Bees, bats, birds, and amphibians have been experiencing declines worldwide since the mid-1990s, but the problem has become truly terrible since the early 2000s. Researchers have noticed these species dying from a variety of diseases, but now some think the real problem is that pesticides are compromising the immune systems of animals, causing them, like people with AIDS, to be killed by diseases that creatures with healthy immune systems can defeat.

The public have little knowledge of these widespread crises affecting the environment. In 2011, we now have the situation in the US (and, at present, to a lesser extent in Europe) in which there are widespread declines (and in some places areas of local extinctions) in populations of amphibians, bats, honey bees, butterflies, moths, hoverflies, bumble bees and birds. In several areas of the US whole populations of bats and amphibians have been “wiped out.” As far as we know, the declines are continuing. Many organisations, including the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), have warned of a global crisis in pollinators which is likely to threaten global food security.

The paper in which that quoted appeared, “Widespread Immune Deficiency Disease in Wildlife: A Hypothesis,” was written in April 2011 by retired Welsh scientist Rosemary Mason, MB, ChB, FRCA, and Palle Uhd Jepsen, former Senior Adviser in Nature Conservation and Wildlife to the Danish Forest and Nature Agency. The PDF is available on the website of the Boulder County Beekeepers Association.

I wrote a related article in December 2010, which provides some background information on the neonicotinoids, the class of pesticides held responsible by the paper’s authors.

Thanks to Laura Tyler of Boulder Media Women for this information.

Leave A Comment

  1. Cara Lopez Lee May 26, 2011 at 11:02 am - Reply

    My sense is that bees are our canary in a coal mine when it comes to the toxins humans dump into the environment. According to a 2008 article from the Development Law Journal at the McGeorge School of Law:

    “A 2002 study, led by Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, found an average of 91 industrial compounds, pollutants, and other chemicals in the blood and urine of 9 volunteers. The people tested did not work with chemicals, nor did they live near industrial facilities… Each year 2,000 to 3,000 new chemicals are submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency for review before manufacture. Eighty percent of all applications to manufacture new chemicals are approved without any health or safety data.”

    Unfortunately, unlike those canaries, bees aren’t just clues to what may soon ail us, they’re also critical to growing what feeds us. Yet, if the increasing effects of global climate change haven’t created urgency among world leaders to dramatically change energy policy, I have serious doubts they’ll act on this either. No doubt the commercial food lobby will spend millions to sway opinion on Capitol Hill before they’ll go back to the normal ups and downs of chemical-free farming. Consumers have become too used to getting what we want when we want it.

    I’ve been to the grocery store recently and seen shelves empty of items I was sure would be there. My stomach rolled as I imagined a future of empty shelves. I’m determined to learn to grow some of my own food. When it comes to that kind of gardening I’m a mere child, and I wonder if it’s too late to grow up. Meanwhile, you and I do know how to write and talk, and we can keep doing that. Thanks for doing your part, Beth.

  2. Beth Partin May 26, 2011 at 12:15 pm - Reply

    Cara, if you’re interested in finding out about growing your own food, try the Transition Colorado website or the Grow Local movement.

    The advantage that bees and chemicals and food have over global warming is that it’s easier to see the problem. People understand what “colony collapse disorder” means, but they don’t necessary know why they should be concerned about the ice melting in the Arctic. Also, the food lobby is well organized on both sides, and organic agriculture continues to grow, and the Europeans are doing somewhat better about chemicals than we are. Those are all signs of hope.