Supply and demand starts with supply; if there is not enough potable water, the demand goes up.
No Bid ContractsEdit
An essential part to keeping commies out of the free market is to pre-filter them from government contracts, selecting only those with the purest Americans in charge. Fine examples include KBR, Halliburton, and Blackwater.
http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/asection/la-fg-water10nov10,1,6112429.story?coll=la-news-a_section A global clean-water shortage A U.N. agency report calls for action to save lives and energize economies by boosting supplies and sanitation. By Robyn Dixon email@example.com Times Staff Writer November 10, 2006 Copyright 2006 Los Angeles Times
JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA — While people in wealthy suburbs of Africa use water to maintain lush lawns and fill swimming pools, many slum dwellers struggle to obtain the crucial resource and pay much more per gallon for what little of it they can get, according to a United Nations Development Program report calling for an end to "water apartheid."
At the same time, dirty water is the second-leading cause of death among children globally, after respiratory infections. It kills 1.8 million children younger than 5 each year, more than do HIV/AIDS, malaria, war or traffic accidents, says the U.N. report released Thursday in Cape Town.
"In the year 2015 they plan to send a spaceship to Jupiter to search for water, yet in Africa or India we can't get water to people who need it," Kevin Watkins, the report's author, said at a briefing for media in Johannesburg. The session was held Tuesday, though release of the report was embargoed until Thursday.
The report's main contention is that if countries increase access to clean water and sanitation simultaneously, the rates of child survival in developing countries can rocket "almost overnight," Watkins said.
Globally, 2.6 billion people have no access to proper sanitation. The 1.1 billion people who don't have clean water use about 1.3 gallons a day, compared with the 40 gallons used by average Americans, the planet's biggest water guzzlers.
"It is hard to find anything that has a greater impact on human life than water," Watkins said.
In Peru, offspring in families with toilets and clean water are 59% more likely to survive childhood than those without, according to the report. In Egypt, the figure is 57%.
In cities such as Dar es Salaam, capital of Tanzania, people pay more for water than do New Yorkers, Watkins said.
Many of those developing countries that are boosting access to water are not increasing the number of toilets or improving drainage systems, he said, risking the spread of disease.
The water and sanitation crisis in sub-Saharan Africa slowed economic growth by 5% of gross domestic product per year, more than the region receives in foreign aid, the report says.
A big increase in spending on water and sanitation would pay for itself in economic growth.
"No other investment could bring greater benefits," Watkins said.
Collecting water is a colossal waste of labor, he said, with the burden falling overwhelmingly on women and girls. Sub-Saharan African women spend about 40 billion hours a year walking and queuing to collect water, equivalent to a year's labor for the entire workforce in France.
The report calls for a global action plan led by the Group of 8 leading industrialized nations, which includes the United States, to increase the focus on water and sanitation.
It recommends that each developing country earmark at least 1% of its GDP to sanitation and sewage, more than twice the 0.4% currently spent by Kenya.
Some countries spend much more on their military than on water.
In Pakistan, where diarrhea caused by dirty water kills 118,000 people each year, the government spends 0.1% of its budget on water and sanitation. It spends 47 times that on the military.
India, where 450,000 die of diarrhea annually, spends eight times more on its military than on water resources, and Ethiopia, which has one of the highest rates of infant mortality due to lack of clean water and sanitation, spends 10 times more on the military.
Watkins said many developing countries failed to accord water and sanitation the central role necessary to save lives, improve standards of living and boost the economy.
Clear water-management plans would become more pressing with increases in global warming, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, Watkins said.
http://www.truthout.org/cgi-bin/artman/exec/view.cgi/37/14953 (In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. t r u t h o u t has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is t r u t h o u t endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)
Original Water Privatization in Latin America By Carmelo Ruiz Marrero IRC Americas
Tuesday 18 October 2005
The drive to privatize water distribution and resources is gaining steam in Latin America. Although transnational water companies have suffered setbacks in places like Puerto Rico, Bolivia, and Uruguay, they continue with plans to appropriate the region's hydrological resources-rivers, aquifers, wells, and aqueduct systems. While "privatization" has become a loaded term in the water business, companies prefer a softer discourse, employing concepts such as "decentralization," "civil society participation," and "sustainable development."
In April, over 400 participants from Mexico and countries throughout the hemisphere met in Mexico City at the First People's Workshop in Defense of Water . Organized by the Mexican Center for Social Analysis, Information, and Training (CASIFOP) and Center for Study of Rural Change (CECCAM), the ETC Group, and the Polaris Institute of Canada, the workshop brought together small farmers, indigenous peoples, labor union representatives, members of urban movements, researchers, students, and civil society groups to compare notes and share their experiences with privatized water services and attempts to transfer water management to transnational companies. Participants also discussed possible pathways toward consolidating and furthering the defense of the liquid as a human right for everyone, managed in a sustainable, democratic, and responsible manner.
New Ways to Privatize Water
In the course of nearly a hundred brief presentations, workshop participants discussed privatization of water services currently being promoted in their cities and communities and described their communities' reactions. Tony Clarke laid the groundwork by identifying six modalities of water privatization:
Privatization of municipal services in urban zones. In this modality, transnational corporations appropriate distribution networks and purifying facilities with the help of new legislation on water that permits participation of private contractors. Privatization of territories and bioregions. To quote a CASIFOP document: "The companies that trade and/or need bulk water for their activities seek the privatization of territories and entire bioregions to guarantee monopoly control over the resource, protected by legislative changes." Privatization through diverting existing sources. Abundant water is provided to industrial users and agribusinesses through canals that divert whole rivers from their natural courses, and through the construction of infrastructure megaprojects like waterways and dams, at the expense of millions of traditional users including indigenous peoples and small farmers. Privatization by contamination. When major corporate users pollute the resource through use and abuse (for example mining, oil drilling, paper pulp, electricity generation, and toxic agrochemical-intensive industrial monocultures) they make it impossible for less-privileged sectors to use it. Privatization by bottling. Four transnationals (Coca Cola, Pepsico, Nestle, and Danone) control most of this prosperous business activity. These companies and their subsidiaries obtain water at extremely low cost and often in addition receive state subsidies to establish bottling plants. They then sell it for over a thousand times what it cost them to get it. Monopoly of technologies. Big industries not only squander and pollute water-a resource that belongs to all-but also control the technologies for its extraction and purification.
Justifications for Water Privatization
Workshop participants who have fought privatization in their cities in Nicaragua, Bolivia, and Ecuador, among others, stressed some of the fallacies behind the justifications for privatizing water services and resources.
In sum, they noted that the arguments for privatizing traditionally public and communal water resources rest on three questionable assumptions:
1. Population growth: "Every day there are more and more people who need access to water resources that are becoming scarce and overexploited, which causes social tensions and conflicts."
This argument tends to grossly simplify the complex social dynamics surrounding use of natural resources by assuming that extreme economic inequalities and differences in consumption patterns do not exist, and if they do, they are of no consequence.
2. The need to assign economic value to water: "Water is wasted because people get it for free or for artificially low prices. Therefore, if its price reflected its true ecological and economic cost, people would avoid its abuse and overuse."
Private water company executives say the prices they charge are high because water is a costly and risky business and their companies must make a profit in order to remain competitive. But the high prices these corporations charge are not based on market rationality or ecologically sustainable criteria. The apparently independent companies that operate municipal aqueducts are for the most part subsidiaries of a half dozen transnational corporations that collude with each other and divide global markets among themselves. The money they get from the rate payers is not invested in maintenance and expansion of the existing networks but on their overseas expansion plans and on bountiful dividends and executive salaries.
3. The failure of the state: "The state has failed as administrator of the resource, not only because of its corruption, incapacity, and lack of investment in the infrastructure but also through its promotion of a paternalistic cheap water for all culture that has resulted in waste and overexploitation."
Recent studies show that the apparent failure of the state in the countries of the South is due to numerous external factors, including the weight of the unpayable external debt and structural adjustment policies imposed by multilateral banks that practically require the dismantlement of the state and restrict public investment.
"The transnationals manipulate crisis data to justify taking over (water services) and increasing privatization; they blame common people, peasants, and public services for poor use and administration," said Silvia Ribeiro of the Action Group on Erosion, Technology, and Concentration (ETC). "For this reason it is imperative for us to construct our own maps of the crisis and alternatives to confronting it."
Mexico, a Paradigm for Privatization
One of the conclusions reached at the workshop was that Mexico is a beachhead for privatization throughout the region. While other Latin American countries have seen major grassroots struggles in defense of water and even obtained some victories-as in Cochabamba, Bolivia-in Mexico, "water privatization is spreading throughout the country, while resistance or protest against it has been disperse since most cases are perceived as local problems," said CASIFOP researchers Karina Atayde and Thais Vega.
The trend toward water privatization in Mexico dates back to 1983 when then-President Miguel de la Madrid made changes in Article 115 of the country's Constitution which made the water supply the responsibility of municipal governments.
At first glance, such legal changes would seem like a move toward a genuine decentralization and local and democratic control over the resource. But according to CASIFOP, "By transferring the responsibility of supply to municipal authorities, the federal government not only gave them the infrastructure networks, but also it bequeathed all the problems of its management, piled up during decades: leaks, obsolete and poor networks, corrupt and irregular administration, among others, within a context of uncontrolled urbanization."
In 1992 the privatization process accelerated under a new Law of National Waters, which led numerous municipalities-including the capital cities of Aguascalientes, Saltillo, and Mexico City-to contract their water management to subsidiaries of transnational corporations like the France-based Vivendi.
In his initial intervention in the Workshop in Defense of Water, Andrés Barreda of Mexico's National Autonomous University , described the consequences of the government's water policy:
"The path of compartmentalization distinguishes between three main types of water use: urban, rural, and industrial. It breaks down urban uses for privatization through a strategy of local management, contracting, and creating small-scale water markets … It atomizes rural uses for privatization by locating them within different irrigation systems.
"The process of water privatization thus shows a complex strategy of spatial advance: to atomize scenes of conflict and negotiation over water, with the management of urban water in the hands of municipalities while rural water use is managed in dispersed irrigation systems throughout the country. This permits the huge transnational water companies to negotiate with political entities of small territorial scale. Since the resulting enterprises are so small, people think that in their municipalities they are dealing with local companies without realizing that these are actually one of the thousand faces of some gigantic transnational services corporation that uses subcontracting to distance itself when social problems arise caused frequently by poor service."
Problems with Water Privatization in Mexico
The cities of Cancun, Saltillo, and Aguascalientes show the dangers of water privatization in the urban context. In Cancun , a tourist resort on the Caribbean coast, the first private company that administered the water system was Azurix, a subsidiary of the famous and disgraced U.S.-based Enron Corporation. After its scandalous bankruptcy came Ondeo, a subsidiary of the French Suez corporation, which financed its purchase with a loan from the Mexican Public Works and Services National Bank (Banobras). According to the American NGO Public Citizen, "the investments that were promised have yet to materialize and therefore residual waters are discharged into the Caribbean Sea ."
In Saltillo, in the state of Coahuila, the water system was contracted to a company jointly owned by the municipality and a Spanish corporation, Aguas de Barcelona. During the concession's first two years rates went up between 32% and 68%, in direct violation of the accorded terms, which established that rate hikes should not exceed inflation. Members of the board of directors from the municipality have not been able to prevail over the decisions made by the board's Spanish members, informed Public Citizen.
In Aguascalientes, the water system was contracted to a subsidiary of French transnational Vivendi and rates soared to among the highest in Mexico . But these high tariffs have not resulted in a sustainable management of the resource; the aquifer that the city depends on is on the verge of collapse. The municipality is currently considering rescinding the contract.
These three cases contrast with the Monterrey city water system, which is controlled by a public agency. "Like several others in the north of the country, this public entity has been successful in assuring a broad availability of service while it reduces leaks through client networks and collectors," according to the daily newspaper La Jornada.
In 2001 the Program for the Modernization of Providers of Water Services and Treatment (Promagua) was created to fund municipalities to maintain their water systems. But Promagua's aid, which was funded with a World Bank loan, states as a condition that the municipalities must facilitate private capital participation.
The private sector also imposes conditions of its own. According to CASIFOP, "private companies refuse to establish any type of agreement with municipal authorities if these do not commit themselves to amend deficiencies in infrastructure by way of state investment (public debt, that is), raise rates before the entrance of private capital, absorb costs to 'eliminate uncertainty' regarding property rights, guarantee the concession's continuity, and assume responsibility for extending the infrastructure network, again by means of more foreign debt."
According to Luis Hernández Navarro, many of the World Bank's loans to Mexico have had as a condition the privatization and full cost recovery of water. "In their language, 'cost recovery' refers as much to the elimination of government subsidies as to the increase in payments that consumers will have to make to have access to the service. This means that operating entities in charge of providing drinking water must cover all the operating and maintenance costs through fees to communities, without receiving government subsidies."
The most recent Law of National Waters, passed by the Congress in 2004, was a substantial step toward the privatization of the infrastructure and supply of drinking water. According to the World Bank, "the new legal framework constitutes a unique opportunity to deepen the reform process" of the sector. "The new legislation fine-tunes the mechanisms to achieve the population's exclusion from the decision-making process regarding water policies and management, to transfer it to large businesses," states Hernández-Navarro.
Toward the World Water Forum 2006: Civil Society Alternatives
Civil society organizations have already begun to articulate alternatives to the prevailing model of water privatization. "As an alternative to privatizing trends on the one hand and centralizing ones on the other, when it comes to water management, we propose a model of local and participatory management in which communities devise and execute, in coordination with the pertinent public sector entities, policies aimed at the protection, conservation, and sustainable and equitable use of the resource," declared the participants of the Central American Civil Society Forum on Water, which took place in the summer of 2005.
The declaration goes on to state that, "We demand opening forums to facilitate social organizations' participation in the elaboration and implementation of said policies, which will have to be established in legislation with the relevant normative entities to make this management model effective, as the only means to guarantee respect for the human right to water."
Participants at the Defense of Water workshop plan to continue to analyze the situation, develop alternatives, and monitor situations in their own communities.
One of the main objectives of the Workshop in Defense of Water held in Mexico was to start preparing civil society for the next World Water Forum, scheduled to take place in Mexico City in March 2006. This Forum, which is held every three years since 1997, gathers the main parties responsible for global water-use decisions: representatives of two thirds of the world's governments, companies whose businesses are water-related, non-governmental organizations, members of the scientific community, and UN agencies. The Forum works to diagnose the situation of water resources on the planet and develop efficient use. It came into existence as an initiative of the World Water Council, an institution founded in 1996 together with the Global Water Partnership. Historically, there has been a bias toward private-sector options in the proceedings.
The Mexico City meeting was a sign that grassroots and civil society organizations and indigenous peoples are beginning to carry out their own diagnosis of the problems. They plan to prepare analysis and experiences to present to delegates at the Fourth World Water Forum next summer. Based on testimonies at the Defense of Water gathering, many reject the processes of privatization as illegitimate and inefficient in solving the problems of water supply, and argue that real alternatives exist to provide the liquid at a reasonable cost, without environmental destruction and without the involvement of transnational corporations.
Maude Barlow, Canadian activist and co-author of "Blue Gold," participated in the Workshop and in an interview with Radio Mundo Real she sent a message to Latin American governments: "I understand that the states of Latin America are going through difficulties in financing the public system of water supply and I know that they have also a huge debt with the First World. But they are making a big mistake by allowing these corporations to enter their communities and administer the water system just for the profits it generates. This would cause even more poverty, more pollution. The corporations do not take on any risk, but obtain all the benefits. It is local people who bear the risk, and it's the World Bank that pays for the corporations to be risk-free. It is very important for governments to say 'no' to these corporations. In short, they are not there to get water to the people, they are not there out of a concern for the people, or to help the governments. They are there to make money. When they stop making it they will leave."
Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero is a Puerto Rican independent environmental journalist and environmental analyst for the IRC Americas Program www.americas.irc-online.org. He is a Research Associate of the Institute for Social Ecology (social-ecology.org) and a Senior Fellow of the Environmental Leadership Program (elpnet.org). He is also founder and director of the Puerto Rico Project on Biosafety (bioseguridad.blogspot.com). His bilingual web page (carmeloruiz.blogspot.com) is devoted to global environment and development issues.
For More Information
Angélica Enciso L., "El Foro Mundial del Agua, premio a Mexico por sus políticas privatizadoras," La Jornada, Mexico, 15 June 2005 http://www.biodiversidadla.org/content/view/full/16866
Angélica Enciso L., "Endosan a las sociedades la problemática del agua," La Jornada, Mexico, 28 April 2005 http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2005/abr05/050428/048n1soc.php
Angelica Enciso L., "Ofensiva de trasnacionales para apropiarse del agua, denuncian ONG," La Jornada, Mexico, 26 April 2005 http://www.biodiversidadla.org/content/view/full/15853
Roberto González Amador, "El gobierno federal lleva al país hacia la privatización del agua," La Jornada, Mexico, 4 July 2005 http://www.biodiversidadla.org/content/view/full/17284
REDES-AT, "De Ciudad de Mexico a El Alto: construyendo la resistencia a la privatización del agua en Latinoamérica" http://www.biodiversidadla.org/content/view/full/16070
Silvia Ribeiro, "Las caras de la privatización del agua" http://www.biodiversidadla.org/content/view/full/15910
Carmelo Ruiz Marrero, "Free Trade and Water Privatization: The Wet Side of the FTAA" http://americas.irc-online.org/articles/2004/0412water.html
Copyright 2007 Los Angeles Times
Across the U.S., public parks are landing private operators
New York's Bryant Park runs on commercial support. Critics warn the concept could disenfranchise the poor.
By Robert Lee Hotz
Times Staff Writer
February 11, 2007
NEW YORK — On any sunny day, thousands flock to Manhattan's Bryant Park, lured by the shaded flower beds, the carousel, the free wireless Internet and the hundreds of comfortable cafe chairs all painted the same soothing shade of ivy green.
Not even the cold can keep them away. Since October, 148,000 people have visited the seven-acre city park to skate — for free — on what many consider New York's finest outdoor public ice rink.
To some, Bryant Park is a vibrant town square. Others argue it is merely a frame for product placements.
Supported entirely by commercial sponsors and fees, Bryant Park is an ambitious experiment in the private operation of public places, one that is being watched by urban planners and city managers worldwide.
The survival of urban parkland across the country depends heavily on private largesse. Parks in Atlanta, St. Louis and Boston are managed by nonprofit foundations. In San Diego, officials are considering a private conservancy to refurbish Balboa Park. Nonprofit groups may help manage aspects of the $2-billion restoration of the Los Angeles River.
On Wednesday, President Bush announced plans to seek $1 billion in private donations to spruce up the nation's 390 federal parks and monuments.
Most of the 1,400-acre Presidio in San Francisco already is managed by a nonprofit trust rather than directly by the National Park Service. The contract requires it to be self-supporting within five years.
Influence of the wealthy
But in New York, a city squeezed for open space, some activists worry that the public parks are becoming too private. They say wealthy donors may have influence over who gets access to park facilities, and efforts to make parks self-supporting can turn them into commercial developments. Civil libertarians worry that parks — New York's most democratic places — are becoming fiefs where political gatherings are discouraged.
Corporate donations, concession fees and funding plans linked to commercial development are feeding New York's most expansive park-building boom in decades.
Central Park — which gets five times as many visitors as the Grand Canyon every year — is the prototype. It is tended by a private conservancy with a staff of 300, aided by 1,300 volunteers. Donors raised $300 million to refurbish its 843 acres, and contribute $23 million a year to pay for upkeep.
With all that renovation, park planners also built in a double standard, activists say.
To protect the park's new grass, officials denied permits to antiwar groups that wanted to use the 13-acre Great Lawn for protests during the 2004 Republican National Convention, prompting lawsuits and public hearings. The New York Philharmonic and Metropolitan Opera, however, use the same space for free summer concerts every year.
"If you walk south from Central Park, every public park you encounter is under some form of private management," said Christian DiPalermo, executive director of New Yorkers for Parks, an independent citizens watchdog group.
The trend began in the 1980s as a rescue effort, with neighborhoods and business-improvement districts banding together to save parks that were decaying from government neglect.
Parks, not backyards
In few cities are people quite so passionate about public spaces.
"Unlike most cities, people in New York do not have backyards," Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe said. "People are absolutely dependent on parks."
All told, New York has more of its acreage in parkland than any other major city, almost a third more than Los Angeles, according to the Trust for Public Land. By Benepe's calculation, annual city spending on parks approaches $1 billion.
Still, Benepe said, "It is precisely when parks are doing well that you want to rope people in and secure the friendship and support of private citizens.
"There is no such thing as too much money."
In that spirit, New York officials are promoting two major waterfront park projects on the condition that they pay for themselves, with space set aside on public land for stores, restaurants, luxury condominiums and, in one instance, a hotel.
The 550-acre Hudson River Park is the largest open-space development in the city since the completion of Central Park, and the 1.3-mile-long Brooklyn Bridge Park would be the first major park built in the borough since 1843. Critics worry that they will become commercial malls in all but name.
At the moment, officials with the Hudson River Park Trust are weighing whether to use space for a public high school and playing fields or an entertainment complex with restaurants, a nightclub, a movie theater, a 3,500-seat event center and a performance space for Cirque du Soleil.
But as New York outsources management of its public spaces, activists and City Council members say, the result may be two park systems — one funded by wealthy neighborhoods and business districts, and the other in less-affluent areas shortchanged by wavering public support.
"This is an insidious thing," said Judi Francis, president of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Defense Fund. She has sued over plans to build 1,000 high-rise apartments on the Brooklyn parkland to subsidize its upkeep. "As soon as you ask a park to pay for itself, you will not have parks in poor neighborhoods," Francis said.
Community leaders worry that residents most in need may lose their local parks to those who can pay for the privilege.
On Wednesday, city officials are expected to vote on a plan to give 20 of Manhattan's wealthiest private schools exclusive after-school access to dozens of public ball fields, rather than allow them to be used by nearby public schools in East Harlem and South Bronx. The private schools would pay more than $2 million a year to use the 63 fields for 20 years.
But to Daniel A. Biederman, executive director of the Bryant Park Corp., it is public money that can't be trusted.
Alone among New York City's 1,800 parks, Bryant Park accepts none. Almost half of its $6.1 million in annual revenue comes from companies that advertise by sponsoring events — including HBO, the New York Yankees, "Good Morning America," Google and CitiGroup (which pays for the park's popular skating rink).
The park today runs in the black, even though Biederman spends six times as much on maintenance as the parks department once did.
"Some people claim this is a bargain with the devil," Harvard University urban design expert Jerold Kayden said. "Some people say we need the devil."
And in Bryant Park, the devil does wear Prada.
Last month, the skaters were banished and the public rink dismantled for the season. The six-acre lawn was covered by private pavilions, then blocked off by barricades.
Logos, not flowers
After weeks of preparations, Bryant Park was turned into the gated community of Fashion Week. Its Parisian-style promenades snarled by power cables, its tree-lined side streets blocked by growling power generators and double-parked limos, Bryant Park last week was an invitation-only eyesore where commercial logos bloomed instead of flowers.
Park managers would like to evict Fashion Week and keep the park open to the public, but city officials overrule them every year.
"They pay us a million dollars. It's a million dollars I would happily do without," Biederman said.
The New York Times
Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company
February 27, 2007
Honeybees Vanish, Leaving Keepers in Peril
By ALEXEI BARRIONUEVO
VISALIA, Calif., Feb. 23 — David Bradshaw has endured countless stings during his life as a beekeeper, but he got the shock of his career when he opened his boxes last month and found half of his 100 million bees missing.
In 24 states throughout the country, beekeepers have gone through similar shocks as their bees have been disappearing inexplicably at an alarming rate, threatening not only their livelihoods but also the production of numerous crops, including California almonds, one of the nation’s most profitable.
“I have never seen anything like it,” Mr. Bradshaw, 50, said from an almond orchard here beginning to bloom. “Box after box after box are just empty. There’s nobody home.”
The sudden mysterious losses are highlighting the critical link that honeybees play in the long chain that gets fruit and vegetables to supermarkets and dinner tables across the country.
Beekeepers have fought regional bee crises before, but this is the first national affliction.
Now, in a mystery worthy of Agatha Christie, bees are flying off in search of pollen and nectar and simply never returning to their colonies. And nobody knows why. Researchers say the bees are presumably dying in the fields, perhaps becoming exhausted or simply disoriented and eventually falling victim to the cold.
As researchers scramble to find answers to the syndrome they have decided to call “colony collapse disorder,” growers are becoming openly nervous about the capability of the commercial bee industry to meet the growing demand for bees to pollinate dozens of crops, from almonds to avocados to kiwis. (Emphasis added)
Along with recent stresses on the bees themselves, as well as on an industry increasingly under consolidation, some fear this disorder may force a breaking point for even large beekeepers.
A Cornell University study has estimated that honeybees annually pollinate more than $14 billion worth of seeds and crops in the United States, mostly fruits, vegetables and nuts. “Every third bite we consume in our diet is dependent on a honeybee to pollinate that food,” said Zac Browning, vice president of the American Beekeeping Federation.
The bee losses are ranging from 30 to 60 percent on the West Coast, with some beekeepers on the East Coast and in Texas reporting losses of more than 70 percent; beekeepers consider a loss of up to 20 percent in the offseason to be normal.
Beekeepers are the nomads of the agriculture world, working in obscurity in their white protective suits and frequently trekking around the country with their insects packed into 18-wheelers, looking for pollination work.
Once the domain of hobbyists with a handful of backyard hives, beekeeping has become increasingly commercial and consolidated. Over the last two decades, the number of beehives, now estimated by the Agriculture Department to be 2.4 million, has dropped by a quarter and the number of beekeepers by half.
Pressure has been building on the bee industry. The costs to maintain hives, also known as colonies, are rising along with the strain on bees of being bred to pollinate rather than just make honey. And beekeepers are losing out to suburban sprawl in their quest for spots where bees can forage for nectar to stay healthy and strong during the pollination season.
“There are less beekeepers, less bees, yet more crops to pollinate,” Mr. Browning said. “While this sounds sweet for the bee business, with so much added loss and expense due to disease, pests and higher equipment costs, profitability is actually falling.”
Some 15 worried beekeepers convened in Florida this month to brainstorm with researchers how to cope with the extensive bee losses. Investigators are exploring a range of theories, including viruses, a fungus and poor bee nutrition.
They are also studying a group of pesticides that were banned in some European countries to see if they are somehow affecting bees’ innate ability to find their way back home.
It could just be that the bees are stressed out. Bees are being raised to survive a shorter offseason, to be ready to pollinate once the almond bloom begins in February. That has most likely lowered their immunity to viruses.
Mites have also damaged bee colonies, and the insecticides used to try to kill mites are harming the ability of queen bees to spawn as many worker bees. The queens are living half as long as they did just a few years ago.
Researchers are also concerned that the willingness of beekeepers to truck their colonies from coast to coast could be adding to bees’ stress, helping to spread viruses and mites and otherwise accelerating whatever is afflicting them.
Dennis van Engelsdorp, a bee specialist with the state of Pennsylvania who is part of the team studying the bee colony collapses, said the “strong immune suppression” investigators have observed “could be the AIDS of the bee industry,” making bees more susceptible to other diseases that eventually kill them off.
Growers have tried before to do without bees. In past decades, they have used everything from giant blowers to helicopters to mortar shells to try to spread pollen across the plants. More recently researchers have been trying to develop “self-compatible” almond trees that will require fewer bees. One company is even trying to commercialize the blue orchard bee, which is virtually stingless and works at colder temperatures than the honeybee.
Beekeepers have endured two major mite infestations since the 1980s, which felled many hobbyist beekeepers, and three cases of unexplained disappearing disorders as far back as 1894. But those episodes were confined to small areas, Mr. van Engelsdorp said.
Today the industry is in a weaker position to deal with new stresses. A flood of imported honey from China and Argentina has depressed honey prices and put more pressure on beekeepers to take to the road in search of pollination contracts. Beekeepers are trucking tens of billions of bees around the country every year.
California’s almond crop, by far the biggest in the world, now draws more than half of the country’s bee colonies in February. The crop has been both a boon to commercial beekeeping and a burden, as pressure mounts for the industry to fill growing demand. Now spread over 580,000 acres stretched across 300 miles of California’s Central Valley, the crop is expected to grow to 680,000 acres by 2010.
Beekeepers now earn many times more renting their bees out to pollinate crops than in producing honey. Two years ago a lack of bees for the California almond crop caused bee rental prices to jump, drawing beekeepers from the East Coast.
This year the price for a bee colony is about $135, up from $55 in 2004, said Joe Traynor, a bee broker in Bakersfield, Calif.
A typical bee colony ranges from 15,000 to 30,000 bees. But beekeepers’ costs are also on the rise. In the past decade, fuel, equipment and even bee boxes have doubled and tripled in price.
The cost to control mites has also risen, along with the price of queen bees, which cost about $15 each, up from $10 three years ago.
To give bees energy while they are pollinating, beekeepers now feed them protein supplements and a liquid mix of sucrose and corn syrup carried in tanker-sized trucks costing $12,000 per load. Over all, Mr. Bradshaw figures, in recent years he has spent $145 a hive annually to keep his bees alive, for a profit of about $11 a hive, not including labor expenses. The last three years his net income has averaged $30,000 a year from his 4,200 bee colonies, he said.
“A couple of farmers have asked me, ‘Why are you doing this?’ ” Mr. Bradshaw said. “I ask myself the same thing. But it is a job I like. It is a lifestyle. I work with my dad every day. And now my son is starting to work with us.”
Almonds fetch the highest prices for bees, but if there aren’t enough bees to go around, some growers may be forced to seek alternatives to bees or change their variety of trees.
“It would be nice to know that we have a dependable source of honey bees,” said Martin Hein, an almond grower based in Visalia. “But at this point I don’t know that we have that for the amount of acres we have got.”
To cope with the losses, beekeepers have been scouring elsewhere for bees to fulfill their contracts with growers. Lance Sundberg, a beekeeper from Columbus, Mont., said he spent $150,000 in the last two weeks buying 1,000 packages of bees — amounting to 14 million bees — from Australia.
He is hoping the Aussie bees will help offset the loss of one-third of the 7,600 hives he manages in six states. “The fear is that when we mix the bees the die-offs will continue to occur,” Mr. Sundberg said.
Migratory beekeeping is a lonely life that many compare to truck driving. Mr. Sundberg spends more than half the year driving 20 truckloads of bees around the country. In Terra Bella, an hour south of Visalia, Jack Brumley grimaced from inside his equipment shed as he watched Rosa Patiño use a flat tool to scrape dried honey from dozens of beehive frames that once held bees. Some 2,000 empty boxes — which once held one-third of his total hives — were stacked to the roof.
Beekeepers must often plead with landowners to allow bees to be placed on their land to forage for nectar. One large citrus grower has pushed for California to institute a “no-fly zone” for bees of at least two miles to prevent them from pollinating a seedless form of Mandarin orange.
But the quality of forage might make a difference. Last week Mr. Bradshaw used a forklift to remove some of his bee colonies from a spot across a riverbed from orange groves. Only three of the 64 colonies there have died or disappeared.
“It will probably take me two to three more years to get back up,” he said. “Unless I spend gobs of money I don’t have.”
Copyright 2006 Los Angeles Times
The work of a federal risk-assessment center is guided by a company with manufacturing ties. Some scientists see bias.
By Marla Cone
Times Staff Writer
March 4, 2007
For nearly a decade, a federal agency has been responsible for assessing the dangers that chemicals pose to reproductive health. But much of the agency's work has been conducted by a private consulting company that has close ties to the chemical industry, including manufacturers of a compound in plastics that has been linked to reproductive damage.
In 1998, the Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction was established within the National Institutes of Health to assess the dangers of chemicals and help determine which ones should be regulated. Sciences International, an Alexandria, Va., consulting firm that has been funded by more than 50 industrial companies, has played a key role in the center's activities, reviewing the risks of chemicals, preparing reports, and helping select members of its scientific review panel and setting their agendas, according to government and company documents.
The company produces the first draft of the center's reports on the risks of chemicals, including a new one on bisphenol A, a widely used compound in polycarbonate plastic food containers, including baby bottles, as well as lining for food cans.
The center's work is considered important to public health because people are exposed to hundreds of chemicals that have been shown to skew the reproductive systems of newborn lab animals and could be causing similar damage in humans. Chemical companies and industry groups have staunchly opposed regulation of the compounds and have developed their own research to dispute studies by government and university scientists.
The bisphenol A report, which some scientists say has a pro-industry bias, is a public document scheduled for review by the center's scientific panel on Monday. Employees of Sciences International involved in writing it will preside over the meeting.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles) in a Wednesday letter called for an explanation of the company's role and disclosure of its potential conflicts of interest before the panel convenes Monday. Boxer chairs the Senate's environmental committee and Waxman chairs the House's government oversight and reform committee.
Sciences International executives declined to comment to The Times, referring all questions to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
Michael Shelby, director of the federal reproductive health center, which is based in North Carolina's Research Triangle Park, also declined to discuss Sciences International.
But Robin Mackar, a spokeswoman for the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, which oversees the reproductive center, said Sciences International "has worked for the center since 1998 without any problems" and has participated in reports on 17 chemicals.
"These contractors have no decision-making or analytical responsibilities," she said.
But according to company and government websites and Federal Register documents, Sciences International is involved in management and plays a principal scientific investigative role at the federal center. The company has a $5-million contract with the center, according to an NIEHS document.
"The most significant project at our firm is the management of the National Toxicology Program's Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction," the Sciences International website says. It says half its clients are from the private sector, but its health studies are independent and it "is proud of its reputation for objective science."
Its current website contains no list of industry clients. But a 2006 version names BASF and Dow Chemical — which manufacture the plastics compound BPA — as well as DuPont, Chevron, ExxonMobil, 3-M, Union Carbide, the National Assn. of Manufacturers, and 45 other manufacturing companies and industry groups.
In 1999, Sciences International represented R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. in fighting an Environmental Protection Agency proposal to regulate a pesticide used on tobacco crops. In 2004, its vice president, Dr. Anthony Scialli, who is identified as the federal center's "principal investigator," co-wrote a study with a Dow Chemical Co. researcher on how to extrapolate data from animal tests to humans.
In addition, another Sciences International employee who works at the federal agency, Gloria Jahnke, has collaborated nine times on chemicals research with another company that gets funding from the plastics industry, according to a Times review of medical publications.
Sciences International's president boasted about its close collaboration with the federal reproductive health center, as well as the EPA and other federal agencies, in a letter soliciting R.J. Reynolds as a client in 1999.
Signed by company founder Elizabeth Anderson, the letter stated that Sciences International "serves the private sector, including many trade associations, on a wide range of health and risk assessment issues. However, we are different from most other consulting firms in that we also currently serve government agencies," which, the letter said, gives the company "a unique credibility to negotiate with regulators on behalf of our private sector clients."
The role of Sciences International in the federal center's work came to the attention of Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit advocacy group focused on environmental health, last month after some scientists who saw the report on BPA complained that it was biased toward the industry's position that low doses have no effect.
"We are unaware of any other instance in which nearly all of the functions of a public health agency have been outsourced to a private entity," wrote Richard Wiles, the working group's executive director, in a letter to the director of the NIH's National Toxicology Program, which runs the reproductive health center. "Questions about the objectivity and adequacy of this review process and the reviewers must be resolved before a final decision on BPA is reached."
Debate over BPA is one of the most contentious environmental health issues faced by government and industry. Traces are found in the bodies of nearly all Americans tested, and low levels — similar to amounts that can leach from infant and water bottles — mimic estrogen and have caused genetic changes in animals that lead to prostate cancer, as well as decreased testosterone, low sperm counts and signs of early female puberty, according to more than 100 government-funded studies. About a dozen industry-funded studies found no effects.
Fred vom Saal, a University of Missouri-Columbia scientist conducting NIH-funded BPA research, said the draft report written by Sciences International downplays the risks of the plastics chemical and makes critical mistakes.
"It's a combination of inaccurate information and blatant bias as it exists in its draft form," vom Saal said. "They specifically ignore fatal flaws in industry-sponsored publications." He said the 300-page report misrepresented government-funded studies that found effects by inaccurately portraying their findings, and failed to note industry funding of some studies cited.
Shelby, the center's director, in a late February memo to the Environmental Working Group, said Sciences International reviews the scientific literature on chemicals and writes the basic reports, but that conclusions are prepared by the center's panel of independent scientists, which "serves to minimize or eliminate any bias that might possibly be introduced by the contractor."
Shelby wrote that there are no requirements for Sciences International or other contractors to disclose financial conflicts of interest.
Mackar, of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, said the chemical reviews are "all open and public" and "we're confident in our scientific panel."
But Vom Saal said that although the scientific panel includes many good, independent scientists, "none of them have expertise with this chemical."
A Federal Register document describing the center's creation in 1998 said scientists from Sciences International and the center "constitute a core committee" that "selects the expert panel membership and establishes the meeting agenda."