Are Mobile Phones
Wiping Out Our Bees?
Scientists claim radiation from
handsets are to
blame for mysterious 'colony collapse' of bees
GEOFFREY LEAN & HARRIET
The Independent (UK) 30apr2007
[More on EMF]
If the bees disappeared, "man would have only four years of life left"
— Albert Einstein*
It seems like the plot of a particularly far-fetched horror film. But some scientists suggest that our love of the mobile phone could cause massive food shortages, as the world's harvests fail.
They are putting forward the theory that radiation given off by mobile phones and other hi-tech gadgets is a possible answer to one of the more bizarre mysteries ever to happen in the natural world — the abrupt disappearance of the bees that pollinate crops. Late last week, some bee-keepers claimed that the phenomenon — which started in the US, then spread to continental Europe — was beginning to hit Britain as well.
The theory is that radiation from mobile phones interferes with bees' navigation systems, preventing the famously home-loving species from finding their way back to their hives. Improbable as it may seem, there is now evidence to back this up.
Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) occurs when a hive's inhabitants suddenly disappear, leaving only queens, eggs and a few immature workers, like so many apian Mary Celestes. The vanished bees are never found, but thought to die singly far from home. The parasites, wildlife and other bees that normally raid the honey and pollen left behind when a colony dies, refuse to go anywhere near the abandoned hives.
The alarm was first sounded last autumn, but has now hit half of all American states. The West Coast is thought to have lost 60 per cent of its commercial bee population, with 70 per cent missing on the East Coast.
CCD has since spread to Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece. And last week John Chapple, one of London's biggest bee-keepers, announced that 23 of his 40 hives have been abruptly abandoned.
Other apiarists have recorded losses in Scotland, Wales and north-west England, but the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs insisted: "There is absolutely no evidence of CCD in the UK."
The implications of the spread are alarming. Most of the world's crops depend on pollination by bees. Albert Einstein once said that if the bees disappeared, "man would have only four years of life left".
No one knows why it is happening. Theories involving mites, pesticides, global warming and GM crops have been proposed, but all have drawbacks.
German research has long shown that bees' behaviour changes near power lines.
Now a limited study at Landau University has found that bees refuse to return to their hives when mobile phones are placed nearby. Dr Jochen Kuhn, who carried it out, said this could provide a "hint" to a possible cause.
Dr George Carlo, who headed a massive study by the US government and mobile phone industry of hazards from mobiles in the Nineties, said: "I am convinced the possibility is real."
The case against handsets
Evidence of dangers to people from mobile phones is increasing. But proof is still lacking, largely because many of the biggest perils, such as cancer, take decades to show up.
Most research on cancer has so far proved inconclusive. But an official Finnish study found that people who used the phones for more than 10 years were 40 per cent more likely to get a brain tumour on the same side as they held the handset.
Equally alarming, blue-chip Swedish research revealed that radiation from mobile phones killed off brain cells, suggesting that today's teenagers could go senile in the prime of their lives.
Studies in India and the US have raised the possibility that men who use mobile phones heavily have reduced sperm counts. And, more prosaically, doctors have identified the condition of "text thumb", a form of RSI from constant texting.
Professor Sir William Stewart, who has headed two official inquiries, warned that children under eight should not use mobiles and made a series of safety recommendations, largely ignored by ministers.
Are GM Crops Killing Bees?
GUNTHER LATSCH / Der Spiegel (Germany) 22mar2007
A mysterious decimation of bee populations has German beekeepers worried, while a similar phenomenon in the United States is gradually assuming catastrophic proportions. The consequences for agriculture and the economy could be enormous.
Walter Haefeker is a man who is used to painting grim scenarios. He sits on the board of directors of the German Beekeepers Association (DBIB) and is vice president of the European Professional Beekeepers Association. And because griping is part of a lobbyist's trade, it is practically his professional duty to warn that "the very existence of beekeeping is at stake."
The problem, says Haefeker, has a number of causes, one being the varroa mite, introduced from Asia, and another is the widespread practice in agriculture of spraying wildflowers with herbicides and practicing monoculture. Another possible cause, according to Haefeker, is the controversial and growing use of genetic engineering in agriculture.
As far back as 2005, Haefeker ended an article he contributed to the journal Der Kritischer Agrarbericht (Critical Agricultural Report) with an Albert Einstein quote: "If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man."
Mysterious events in recent months have suddenly made Einstein's apocalyptic vision seem all the more topical. For unknown reasons, bee populations throughout Germany are disappearing -- something that is so far only harming beekeepers. But the situation is different in the United States, where bees are dying in such dramatic numbers that the economic consequences could soon be dire. No one knows what is causing the bees to perish, but some experts believe that the large-scale use of genetically modified plants in the US could be a factor.
Felix Kriechbaum, an official with a regional beekeepers' association in Bavaria, recently reported a decline of almost 12 percent in local bee populations. When "bee populations disappear without a trace," says Kriechbaum, it is difficult to investigate the causes, because "most bees don't die in the beehive." There are many diseases that can cause bees to lose their sense of orientation so they can no longer find their way back to their hives.
Manfred Hederer, the president of the German Beekeepers Association, almost simultaneously reported a 25 percent drop in bee populations throughout Germany. In isolated cases, says Hederer, declines of up to 80 percent have been reported. He speculates that "a particular toxin, some agent with which we are not familiar," is killing the bees.
Politicians, until now, have shown little concern for such warnings or the woes of beekeepers. Although apiarists have been given a chance to make their case -- for example in the run-up to the German cabinet's approval of a genetic engineering policy document by Minister of Agriculture Horst Seehofer in February -- their complaints are still largely ignored.
Even when beekeepers actually go to court, as they recently did in a joint effort with the German chapter of the organic farming organization Demeter International and other groups to oppose the use of genetically modified corn plants, they can only dream of the sort of media attention environmental organizations like Greenpeace attract with their protests at test sites.
But that could soon change. Since last November, the US has seen a decline in bee populations so dramatic that it eclipses all previous incidences of mass mortality. Beekeepers on the east coast of the United States complain that they have lost more than 70 percent of their stock since late last year, while the west coast has seen a decline of up to 60 percent.
In an article in its business section in late February, the New York Times calculated the damage US agriculture would suffer if bees died out. Experts at Cornell University in upstate New York have estimated the value bees generate -- by pollinating fruit and vegetable plants, almond trees and animal feed like clover -- at more than $14 billion.
Scientists call the mysterious phenomenon "Colony Collapse Disorder" (CCD), and it is fast turning into a national catastrophe of sorts. A number of universities and government agencies have formed a "CCD Working Group" to search for the causes of the calamity, but have so far come up empty-handed. But, like Dennis vanEngelsdorp, an apiarist with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, they are already referring to the problem as a potential "AIDS for the bee industry."
One thing is certain: Millions of bees have simply vanished. In most cases, all that's left in the hives are the doomed offspring. But dead bees are nowhere to be found -- neither in nor anywhere close to the hives. Diana Cox-Foster, a member of the CCD Working Group, told The Independent that researchers were "extremely alarmed," adding that the crisis "has the potential to devastate the US beekeeping industry."
It is particularly worrisome, she said, that the bees' death is accompanied by a set of symptoms "which does not seem to match anything in the literature."
In many cases, scientists have found evidence of almost all known bee viruses in the few surviving bees found in the hives after most have disappeared. Some had five or six infections at the same time and were infested with fungi -- a sign, experts say, that the insects' immune system may have collapsed.
The scientists are also surprised that bees and other insects usually leave the abandoned hives untouched. Nearby bee populations or parasites would normally raid the honey and pollen stores of colonies that have died for other reasons, such as excessive winter cold. "This suggests that there is something toxic in the colony itself which is repelling them," says Cox-Foster.
Walter Haefeker, the German beekeeping official, speculates that "besides a number of other factors," the fact that genetically modified, insect-resistant plants are now used in 40 percent of cornfields in the United States could be playing a role. The figure is much lower in Germany -- only 0.06 percent -- and most of that occurs in the eastern states of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Brandenburg. Haefeker recently sent a researcher at the CCD Working Group some data from a bee study that he has long felt shows a possible connection between genetic engineering and diseases in bees.
The study in question is a small research project conducted at the University of Jena from 2001 to 2004. The researchers examined the effects of pollen from a genetically modified maize variant called "Bt corn" on bees. A gene from a soil bacterium had been inserted into the corn that enabled the plant to produce an agent that is toxic to insect pests. The study concluded that there was no evidence of a "toxic effect of Bt corn on healthy honeybee populations." But when, by sheer chance, the bees used in the experiments were infested with a parasite, something eerie happened. According to the Jena study, a "significantly stronger decline in the number of bees" occurred among the insects that had been fed a highly concentrated Bt poison feed.
According to Hans-Hinrich Kaatz, a professor at the University of Halle in eastern Germany and the director of the study, the bacterial toxin in the genetically modified corn may have "altered the surface of the bee's intestines, sufficiently weakening the bees to allow the parasites to gain entry -- or perhaps it was the other way around. We don't know."
Of course, the concentration of the toxin was ten times higher in the experiments than in normal Bt corn pollen. In addition, the bee feed was administered over a relatively lengthy six-week period.
Kaatz would have preferred to continue studying the phenomenon but lacked the necessary funding. "Those who have the money are not interested in this sort of research," says the professor, "and those who are interested don't have the money."
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
Honey Bees in US Facing Extinction
MICHAEL LEIDIG / Telegraph (UK) 14mar2007
Vienna — Albert Einstein once predicted that if bees were to disappear, man would follow only a few years later.
That hypothesis could soon be put to the test, as a mysterious condition that has wiped half of the honey bee population the United States over the last 35 years appears to be repeating itself in Europe.
Experts are at a loss to explain the fall in honey bee populations in America, with fears of that a new disease, the effects of pollution or the increased use of pesticides could be to blame for "colony collapse disorder". From 1971 to 2006 approximately one half of the US honey bee colonies have vanished.
Now in Spain, hundreds of thousands of colonies have been lost and beekeepers in northern Croatia estimated that five million bees had died in just 48 hours this week. In Poland, the Swietokrzyskie beekeeper association has estimated that up to 40 per cent of bees were wiped out last year. Greece, Switzerland, Italy and Portugal have also reported heavy losses.
The depopulation of bees could have a huge impact on the environment, which is reliant on the insects for pollination. If taken to the extreme, crops, fodder - and therefore livestock - could die off if there are no pollinating insects left.
In France in 2004, the government banned the pesticide Fipronil after beekeepers in the south-west blamed it for huge losses of hives. The manufacturers denied their products were harmful to bees. Polish beekeeper associations claimed that the losses in their country could be connected to cheap sugar substitutes used in mass honey production.
However, experts at the largest honey bee health company in the world, Vita, based in Basingstoke, said the cause was still unknown, and therefore neither was the cure.
The company's technical director, Dr Max Watkins, said: "If it turns out to be a disease we will probably find a cure. But if it turns out to be something different, like environmental pollution, then I do not know what can be done.
"At the moment, all we know is colonies are dying and we simply don't know why. It could be a new disease or a combination of factors. And of course it could turn out what we are seeing here in Europe is different to what has been reported in America, although at the moment they look very, very similar."
Dennis van Engelsdorp, of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, said: "Preliminary work has identified several likely factors that could be causing or contributing to CCD. Among them are mites and associated diseases, some unknown pathogenic disease and pesticide contamination or poisoning."
Initial studies of dying colonies in America revealed a large number of disease organisms present, with no one disease being identified as the culprit, van Engelsdorp added.
German bee expert Professor Joergen Tautz from Wurzburg University said: "Bees are vital to bio diversity. There are 130,000 plants for example for which bees are essential to pollination, from melons to pumpkins, raspberries and all kind of fruit trees - as well as animal fodder - like clover.
"Bees are more important than poultry in terms of human nutrition. Bees from one hive can visit a million flowers within a 400 square kilometre area in just one day.
"It is not a sudden problem, I has been happening for a few years now. Five years ago in Germany there were a million hives, now there are less than 800,000. If that continues there will eventually be no bees."
"Bees are not only working for our welfare, they are also perfect indicators of the state of the environment. We should take note."
*Regarding the Einstein quote:From Snopes.com 30apr2007
Claim: Albert Einstein predicted that if something eliminated bees from our planet, mankind would soon perish.
Berry stuck up a quotation attributed to Albert Einstein: "If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left."
Origins: One tried-and-true method for getting people to pay attention to words is to put them into the mouth of a well-known, respected figure whom the public perceives as being an expert in the subject at hand. To make a point about whether our current political leaders are taking us down the right path, dig up an analogous quote attributed to Thomas Jefferson or Abraham Lincoln. Or, to comment on the nature of war (e.g., when it should be fought, how it should be fought, or the consequences of fighting it), find a relevant example credited to Robert E. Lee or George S. Patton.
Thus is it that recent concerns over a significant and mysterious decline in the population of pollinating honeybees (a phenomenon attributed to everything from global warming to insecticides to radiation from cell phone towers, and now thought to be the result of a fungus) have seen a resurgence in repetitions of a quote attributed to Albert Einstein, citations claiming the noted scientist once said "If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live."
This truly sounds alarming: Bees are disappearing for reasons we can't yet explain, and a certified genius such as Einstein noted long ago that if all the bees disappeared, we'd soon be following them into extinction. If the intent of propagating this quote is to get our attention, it's certainly been working. Did Einstein sagely foresee an environmental crisis we're only just now beginning to notice?
To answer that last question (without denying the importance of the honeybees), we have to consider the related question of "Did Einstein really say this?" First off, searches of Einstein's writings and speeches and public statements, as well as of (scholarly) compilations of Einstein quotations reveal nary a reference to the "four years" phrase or any other statement mentioning bees (save for a brief comparison between humans and colony insects such as ants and bees). The compiler of The New Quotable Einstein also found no Einsteinian source for this quote and lists it as "Probably Not by Einstein."
Secondly, even though Einstein died in 1955, assiduous searching of a variety of databases of historical printed material (e.g., books, newspapers, magazines) has so far failed to turn up any mention of this quote (attributed to Einstein or anyone else) antedating 1994, when it suddenly started popping up in newspaper articles reporting on a protest in Brussels staged by beekeepers:
The beekeepers' warnings had some heavyweight expert support. A pamphlet distributed by the National Union of French Apiculture quoted Albert Einstein. "If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live," Einstein was quoted as saying. "No more bees, no more pollination ... no more men!"
The best answer probably lies in examining the context in which the earliest citations of this putative quote (that we've found so far) appeared: a January 1994 political protest staged by European beekeepers over the issues of competition from lower-priced honey imports, artificially high prices for sugar (used as winter feed for bees), and a proposed reduction of tariffs that would make imported honey products even cheaper. A key part of that protest was beekeepers' issuing dire predictions that as beekeepers go, so go the bees — and as bees go, so go the food crops and other plants on which we depend:
So far Scotland has escaped the devastating pest, but the threat elsewhere remains.
"Within a few years all the wild colonies will die out," warned John Potter from Norwich.
"The honey bee is threatened with a rapid decline."
If the bees became extinct, the protesters said the impact would go well beyond the livelihoods of the EU's 16,000 full-time beekeepers and the some 430,000 part-timers.
Crops such as apples, pears, beans and oilseeds need bees for pollination.
British beekeepers estimate that 85 per cent of Europe's wildflowers are pollinated by bees and the death of the flowers could have a major impact on wildlife.
"It's going to be a chain reaction," said Mr Potter.
Sightings: Political comedian Bill Maher used the Einstein "bee" quote to begin his closing essay on the 20 April 2007 episode of HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher.
Last updated: 21 April 2007
Urban Legends Reference Pages © 1995-2007
by Barbara and David P. Mikkelson
This material may not be reproduced without permission.
- Ames, Paul. "Life's Not So Sweet for Europe's Embattled Beekeepers." Associated Press. 24 January 1994.
- Fitzgerald, Jay. "'Colony Collapse' Worries Bee-Devil Farmers." Associated Press. 24 January 1994.
- Higgins, Adrian. "Honeybees in a Mite More Than Trouble." The Washington Post. 14 May 2002 (p. A1).
- Calaprice, Alice. The New Quotable Einstein. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005. ISBN 0-691-12074-9 (pp. 294-295).
- McLaughlin, Chris. "Fearful Beekeepers Plead for Curbs on Honey Imports." The Scotsman. 25 January 1994.
- source: http://www.snopes.com/quotes/einstein/bees.asp 30apr2007