Over Easy: The Honeybee Crisis
According to statistics released by the US Department of Agriculture earlier this month, 31 percent of the managed honeybee colonies died in the winter. Since fruiting is dependent on fertilization, a result of pollination, honeybee decline can impact agriculture. We can directly link honeybees to one out of every three bites of food that we put on our table.
Western nations rely heavily on managed honeybees—the “moveable force” of bees that ride in trucks from farm to farm—to keep commercial agriculture productive. About a third of our foods (some 100 key crops) rely on these insects, including apples, nuts, all the favorite summer fruits (like blueberries and strawberries), alfalfa (which cows eat), and guar bean (used in all kinds of products). In total, bees contribute more than $15 billion to U.S. crop production, hardly small potatoes.
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) explains that Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is a hive condition where “very low or no adult honey bees present in the hive but with a live queen and no dead honey bee bodies present.” According to interviews of beekeepers in the documentaries, this condition can occur within a matter of a few hours.
The USDA further suggests that possible causes of colony decline could be due to unusually warm winter, bee diet (ie: protein, in particular), or cyclic disease, but also states that scientific connections are lacking for the theories. While the European Commission (EU) has ” has banned the pesticides associated with colony collapse disorder in bees,” the US has not done so yet. Oddly, the report contains this statement:
A comprehensive and sensitive analytical survey was done for the presence of 200 pesticides in bee, comb, and pollen samples from 23 states. No specific pattern of pesticide residues emerged that correlates with honey bee deaths March 2010
To be precise, the study linked in the statement says this:
The 98 pesticides and metabolites detected in mixtures up to 214 ppm in bee pollen alone represents a remarkably high level for toxicants in the brood and adult food of this primary pollinator. This represents over half of the maximum individual pesticide incidences ever reported for apiaries. While exposure to many of these neurotoxicants elicits acute and sublethal reductions in honey bee fitness, the effects of these materials in combinations and their direct association with CCD or declining bee health remains to be determined.
Will we fund or ignore the “remains to be determined” part? Would it surprise you at all to learn that yesterday, three large agrichemical pesticide companies came forward with plans to fund research for bee decline?
Bayer and Sygenta “produce neonicotinoids,” and Monsanto uses the pesticides to coat seeds. These pesticides have been banned in Europe, as mentioned above. From wiki: “Neonicotinoids are a class of neuro-active insecticides chemically related to nicotine. The development of this class of insecticides began with work in the 1980s by Shell and the 1990s by Bayer.”
Leo Tolstoy said, “The closer we examine the honeybee, the more we realize the workings of a beehive encompass territories beyond our comprehension.” USDA bee laboratory scientist Dr. Jeffrey Pettis explains in Vanishing of the Bees that CCD is difficult to study because there are no bee corpses to examine when a colony literally vanishes. (video at 15:30). So far, scientists have investigated, and eliminated as possibilities, several microbial and viral suspects. Haunting how accurate Tolstoy’s quote really was. But what is maybe even more haunting is that the beehive workings will be studied with funds that have direct interest in the outcome of the research.
One of the scientists in the documentary reveals other suggestions for honeybee decline, that he has received in his email, including cell phones, the Rapture, Outer Space, and the ‘Russians-have-implanted-genes-and-they-are-beaming-them-from-satellite.’ While the scientist is confident that the persistent cell phone tower rumor is now known nonsense, he does say that the issue of genetically modified crops, while scientists have observed no direct evidence, deserves a bit more attention.
What saddens in the documentary is that we have exploited the honeybee, with factory farming practices such as feeding the bees empty sugar calories, killing the queens and replacing them with younger queens introduced in cages, and artificial insemination, with the likes of a scientist’s backward after-remark, “She looks a little rough, but she’ll come around.” There have been only too few, it seems, efforts at returning the bees to their natural state. When bees disappear, it’s wrong- surely some basic humanity instinct still exists in all of us.
Vanishing of the Bees full documentary:
BBC Documentary titled Who Killed the Honeybee?
The US rejects Europe’s banning of these chemicals:
US rejects EU claim of insecticide as prime reason for bee colony collapse
“Government study points to a combination of factors for decline in population, breaking away from singling out pesticides”
“This is a difficult, high stakes battle,” said Peter Jenkins, a lawyer with the Center for Food Safety, which sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in March on behalf of a group of U.S. beekeepers and environmental and consumer groups over what they say is a lack of sound regulation of the pesticides in question.
“They may have a lot of money. But… we’re going to win,” Jenkins said.