By Dr. Mercola
Honey bees are the angels of agriculture, but they're disappearing at a startling rate in a mysterious phenomenon dubbed Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).
Since 2007, North American honey bees are literally disappearing without a trace. There are no massive dead bee bodies appearing in or around the hives—the bees are simply GONE, bewildering beekeepers and scientists alike.
In fact, serious honey bee die-offs have been occurring around the world for the past decade. The U.S. and the U.K. both reported losing a third of their honey bees in 2010.
Italy lost half of theirs.
The die-offs have spread to China and India, in addition to many other countries. Environmental scientists are concerned that CCD reflects a far more serious problem than pollination—that it's an ominous sign of severe environmental crisis.
Bees provide pollination for crops, orchards and flowers, and make honey and wax for cosmetics, food and medicine. One of every three bites of food you eat depends on the honey bee. They pollinate at least 130 different crops in the U.S. alone, including fruits, vegetables and tree nuts.
Without honey bees, farmers would have to resort to pollinating their crops by hand.
According to a recent British report, replacing the pollination of food crops that bees do for free with hand pollination would cost the UK £1.8 billion per year. In the words of Michael Pollan:
"CCD is one of the signs--the unmistakable signs—that our food system is unsustainable… It's destroying the conditions upon which it depends. It has internal contradictions that will lead to breakdown."
The documentary film "Vanishing of the Bees" takes a piercing investigative look at the economic, political and ecological implications of the worldwide disappearance of the honey bee. Directors George Langworthy and Maryam Henein tell the story of Colony Collapse Disorder, as well as suggesting a platform of solutions. I strongly encourage you to watch this important film, which is being offered here in its entirety, FREE for a limited time.
Busy as a Bee
Honey bees represent one of the matriarchies of the insect kingdom. Colonies consist of one queen, lots and lots of male worker bees and a few male drones. Ninety-five percent of the worker bees are female. A healthy hive is occupied by a collection of overlapping generations. Tasks are divvied up according to age and colony needs via a very intricate system of communication:
- Younger worker bees (nurse bees) tend to the queen and the baby bees.
- Older worker bees forage for food and water for the colony, convert nectar into honey, construct wax cells and clean the cells, and guard the hive from invaders. Worker bees develop stingers to defend the eggs lain by the queen.
- Drones have only one purpose—to mate with the queen. In fact, the queen will leave her hive only once in her lifetime, in order to mate with several drones and store up enough sperm to last the rest of her life.i
Pollination is dependent on insects and the wind, and bees play an essential role. As they buzz around in flight, their hair develops static electricity. When a bee lands on a flower, this static charge attracts pollen to the bee like a magnet. Honey bees from one hive can visit more than 100,000 flowers in a single day—those bees really ARE busy!
Why are We Losing Our Bees?
Scientists have investigated a number of factors to help explain CCD and have offered a variety of explanations. The primary theory seems to be that Colony Collapse Disorder is caused by a variety of imbalances in the environment, secondary to current agricultural and industrial practices.
Bees are sensitive to the constant flood of manmade chemicals into their system, especially pesticides, many of which accumulate over time. Honey bee colonies are further stressed by the "factory farming" style of beekeeping employed by the commercial bee industry. They are being raised using unnatural practices, artificially inseminated, and fed cheap sugary nectarsubstitutes instead of their natural food.
It should be noted that the theory of cell phones causing the disappearance of bees has largely been dismissed. This theory reportedly originated from the misinterpretation of a German study, and then spread like wildfire.
Queens are "Knocked Out and Knocked Up"
In nature, queen bees live for up to five years, but workers and drones live for only a few weeks or months. Large commercial bee farms routinely kill the queen bee after only a few months by pinching off her head, and then replace her with a younger, artificially raised queen. In the film, it is suggested that artificial queen breeding is one of the primary factors causing the demise of the colonies.
Organic beekeepers say that artificial insemination is also to blame. The queen is "knocked out and knocked up." She is sedated with carbon dioxide and inseminated with semen from male drones, selected for traits, which narrows the gene pool.
The other problem is bee nutrition—or the lack thereof—in the commercial bee industry. Honey, which the bees make from natural rich plant nectar, is taken away from the hives and replaced with sugar syrup, which is completely lacking in nutrition.
All of these practices stress the honeybees' immune system. Weakened colonies are further stressed by being shipped across country or overseas, multiple times, to pollinate commercial crops—a practice which is unsustainable but made necessary due to dwindling local bee populations. Honeybee colonies are further damaged when they live near areas sprayed with pesticides and planted with GM crops, like Monsanto corn and soy. There is a great deal of evidence that the newer, systemic insecticides are fueling a virtual bee holocaust.
Are Bees Victims of the Agrichemical Industry?
The newer systemic insecticides, known as neonicotinoids, have become the fastest growing insecticides in the world. Two prominent examples, Imidacloprid and Clothianidin, are used as seed treatments in hundreds of crops.Virtually all of today's genetically engineered Bt corn is treated with neonicotinoids.
Bee colonies began disappearing in the U.S. shortly after the EPA allowed these new insecticides on the market. Even the EPA itself admits that "pesticide poisoning" is a likely cause of bee colony collapse.
These insecticides are highly toxic to bees because they are systemic, water soluble, and very pervasive. They get into the soil and groundwater where they can accumulate and remain for many years and present long-term toxicity to the hive. They enter the vascular system of the plant and are carried to all parts of it, as well as to the pollen and nectar. Neonicotinoids affect insects' central nervous systems in ways that are cumulative and irreversible. Even minute amounts can have profound effects over time. And the little bees are being exposed over and over again as pesticides become more necessary due to monoculture.
Monoculture is the growing of just one type of crop on a massive scale and is another variable contributing to CCD as there is no such thing as monoculture in nature!
Farmers used to be diversified… cows, pigs, chickens, and vegetables could be found on every farm. But today, fields of corn and soy stretch for hundreds of miles. Commercial bee farmers are no exception and have fallen prey to this agricultural model. Pests LOVE monoculture, so massive quantities of pesticides are required to crash the pest party. Beekeepers used to move beehives away from spray zones, but now this is nearly impossible. The chemicals seep into waterways, air, soil, and are incorporated into the plant itself, from the seed on up, as well as into adjacent fields.
Hives Now Show Increased Levels of Pesticide Contamination
A Purdue University studyii found multiple sources of pesticide exposure for honey bees living near agricultural fields, including high levels of Clothianidin in agricultural machinery exhaust, in the soil of unplanted fields near those planted with Bt corn, and on dandelions growing in those fields. The chemicals were also found in dead bees near hive entrances and in pollen stored in the hives.
"According to the new study, neonicotinoid insecticides 'are among the most widely used in the world, popular because they kill insects by paralyzing nerves but have lower toxicity for other animals.' Beekeepers immediately observed an increase in die-offs right around the time of corn planting using this particular kind of insecticide."
Jim Frazier from Penn State sampled hives from across the U.S. and found an average six pesticides in each hive, with one hive testing positive for 31 different pesticides, some of which are of the systemic varieties.iv
But how do we determine if it's the pesticides that are leading to CCD?
What makes it so tricky is that bees can display NO symptoms for many months after small pesticide exposures—sub-lethal exposures are hard to detect, in bees as in humans and other animals. Adverse consequences appear much later, making it difficult to connect the dots.
One of the observed effects of these insecticides is weakening of the bee's immune system.
Forager bees bring pesticide-laden pollen back to the hive, where it's consumed by all of the bees. Six months later, their immune systems fail, and they fall prey to natural bee infections, such as parasites, mites, viruses, fungi and bacteria. Indeed, pathogens such as Varroa mites, Nosemav , fungalvi and bacterial infections, and Israeli acute paralysis virusvii (IAPV) are found in large amounts in honey bee hives on the verge of collapse. In addition to immune dysfunction and opportunistic diseases, the honey bees also appear to suffer from neurological problems, disorientation, and impaired navigation.
A bee can't survive for more than 24 hours if she becomes disoriented and unable to find her way back to the hive.
Even our butterfliesviii are suffering at the hands of "pestitution"… to borrow the documentary's clever pun. A decline in the North American monarch butterfly population has been linked to increased plantings of herbicide-tolerant GM crops, and overuse of the herbicide glyphosate, which is the key chemical in Monsanto's Roundup. Glyphosate is killing milkweed plants, upon which monarchs rely for habitat and food.
Pesticides Cause Bees to Lose their Way...
A recent article in Science Newsix highlights the findings of two new bee studies, which found that even when the neonicotinoids don't kill the bees, they tend to lead to "delayed downturns in bee royalty and a subtle erosion of workforces."
"To simulate pesticide exposures that bumblebees might encounter when a field of canola blooms, entomologist Dave Goulson, of the University of Stirling in Scotland, and his colleagues fed 50 Bombus terrestris lab colonies nonfatal doses of the pesticide imidacloprid. After two weeks of eating spiked pollen and sugar water, bees were set outside and allowed to forage around the Stirling campus at will. By season's end, the pesticide-dosed colonies were an average of 8 percent to 12 percent smaller than 25 unexposed neighbor colonies," Science News reports. "More noticeably, the contaminated colonies managed to produce only about two young queens each. The other colonies averaged about 14."
Of course, Bayer CropScience, which markets imidacloprid, tries to downplay such findings. Ecotoxicologist David Fischer of Bayer CropScience pointed out that earlier research didn't find a decline in young queens, Science News reports. However, those earlier studies were done on constrained rather than free-flying bees, and Goulson reportedly replied to Fisher's objection by pointing out that "navigation isn't important when you live in a box."
Blamed for Bee Collapse, Monsanto Buys Leading Bee Research Firm
Genetic engineering of crops has also been blamed for dwindling bee populations. Monsanto, which is the leader in this type of biotechnology is likely none too pleased about the accusations, which, if found to be truthful through the dedicated application of research into the mystery, stands to lose just about everything—both their genetically engineered crop seeds and the pesticides/herbicides to go with them. It appears Monsanto has taken a proactive stance to the problem and is getting more involved—by purchasing one of the leading bee research firms... A recent Activist Post article reportsxxi :
"Recently banned from Poland with one of the primary reasons being that the company's genetically modified corn may be devastating the dying bee population, it is evident that Monsanto is under serious fire for their role in the downfall of the vital insects. It is therefore quite apparent why Monsanto bought one of the largest bee research firms on the planet.
It can be found in public company reports hosted on mainstream media that Monsanto scooped up the Beeologics firm back in September, 2011. During this time the correlation between Monsanto's GM crops and the bee decline was not explored in the mainstream, and in fact it was hardly touched upon until Polish officials addressed the serious concern amid the monumental ban.
Owning a major organization that focuses heavily on the bee collapse and is recognized by the USDA for their mission statement of "restoring bee health and protecting the future of insect pollination" could be very advantageous for Monsanto. In fact, Beelogics' company information states that the primary goal of the firm is to study the very collapse disorder that is thought to be a result — at least in part — of Monsanto's own creations."
It'll be interesting to see the results emerging from Beeologics in the future, with regards to Monsanto products and their impact on bee populations, now that Monsanto owns it lock stock and barrel...
Honey: Nectar of the Gods
Honey gathering has been a human tradition since Paleolithic times. Honey bees came to North America during the 17th Century alongside migrating humans, and have been an integral part of American culture ever since. Pure, natural, unfiltered raw honey has an abundance of medicinal and nutritional uses, including the following:
Honey's healing powersx come from components such as:
- Glucose oxidase: This is an enzyme that breaks down glucose and generates hydrogen peroxide, which has antimicrobial properties
- Methylglyoxal or MGO: This powerful antibacterial compound is only found in certain natural honeys (highest in Manuka honey, which is made by bees that feed off the flowers of the Manuka bush, a medicinal plant native to New Zealand)
- Bee Defensin 1:An antimicrobial peptide (AMP); this special protein is found in royal jelly (the food made especially for queen bee larvae)
Other identified AMPs in honey, such as apidaecin, may be able to prevent bacteria from defending themselves and seem to help modulate your immune system. However, in order to reap these health benefits, you must be eating the right kind of honey. Look for raw, unfiltered organic honey, and be extremely careful about what passes for "honey" on big box store shelves.
Although raw honey is loaded with all of the benefits described above, you still must exercise caution in how much you consume because it's about 70 percent fructose. Fructose is fructose, and if you're challenged with insulin resistance, you will not likely do well eating large quantities of honey. Please also note that honey should not be given to children under one year of age. Infants less than 12 months old are at risk for infant botulism from eating honey that contains Clostridium botulinum spores, and in a baby, this can result in nervous system damage or even death. These spores do not affect older children and adults.
Are You Eating Funny Honey?
Fake honey is unfortunately common in this era of food manipulation and control. Some Chinese brokers sell a mixture of sugar water, malt sweeteners, corn or rice syrup, jaggery, barley malt sweetener or other additives, and label it as "honey". Nearly all of this fake honey is made in China.
A good deal of this "funny honey" is also tainted with illegal antibiotics, including chloramphenicol, which can cause DNA damage and cancer, and heavy metals such as lead.
A recent report by Food Safety Newsxi reveals just how often they get away with this trickery. More than 75 percent of the honey on American supermarket shelves may be ultra-processed—to the point that all inherent medicinal properties are completely gone—and then smuggled into the country by the barrel drum. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) states that any product that's been ultra-filtered and no longer contains pollen is NOT honey. In their investigation, Food Safety News discovered the following:
- 76 percent of honey samples bought at grocery stores (such as TOP Food, Safeway, QFC, Kroger, Harris Teeter, etc.) were absent of pollen
- 77 percent of the honey from big box stores (like Costco, Sam's Club, Walmart, and Target) were absent of pollen
- 100 percent of the honey sampled from drug stores (like Walgreens, Rite-Aid, and CVS Pharmacy) were absent of pollen
The good news is, all of the samples from farmers markets, co-ops, and natural stores like Trader Joe's had the full, proper compliment of pollen, as did organic brands from common grocery stores. But fake honey—the sorry substitute that it is—might be the ONLY thing even remotely resembling honey that you'll be able to get if we don't find a way to save our honey bees from total global collapse.
The Buzz about Organic Beekeeping
One way to make sure your honey is high quality and contains the full compliment of natural health benefits is to obtain it from organic beekeepers, preferably local ones. Supporting organic beekeepers will also increase healthy bee colonies, which are so crucial to our food supply.
Organic beekeepers take a far different approach to beekeeping than large migratory operations. They don't feed their bees the sugar syrups and artificial pollen substitutes typically used in commercial bee operations, and they avoid chemical pesticides. They have fewer hives, and they don't truck their bees around for pollination.
Several countries have banned many systemic insecticides, including France, Italy, Germany, and Slovenia. Most European nations place safety as the highest priority. When there is evidence of an environmental problem, they take the chemical off the market. Not so in America, where government regulators are in the grips of the agrichemical industry, and "pestitution" remains legal.
But there is some good news. One of America's most effective environmental action groups, the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC)xii , has come to the aid of our honey bees. NRDC sued EPA in federal court about improper approval of a certain systemic pesticide—and won. They stopped the retail sale of Bayer's toxic Moventoxiii as of January 2010. As these damaging chemicals are eliminated, there is hope for honey bee recovery. In France, honey bee populations bounced back just one year after these products were banned from the marketplace.
What You Can Do
Vanishing of the Bees recommends four actions you can take to help preserve our honey bees:
- Support organic farmers and shop at local farmer's markets as often as possible. You can "vote with your fork" three times a day.
- Cut the use of toxic chemicals in your house and on your lawn, and use organic pest control.
- Better yet, get rid of your lawn altogether and plant a garden. Lawns offer very little benefit for the environment. Both flower and vegetable gardens provide good honey bee habitats.
- Become an amateur beekeeper. Having a hive in your garden requires only about an hour of your time per week, benefits your local ecosystem, and you can enjoy your own honey!
If you are interested in more information about bee preservation, the following organizations are a good place to start.
- Pesticide Action Network Bee Campaignxiv
- The Foundation for the Preservation of Honey Beesxv
- American Beekeeping Federationxvi
- Help the Honey Beesxvii
To Bee or Not to Bee…
Honey bee sanctuaries are springing up everywhere, as the award-winning documentary "Queen of the Sun"xviii portrays. Many city dwellers are now becoming backyard beekeepers. Perhaps CCD is a blessing in disguise in that it's brought bees to the forefront of our awareness and sparked a renewed interest in organic beekeeping. Increased numbers of amateur beekeepers are bringing these fuzzy pollinators into their own neighborhoods. More cities are changing ordinances that formerly prevented beekeeping inside city limits—including New York City.
For more information about raising bees, consult The Practical Beekeeperxix and the Yahoo group "Organic Beekeepers."xx