Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Hints of the Black Horse of Revelation

How short is time?

Rev6:5 And when he had opened the third seal, I heard the third beast say, Come and see. And I beheld, and lo a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand. 6 And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say, A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine.

He's riding our way, be ready

Ice cream crisis as bees buzz off

The collapse of US honeybee colonies this year is set to devastate America's multibillion dollar agriculture and food industries.

Last year about 750,000 of the 2.5m hives in the US were wiped out in mysterious circumstances, and already this year the American Beekeeping Federation says there is evidence from its members that losses will be even greater this year.

For the first time individual businesses have stepped forward to give money to try to speed up the process of finding out, first of all, what causes colony collapse disease (CCD) and then eradicating it.

Häagen-Dazs, the ice cream making subsidiary of General Mills, gave a total of $250,000 (£127,000) to two university research teams and Burt's Bees, the personal care products maker, made a undisclosed grant to create the Honeybee Health Improvement Project, a research task force.

Burt's Bees also launched a public service announcement to run in cinemas showing Bee Movie. In the announcement co-founder Burt Shavitz talked about the important role bees play in agriculture.

He then urged audiences to visit the company's website ( ) to sign up to receive a free packet of wildflower seeds to help create a bee-friendly environment.

Honeybees are said to be critical to the production of $15bn worth of crops in the US and Häagen-Dazs says around 25 of its 60 flavours depend on fruits and nuts pollinated by bees.

The ice cream maker is also aiming to raise consumer awareness about CCD by launching a new flavour this spring called Vanilla Honey Bee.

Flying off

Diana Cox-Foster, professor of entomology at Pennsylvania State University College of Agricultural Sciences, which received $150,000 from Häagen-Dazs, believes researchers have identified a major cause of CCD.

Her team has recently given the mite-transmitted Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus (IAPV) to healthy bee colonies and has seen rapid die-off??. As it is winter those tests took place in greenhouses so the researchers are waiting for the weather to improve to verify the results with bees in their normal environments.

The mysterious and unique aspect of CCD is that the bees are not being found dead near their colonies. They are flying off; just abandoning their life's work, leaving behind the queen and a few younger bees.

Professor Cox-Foster believes that there are other factors together with IAPV are the cause of CCD, such as other viruses, the use of chemicals near colonies and whether the bees are receiving enough nutrition.

To beekeepers pesticides are definitely part of the problem, says Troy Fore, executive director of the American Beekeeping Federation. "A lot of beekeepers blame neonicotinoid insecticides. These are safer for humans and other mammals but they affect the neurological systems of bees. They don't kill the bees outright but they cause to act in ways different to the norm."

The beekeepers believe these insecticides, which in fact have been partially banned in France, weaken the immune system of the bees thereby allowing viruses such as IAPV to strike.

Beekeepers that have their hives in the forest or grasslands and not near cultivated crops are doing well, so there is anecdotal evidence that the pesticides and insecticides are part of the problem, said Fore.

Australia on the attack

But not everyone agrees that IAPV is a cause of CCD. Australian government scientists miffed that the Penn State team suggested in a paper published in Science that IAPV arrived in the US in imports of live bees from Australia pointed out in a follow-up letter that there were several CCD colonies free of IAPV and the "shivering phenotype", and the death of bees close to the hive associated with IAPV in Israel.

The assertion that IAPV came from Australian bees was also refuted by the US Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service, which said that IAPV was found in the country back in 2002, two years before the importation of Australian bees was instituted to replenish colonies.

The Australians, which see their $5m a year live bee exporting industry endangered by such allegations, have demanded that Penn State withdraw its conclusions. They also point out that neither CCD nor large-scale, unexplained mortality events have occurred in the Australian bee industry.

The first description of IAPV came from Israel in 2002 and since then there have been die-outs of bees across the globe, some definitely attributable to the virus.

British beekeepers too are worried that CCD may come to these shores and they have called on the government to back a five-year, £8m research programme designed to save the insect.

Back in America all eyes are nowadays on California's almond trees, which represent a $2.5bn industry. The pink and white blossoms have started to appear and the concern is whether there are the tens of thousands bees needed to pollinate the crop.

"The almonds are in bloom right now in California and we are hearing there are some significant die-offs. It's worrisome," said professor Cox-Foster.