Friday, February 04, 2005

Of mites and men (and bees)

A reader named Liz commented recently that: "The decline in beekeeping, along with the severe decline in wild bee populations, is of great concern to state agricultural folk. It's not uncommon for "pollinators" (people who keep bees primarily to pollinate crops, not necessarily to produce honey) to carry a tractor-trailor load (500 hives) across the country to pollinate California crops, because there aren't enough local beekeepers there."

And then I noticed this AP story about that very phenomenon.

It's interesting the way pesticides play into accounts of the bee crisis. The mite looms over these stories like the monster Grendel in the Beowulf tale: fierce, mysterious, unstoppable. "A tiny pest is decimating honeybee colonies across the country, worrying beekeepers and farmers who depend on the insects to pollinate their crops," the article opens.

Several paragraphs down, we get this: "Experts think the mites may have arrived in the mid-1980s from Asia, where they coexisted with local honeybees." Uh-oh. Yellow menace! But wait, did that just say "coexist"?

Two paragraphs later--number 10 in the story overall--we get to the meat of the story: "Reproducing quickly and in a closed environment, the mites have developed a resistance to pesticides — a trait they've been able to spread to their progeny faster than scientist have been able to develop new compounds to fight them off."

So North American pesticide companies have created a super-mite that their compounds can't sort out, and they've caused what appears to be a real nationwide agricultural crisis. Shouldn't that be the story’s lead, maybe even on the front page of the NY Times?

Now, before our friends over at the Center for Science in the Public Interest start chiding Monsanto to conjure up a super-bee that can stand up to the super-mite, they may want to read this piece. It details the way that bio corn, engineered to contain a pesticide, is working to create super-resistant pests. (This phenomenon is clearly in Monsanto's interest; the company can sell farmers the solution to the problem it created. But it's devastating for us organic farmers.)

Meanwhile, coca growers in Colombia have surrendered to the appeal of genetic modification. (What company is toying with the proud old coca plant?)

And, to prove that I'm a gourmand and not just a scold, here's a piece on a delicious phenomenon the NYT calls "natural wine."


Blogger Gritsforbreakfast said...

Tom, that was a great post, right down to the Beowulf reference! Your going to build a good-size audience quickly if you continue to generate fare of this caliber.

2/05/2005 04:42:00 PM  
Blogger Gerry said...

Neat blog, he says as he wanders over from Watauga Watch to look about. You have been officially bookmarked.

The story of the genetically-modified coca is not, unfortunately, getting the attention I feel it deserves. And those mites dissuaded me from keeping a hive or two in my Country Cowfreak period.

2/06/2005 02:59:00 PM  
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