Home » Business News » 2012 » December » December 14, 2012 Saving Bees as a Commercial Enterprise, The Last Stand Against CCD.

December 14, 2012 - London

 By: Ahmen Jabril

Saving Bees as a Commercial Enterprise

Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is a condition affecting the world's bee population that over the last half decade has caused untold billions of dollars of damage, and if left unchecked could seriously threaten the world's food supply.

Why? In the US alone, bees are responsible for pollinating about a quarter of its annual agricultural output, or roughly $20 billion worth of produce.  Taken globally, the number reaches well into the hundreds of billions.  This is clearly not an issue of honey alone.

On the contrary, the United States Congress felt the issue was serious enough to commit tens of millions of dollars in funding to researching causes and finding remedies for the problem.  The Departments of Defense, Agriculture, the EPA and academic and private researchers have been drafted to meet and get to the bottom of the CCD dilemma before it becomes a national security issue.

National Security?

The Department of Defense has committed itself both to increase the CCD research budget and to offer sophisticated military technologies used to measure air, tissue and other pathogens in search of a potential cause of CCD.  Those same instruments are normally used to detect deadly agents that might be used in chemical or biological warfare against U.S. troops in a war.

And war it is.  With the USDA estimating that Americans next year will import a full 40% of their vegetables from China, the problem takes on a true security dimension, as the U.S. already faces the prospect of being overly dependent upon foreign nations for its food supply.

What exactly is CCD and what exactly can be done about it?

CCD was first 'discovered' in 2006, after numerous occurrences of wholesale colony destruction were reported by beekeepers the world over.  It was not uncommon in the first years after the outbreak to read reports of between 30% and 50% losses from commercial apiaries in both Europe, America and beyond.

While scientists still aren't sure of the exact cause of the 'disease', a number of remedies have been offered by both academic and commercially based researchers, with widely varying degrees of success.  What's made the problem so intractable is that very disagreement among researchers.  Some have suggested CCD is a direct result of pesticide use, others say varroa mites, a well known and deadly parasite, are the culprit, while still others point to any combination of viruses and pathogens, malnutrition, cell phone radiation, and other environmental changes to explain the condition.

It stands to reason that as the cause is understood, so will the treatment be administered.  For those who believe the mite is the cause, insecticides such as Apistan, manufactured since 2006 by Wellpoint International, a private company, or competitors Minadox or Klartan have been the go-to remedy of choice.  German Pharmaceutical giant Bayer AG (PINK:BAYRY) also offers a popular product, CheckMite, that handily dispenses with both the varroa mite and the pesky small hive beetle.  These products are among the industry standards for insect control, however, and are not exclusively used for battling CCD.

For those of a more conspiratorial bent, numerous articles have been written on corporate giant Monsanto's (NYSE:MON) role in the 'creation' of Colony Collapse Disorder.  The issue has been documented at length elsewhere and can be summed as follows:

  1. Monsanto created an insect resistant strain of corn, 

  2. That was used in the production of (genetically modified) corn syrup, 

  3. That was then used as feed for bees (a common practice among beekeepers), 

  4. That ultimately resulted in the widespread bee losses associated with Colony Collapse Disorder. 

I won't comment on the veracity of the theory, or Monsanto's subsequent role in the search for a remedy for CCD.  Others have done more work on it than we, and we happily refer you them.

Suffice to say, that the remedy for the Monsanto theorists is simply to employ alternative or organic feeds to their hives.

Nosema Apis, Nosema Ceranae and their Fungicides

There are those who employ antifungal agents, too, in their quest for a CCD remedy.  In particular, the antimicrobial, fumagillin , has been successful in treating some of the leading causes of bee disease: the unicellular parasites Nosema apis and Nosema Ceranae.

Drug giant Sanofi Aventis (NYSE:SNY) is among a number of competitors in the fumagillin market, selling a product commercially known as Flisint for the treatment of Nosema ceranae.  Among the majors, Abbott Labs (NYSE:ABT) also manufactures two fumagillin products, Fumidil and Fumidil-B, designed to kill both Nosema fungi.

All that notwithstanding, there are today very few commercial remedies that are available exclusively for the treatment of Colony Collapse Disorder.  One, a product of Monsanto's subsidiary, Beeologics, called Remebee, is soon to be available for commercial release.  It's now on a fast track for final FDA approval.

The other is on a sort of fast track of its own, too, though not in the U.S.  BeesFree (OTCBB:BEES), a microcap headquartered in Florida with its laboratories in Rome, Italy offers the only commercially branded product this writer is aware of that's sold exclusively as a remedy for CCD.  

The company decided to skip the U.S. market and sell its BeesVita Plus remedy first in locales with less strict regulatory regimens.  And so far, the strategy appears to be working.  BeesFree quickly signed several large deals in Argentina and South Africa directly after the product launch.  

Currently, the cost to beekeepers annually for antibiotics, pesticides and other treatments and precautions is prohibitive.  According to a study contracted by the New Zealand Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, best practice for beekeepers for battling the varroa mite and other widespread diseases would run to an annual cost of up to $30 per hive, leading to a sum of $75 million for beekeepers in the U.S. alone.  This does not include the labor costs associated with administering the treatments, nor does it include secondary or tertiary treatments sometimes necessary to eradicate these conditions.  

Needless to say, the cost to manage these issues globally is well north of $1 billion.

A Convincing Guarantee

It's this market that companies like BeesFree are hoping to corner.  And after a new round of financing and the recent signing of the company's chief scientist, Oxford Ph.D. Dr. Francesca del Vecchio, to an extended three year contract, it looks like the company will remain in play for a while yet.

Del Vecchio claims that BeesFree's BeesVita product deals successfully with all possible inputs to the CCD stew and actually fosters growth among bee colonies.  Her patented Beespenser dispenser also plays an important role in BeesFree's successful defense of bee colonies from CCD, dispensing the remedy directly into a vaporous mist that attracts bees even while it cures them.

She and the company's management stand firmly behind their product. In fact, the following tidbit, taken directly from the company's website, states that BeesFree guarantees

"to replace any bees fed Vita Plus, lost to CCD, as long as the beekeeper used the product as directed."

Sounds like a deal.

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