By Dr. Mercola
Honey bees are responsible for producing one-third of your fresh fruits and vegetables, but they're disappearing at a startling rate.
Since the mid-2000s, honey bees all around the world, including the US, have been dying in unprecedented numbers—many hives literally disappearing without a trace—in a mysterious phenomenon dubbed Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).
Queen of the Sun: What Are the Bees Telling Us?,1 created by Taggart Siegel, takes us on a journey through the catastrophic disappearance of bees and the mysterious world of the beehive. This engaging and ultimately uplifting film weaves an unusual and dramatic story of the heartfelt struggles of beekeepers, scientists, and philosophers from around the world including Michael Pollan, Gunther Hauk, and Vandana Shiva. Together they reveal both the problems and solutions in renewing a culture in balance with nature.
It also explores the ancient relationship between man and bees—a relationship that, historically, was considered nothing less than sacred. Returning to life in balance with nature is the ultimate solution, and when it comes to bees, it's something we'll have to do lest we risk perishing right along with them.
Some 130 different kinds of crops require honeybees to transport pollen between flowers, prompting fertilization and jump-starting the production of seed and fruit. As they buzz around in flight, the bee's 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. Without honey bees, farmers would have to resort to pollinating their crops by hand, which is no quick and easy task...
Honey Bees Are Crucial for Our Environment and Survival
In an interview with The Press, a daily newspaper in New Zealand, Taggart Siegel revealed the inspiration behind the film:2
"I had no idea about the importance of honeybees until I read an article in 2007 that bees were not only so crucial to our environment, but that they were dying out on a mass scale...
The article had a quote attributed to Einstein which scared me enough to get me to pick up my camera and dedicate the next three years of my life to this film. The quote read, 'If bees die out, man will only have four years of life left on Earth.' Even though this quote has been since disputed, it had a lasting effect on me, and the truth is that bees are so vital to our planet that we can't afford to lose them."
Despite the somber topic, Queen of the Sun is not a downer by any means. On the contrary, it's filled with the heart of eclectic and passionate characters that inspire hope and gratitude for these most important of agricultural workers.
For example, there's historian Yvon Achard, who recites poetry to his bees and tickles them with his mustache, and Sara Mapelli, who once danced with 12,000 bees on her body (she's the bee-covered woman shown on the DVD cover).
What's Killing the Bees?
The collapse of bee colonies is probably multifactorial, rather than a response to one individual type of toxic assault. That said, certain pesticides called neonicotinoids have been identified as having a particularly devastating impact on bee health and survival.
Bee colonies began disappearing in the US shortly after the EPA allowed these new insecticides on the market. Even the EPA itself admits that "pesticide poisoning" is a likely cause of CCD. Two prominent examples, imidacloprid and clothianidin, are used as seed treatments in hundreds of crops, and virtually all of today's genetically engineered Bt corn is treated with neonicotinoids.
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. About six months later, their immune systems fail, and they end up contracting secondary infections from parasites, mites, viruses, fungi, and bacteria.
Monoculture—the practice of growing of just one type of crop on a massive scale—is another major contributing factor, as there is no such thing as monoculture in nature. In the past, farms were highly diversified, with all sorts of animals and vegetation cohabiting on the land. Today, fields of corn and soy stretch for hundreds of miles.
As it turns out, pests thrive in monoculture, so massive quantities of pesticides are required to keep them in check. Monoculture also cuts down on the variety of nutrition the bees get. In some areas, bees simply cannot survive due to lack of food.
While experts are still trying to understand the complexities involved in CCD, they do agree about one thing: if we allow this to continue, our global food supply is at risk... And, as stated in the film:
"Colony collapse disorder is the bill we're getting for all the things we've done to the bees. You could call it colony collapse disorder of the human being too."
Reclaiming the Sacred Relationship with Bees
As stated in the film, the solution to this pervasive and downright life threatening problem lies in renewing a culture that operates in balance with nature. As stated by the filmmaker:3
"In 1923, Rudolf Steiner, a scientist, philosopher and social innovator, predicted that in 80 to 100 years honeybees would collapse. His prediction has come true with Colony Collapse Disorder where bees are disappearing in mass numbers from their hives with no clear explanation.
...On a pilgrimage around the world, 10,000 years of beekeeping is unveiled, highlighting how our historic and sacred relationship with bees has been lost due to highly mechanized industrial practices."
Supporting organic beekeepers is one way you can help turn the tide and increase the number of 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 have fewer hives, and they don't truck their bees around for pollination. They also don't feed their bees the sugar syrups and artificial pollen substitutes typically used in large-scale commercial bee operations. As stated by Michael Pollan, "Nothing is more viscerally offensive than feeding the creators of honey high-fructose corn syrup."
What You Can Do to Help Protect the Bees
Queen of the Sun has a section on their website4 devoted to things you can do to help protect our honey bees. Here are some suggestions for actions you can take:
- 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. Both flower and vegetable gardens provide good honey bee habitats. It's also recommended to keep a small basin of fresh water in your garden or backyard, as bees actually do get thirsty!
- 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! As Queen of the Sun shows, many city dwellers are becoming adept smalltime beekeepers.
For educators, there's a free PDF,5 written by Waldorf teacher Lauren Johnson, which you can download and use as your curriculum. It also contains a guide to creating your own urban beehive tour. You can also host a screening of Queen of the Sun. For more details and instructions, please see the Queen of the Sun website.6 There you can also sign up for their newsletter for timely updates. If you are interested in more information about bee preservation, the following organizations are a good place to start.
- Pesticide Action Network Bee Campaign7
- The Foundation for the Preservation of Honey Bees8
- American Beekeeping Federation9
- Help the Honey Bees10