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Londonderry

September 13, 2012

Stonyfield gives $10K to research bee disease

LONDONDERRY — Colony collapse disorder has been wiping out bees around the globe and one local company made a donation to help scientists figure out why.

Last week, Stonyfield Organic gave $10,000 to the Pesticide Action Network.

The network is a coalition of hundreds of organizations. Its goal is to raise awareness about environmental concerns and stop pesticide use.

Honeybees play a fundamental role in pollination. The numbers of bees nationwide has been cut in half since the 1940s from 5 million to 2.5 million, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Colony collapse disorder is a sign of broader environmental issues,” Stonyfield chairman Gary Hirshberg said in a written statement.

Not only do honeybees pollinate the fruits used to flavor Stonyfield products, they also pollinate the alfalfa cows graze on, communications director Carrie Kocik said.

Colony collapse disorder was introduced to American honeybees in 2006. Pesticides weaken bees’ immune systems, and make them more susceptible to disease, mites and fungus, said Paul Towers, a network spokesman.

Another possible cause of the disorder is mite infestation. American honeybees are vulnerable to varroa mites, which have been introduced from Asia. Varroa mites shorten the lifespan of bees by feeding on their blood. Habitat destruction and car fumes are also contributing to the demise of the honeybee, said Wendy Booth, president of the New Hampshire Beekeepers Association.

There are about 700 beekeepers in the state. Each beekeeper has about four to fives hives; each hive contains about 40,000 bees, said Chris Rallis, state Department of Agriculture entomologist.

Pesticides may also be a contributing factor to colony collapse disorder. Plants and flowers honeybees pollinate are doused with toxins, Towers said, and often retain them over time. This does not kill the bees outright, but it does severely weaken their immune and vascular systems, he said.

The network is working with state and federal governments to reduce pesticide use.

“It’s a bizarre concept, trying to kill one pest while protecting another using pesticides,” Booth said.

The disorder has not much affect on the state’s beekeepers, according to Rallis.

“The only real symptom of the disorder is the numbers drop dramatically,” he said.

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