Albert Einstein once said: “If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live. No more bees, no more pollination … no more men!”
Anyone who’s been stung by a bee knows they can inflict an outsized pain for such tiny insects. It makes a strange kind of sense, then, that their demise would create an outsized problem for the food system by placing the more than 70 crops they pollinate — from almonds to apples to blueberries — in peril. Although news about Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) has died down, commercial beekeepers have seen average population losses of about 30 percent each year since 2006, said Paul Towers, of the Pesticide Action Network. Towers was one of the organizers of a conference that brought together beekeepers and environmental groups this week to tackle the challenges facing the beekeeping industry and the agricultural economy by proxy.
“We are inching our way toward a critical tipping point,” said Steve Ellis, secretary of the National Honey Bee Advisory Board (NHBAB) and a beekeeper for 35 years. Last year he had so many abnormal bee die-offs that he’ll qualify for disaster relief from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). In addition to continued reports of CCD — a still somewhat mysterious phenomenon in which entire bee colonies literally disappear, alien-abduction style, leaving not even their dead bodies behind — bee populations are suffering poor health in general, and experiencing shorter life spans and diminished vitality. And while parasites, pathogens, and habitat loss can deal blows to bee health, research increasingly points to pesticides as the primary culprit.” In the industry we believe pesticides play an important role in what’s going on,” said Dave Hackenberg, co-chair of the NHBAB and a beekeeper in Pennsylvania.
Instead of being sprayed, neonics are used to treat seeds, so that they’re absorbed by the plant’s vascular system, and then end up attacking the central nervous systems of bees that come to collect pollen. Virtually all of today’s genetically engineered Bt corn is treated with neonics. The chemical industry alleges that bees don’t like to collect corn pollen, but new research shows that not only do bees indeed forage in corn, but they also have multiple other routes of exposure to neonics.
Evidence already pointed to the presence of neonic-contaminated pollen as a factor in CCD. As Hackenberg explained, “The insects start taking [the pesticide] home, and it contaminates everywhere the insect came from.” These new revelations about the pervasiveness of neonics in bees’ habitats only strengthen the case against using the insecticides.
The irony, of course, is that farmers use these chemicals to protect their crops from destructive insects, but in so doing, they harm other insects essential to their crops’ production — a catch-22 that Hackenberg said speaks to the fact that “we have become a nation driven by the chemical industry.” In addition to beekeeping, he owns two farms, and even when crop analysts recommend spraying pesticides on his crops to kill an aphid population, for example, he knows that “if I spray, I’m going to kill all the beneficial insects.” But most farmers, lacking Hackenberg’s awareness of bee populations, follow the advice of the crop adviser — who, these days, is likely to be paid by the chemical industry, rather than by a state university or another independent entity.
Beekeepers have already teamed up with groups representing the almond and blueberry industries — both of which depend on honey bee pollination — to tackle the need for education among farmers. “A lot of [farm groups] are recognizing that we need more resources devoted to pollinator protection,” Ellis said. “We need that same level of commitment on a national basis, from our USDA and EPA and the agricultural chemical industry.”
Unfortunately, it was the EPA itself that green-lit clothianidin and other neonics for commercial use, despite its own scientists’ clear warnings about the chemicals’ effects on bees and other pollinators. That doesn’t bode well for the chances of getting neonics off the market now, even in light of the Purdue study’s findings.
“The agency has, in most cases, sided with pesticide manufacturers and worked to fast-track the approval of new products, and failed in cases when there’s clear evidence of harm to take those products off the market,” Towers said.
Since this is an election year — a time when no one wants to make Big Ag (and its money) mad — beekeepers may have to suffer another season of losses before there’s any hope of action on the EPA’s part. But when one out of every three bites of food on Americans’ plates results directly from honey bee pollination, there’s no question that the fate of these insects will determine our own as eaters.
Ellis, for his part, thinks that figuring out a way to solve the bee crisis could be a catalyst for larger reform within our agriculture system. “If we can protect that pollinator base, it’s going to have ripple effects … for wildlife, for human health,” he said. “It will bring up subjects that need to be looked at, of groundwater and surface water — all the connected subjects associated [with] chemical use and agriculture.”
Claire Thompson is an editorial assistant at Grist.
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“It would not surprise me at all if the future of the honeybee itself is in urban beekeeping,” he says, “It would not surprise me at all
For those not familiar with the problem with bees, the threat is Colony Collapse Disorder: a phenomenon wherehoneybees worldwide are disappearing. No one knows the cause though some point to a combination of pests and environmental pathogens like pesticides and GM crops.
The secret of urban bees Waibel thinks the solution could be urban bee hives and he’s not alone. French beekeeper’s association Unaf found that urban bees are up to four times as productive as their rural cousins because they have a wider variety of plant life for pollination and aren’t exposed to pesticides like their country counterparts.
It seems the plight of the bees has politicized urban homesteaders to do their part. “Urban beekeeping I would say it’s increased at least 3 or 4 fold over the last 3 years.” And he says this jump in beekeeping enthusiasm merged neatly with press coverage of Colony Collapse Disorder and increased public perception in the importance of honeybees.
Langstroth hives and mead-making goods – to arm all these newly recruited urban warriors, Her Majesty’s Secret Beekeeper sells beekeeping supplies like protective suits, combs and hives, mostly Langstroth equipment (“The standard equipment in the United States… named after the Reverend Lorenzo Langstroth who used the discovery of beespace to invent this moveable frame hive.”)
In this video, Waibel gives us a tour of the store’s supplies (which include hyperlocal honey, beeswax soap and cosmetics and mead- (honey wine) making equipment. He also talks about how, to his surprise, his personal urban bee hives are doing better than those of his father in Michigan farm country.
If this video inspired & motivated you to help in re-colonizing the Bee population, you may inquire from your local Beekeeping farms – BeeCulture.com and see if there are any “Urban Save The Bees Programs” that you may volunteer & participate in Bee repopulation.
To ALL Beekeepers – please feel free to post on any available urban programs to assist in Saving The Bees! (requesting beekeepers to list their information & contact details on this blog).
Thank you 🙂
Other Related Videos:
- Vanishing Of The Bees – Official Trailer ~ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3giFDIRZIgEWebsite: http://www.vanishingbees.com/
Watch Full Documentary While it Last @http://www.movie2k.to/Vanishing-Of-The-Bees-watch-movie-695305.html
NOTE: X off the “Play Now” box and click on to the lower left hand corner > play arrow. Please watch & share. Bee well ♥
- Backyard Beekeeping