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Mysterious bee disappearance may sting crops

Talk about buzzing off.

Honeybees by the billions have mysteriously vanished across the United States this year, leaving researchers and beekeepers baffled by the empty hives--and farmers wondering what's going to pollinate the $15 billion worth of agricultural products that depend on the worker bees to get the job done.

While previous years have seen swarms of bees die off, scientists say they have never seen losses like those reported this year. Researchers have offered various theories--increased pesticide use among them--but nothing has been confirmed as the cause of the massive bee deaths.

In California, where the bee disappearances are threatening an estimated $6 billion of crops, one insurance administrator is calling on the state to tackle the issue.

"Year 2007 could be an economic disaster for California growers unless the problem is identified, and solutions found, immediately," said Joe Wheeler, vp of Ontario, Calif.-based Self Insured Solutions L.L.C., which manages four agricultural self-insured workers compensation groups in the state.

"That's why we've called on Sacramento to act. Washington moves too slowly, and is too focused on other issues, to care about California's agricultural industry."

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that one-third of the nation's diet is reliant on insect crop pollination. Without the bees, researchers predict a massive food shortage and losses in the billions for farmers.

RIMS attendees aid cleanup of City Park

Participants gave of their time and sweat to clean up Hurricane Katrina damage in New Orleans as part of the Risk & Insurance Management Society Inc.'s first Community Service Day.

Buses that transported volunteers to City Park were filled to capacity on the morning of April 29, when nearly 400 risk managers and other industry professionals rolled up their sleeves to help the community clean up some of the debris and damage still left by the 2005 storm.

"I'm planning to get a little dirty," said RIMS President Michael Liebowitz, who shortened the annual House of Delegates meeting so he and others could participate in the event, which was sponsored by Chicago-based broker Aon Corp.

"They've gone through a really horrible time," said Mr. Liebowitz during an interview the day before the New Orleans cleanup.

"We would be remiss as representatives of the risk management profession if we couldn't give something back to the city," he said.

"New Orleans has a special place for us in our hearts because it was the site of the first RIMS conference," Mr. Liebowitz said.

The Big Easy has hosted the annual RIMS conference seven times, including this year.

With guidance from City Park New Orleans and Service International Inc.--the two organizations responsible for the park's maintenance--RIMS volunteers were assigned to clean up the gardens, playgrounds, nature trails, golf courses, tennis courts, fountains and pavilions that were either damaged or destroyed by Katrina.

The event was a rewarding experience, said Dave Dolnick, risk manager for Brady Cos., a commercial construction company in La Mesa, Calif.

"It was extraordinarily well-organized. It was hot, dusty, dirty and a whole lot of fun. And worth every second of it," Mr. Dolnick said. "It feels good to be able to give back."

Lott settles Katrina claim

Some people won't take no for answer.

That's often the case when there's a dispute over an insurance claim, and heaven knows there were quite a few of those in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

But while some people won't take no for an answer, not all of them have the clout of one unhappy homeowner by the name of Chester T. Lott Sr.

Mr. Lott, better known as former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., not only sued State Farm Fire & Casualty Co. after it declined to pay for severe hurricane damage sustained by his house in Pascagoula, Miss., he decided to take on the whole insurance industry.

Sen. Lott did so by co-sponsoring legislation earlier this year that would repeal the insurance industry's limited exemption from federal antitrust law provided by the McCarran-Ferguson Act of 1945. Although the bill has yet to be voted on by a subcommittee, its mere existence has caused no little heartburn in some industry quarters.

Meanwhile, Sen. Lott's lawyer announced last week that the lawmaker had reached an agreement in principle to settle his dispute with State Farm for an undisclosed sum.

So far, there's no indication that a check will also settle his dispute with the insurance industry as whole.

Brokers march to New Orleans bands' rescue

Aon Corp. has donated funds to help purchase instruments and uniforms for the marching band of Warren Easton Senior High School, which says it is New Orleans' oldest public high school.

The high school's band marched to an Aon event held last week in the Big Easy for the Risk & Insurance Management Society Inc.'s annual conference.

Meanwhile, Marsh Inc. donated $50,000 to support the efforts of Tipitina's Foundation to rebuild New Orleans' music culture.

Tipitina's Foundation earmarked the Marsh contribution to help provide new instruments and uniforms for some of the city's high school bands.

Contributing: Roberto Ceniceros, Louise Esola, Mark A. Hofmann, Joanne Wojcik