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Smiting The Mite To Save The Bees (And The Crops They Pollinate)

How do you like them apples, apricots, blueberries, almonds and peaches? They all depend on bees for pollination.

But over the last several years, a massive number of bee colonies have died, putting beekeepers, farmers and scientists in a bit of a panic.

They've come up with a lot of reasons why colonies are collapsing and dwindling.

But on Tuesday, Jeff Pettis, research leader of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Bee Research Laboratory, told a congressional subcommittee that there's one culprit that is almost certainly involved in the disaster. It's the varroa mite, a parasite that can weaken bees' immune system and infect them with viruses. His laboratory is now focused on fighting the mite.

"The costs of mite controls and replacing hives ... are all accumulating to the point where varroa mites are making beekeeping no longer financially viable in this country," Pettis said. "The beekeeper's best hope is research that can build better tools to reduce the size of the varroa mite problem."

Pettis says that those tools are now being created, thanks to some additional funding from Congress. And the President's FY 2015 budget proposes over $71 million for USDA alone to focus on the bees, he notes.

But some environmental advocacy groups say Pettis and other key players who could determine the bees' fate didn't give enough attention at the hearing to another prime suspect: pesticides, especially a category of insecticides called neonicotinoids.

"While some witnesses briefly addressed 'improper use' of pesticides for having detrimental impacts on pollinators, they failed to explain the full wealth of scientific knowledge on the subject," the Center for Food Safety said in a statement. "Neonicotinoids have been shown to weaken the immune systems of bees, which in turn exacerbates many of the other stressors the witnesses repeated pointed a finger to, such as the varroa mite and viruses."

As NPR's Sam Sanders reported Friday, tens of thousands of bees in California mysteriously died after they pollinated almond farms. The Environmental Protection Agency is looking into whether pesticides are to blame.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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The Role Of Music In Presidential Campaigns

Presidential candidates today frequently use popular pieces of music as campaign "theme songs"...often without approval from the musicians themselves. But using music on the campaign trail is not a modern phenomenon: it goes back to our earliest presidential elections. In the 1800s songs were used out of necessity: to reach potential voters who could not read. We investigate the history, evolution, and modern-day role of music in political campaigns.

NPR

From Dock To Dish: A New Model Connects Chefs To Local Fishermen

Prominent chefs are signing up for restaurant-supported fisheries: They commit to buying fresh-caught seafood, whatever the species, from local small fishermen. A pilot program launched in California.

WAMU 88.5

The Role Of Music In Presidential Campaigns

Presidential candidates today frequently use popular pieces of music as campaign "theme songs"...often without approval from the musicians themselves. But using music on the campaign trail is not a modern phenomenon: it goes back to our earliest presidential elections. In the 1800s songs were used out of necessity: to reach potential voters who could not read. We investigate the history, evolution, and modern-day role of music in political campaigns.

NPR

Yahoo CEO To Take Limited Leave After Giving Birth To Twins

NPR's Rachel Martin talks with Slate DoubleX Gabfest's Hanna Rosin about Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer's decision to take just two weeks worth of parental leave after having twins in December.

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