive beetles can detect some alarm pheromones at levels below that ...

Honeybee dance breaks down cultural barrier

Jun 04, 2008

Asian and European honeybees can learn to understand one another's dance languages despite having evolved different forms of communication, an international research team has shown for the first time. The findings are published ...

A cure for honey bee colony collapse?

Apr 14, 2009

For the first time, scientists have isolated the parasite Nosema ceranae (Microsporidia) from professional apiaries suffering from honey bee colony depopulation syndrome. They then went on to treat the infection with comple ...

Recommended for you

Scientists discover new 'transformer frog' in Ecuador

8 hours ago

It doesn't turn into Prince Charming, but a new species of frog discovered in Ecuador has earned the nickname "transformer frog" for its ability to change its skin from spiny to smooth in five minutes.

US gives threatened status to northern long-eared bat

10 hours ago

The federal government said Wednesday that it is listing the northern long-eared bat as threatened, giving new protections to a species that has been nearly wiped out in some areas by the spread of a fungal ...

Mice sing like songbirds to woo mates

11 hours ago

Male mice sing surprisingly complex songs to seduce females, sort of like songbirds, according to a new Duke study appearing April 1 in the Frontiers of Behavioral Neuroscience.

A new crustacean species found in Galicia

11 hours ago

One reason that tourists are attracted to Galicia is for its food. The town of O Grove (Pontevedra) is well known for its Seafood Festival and the Spider Crab Festival. A group of researchers from the University ...

Ants in space find it tougher going than those on Earth

13 hours ago

(Phys.org)—The results of a study conducted to see how well ants carry out their search activities in space are in, and the team that sent them there has written and published the results in the journal ...

Rats found able to recognize pain in other rat faces

13 hours ago

(Phys.org)—A team of researchers working in Japan with affiliations to several institutions in that country, has found that lab rats are able to recognize pain in the faces of other rats and avoid them ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Jun 24, 2009
I have been raising honeybees for 37 years in central Oregon and as of yet have not experienced CCD in any of my hives I believe we need to raise more bees on local levels that do not get moved

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.