FRESNO, Calif. (CN) – More than 11 million bees died because farm workers were scared to cover them with tarps and protect them from pesticides, an apiarist claims in court.
Moore’s Apiaries, of Stanislaus County, claims Mendota-based Pappas & Company destroyed 240 hives by smashing 20 with farm equipment and killing the rest with pesticides. Its owner Gary Moore sued Pappas & Co., 16 affiliates and its owner on July 31 in Superior Court.
Pappas rented 240 beehives to pollinate his cantaloupes, honeydew, watermelons, corn and broccoli, Moore says. Each hive holds 60,000 to 80,000 bees.
The 20 hives smashed by equipment contained more than 1 million bees, and the 220 poisoned hives 11 million to 17 million, Moore says in the complaint.
Bees pollinate about 80 percent of the world’s crops, including 70 percent of the top 100 food crops, according to farm and environmental organizations. Forty percent of the United States’ 2.4 million hives are used to pollinate California’s almond crops alone.
About one-third of the food Americans eat is directly or indirectly derived from honey bee pollination, according to the American Beekeeping Federation.
Bees have suffered devastating losses in recent years from colony collapse disorder, which has wiped out as many as 90 percent or more of some apiarists’ hives. Some entomologists blame the disaster on nicotine-based pesticides.
As the colony collapse began, around 2011, bees pollinated $14.6 billion worth of U.S. crops, the Beekeeping Federation said. A single hive can pollinate as many as 30 million flowers a day.
Moore’s estimate of the number of bees he lost to Pappas’ pesticides is based on the average population of a healthy hive, his attorney Elizabeth Waldow said.
“Some beekeepers that provide hives have minimal numbers of trays and minimal numbers of bees, but Mr. Moore is very proud of the health of his hives and the abundance of his bees in them. Eleven million is probably a conservative estimate,” said Waldow, with Borton Petrini of Fresno.
Pappas did not warn Moore that his bees would be in danger of pesticide exposure, nor did it give him a chance to remove the hives before they were exposed to the pesticides, the complaint states.
An employee identified as “Augie” told Moore the “bees were ‘so strong’ the workers were afraid to place tarps over them prior to the application of pesticides to the agricultural fields,” the complaint states.
Moore says that Pappas knew the pesticides were dangerous and would kill the bees.
Even the bees that were covered were in danger because the coverings had become so contaminated with pesticides, Moore says.
Losing so many hives left him unable to meet his bee rental agreements to pollinate nut and fruit trees in late 2014 and early 2015, the complaint says.
“Worker bees don’t have a very extensive lifespan, but they feed and nurture the queen,” Waldow said. “Once you’ve killed the workers, then you’ve killed the queen of the hive. And that impacted Moore’s ability to provide high rentals for pollination, impacted his ability to sell honey, and his ability to provide excess queens and bees for resale as bee packages.”
Moore also had to spend money to buy replacement bees and rebuild the hives that were mechanically destroyed. Pappas & Company did not immediately respond to a request for comment late Tuesday.
Worker bees live an average of six to eight weeks during the summer and usually die from wearing out their wings. During their life, they fly an equivalent of 1.5 times the circumference of the earth and produce 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey.
The number of U.S. hives has sunk from 6 million in 1947 to 2.4 million today, according to the Beekeeping Federation, which cites federal statistics.
Two-thirds of U.S. hives travel the country to pollinate crops and produce honey and beeswax.
Moore seeks damages for negligence, strict liability, products liability, premises liability, violations of California agriculture laws, the tort of ultrahazardous activity, and failure to warn.
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