By Dr. Mercola
Last month's National Honeybee Day (August 16) marked the sixth annual event – a day started by beekeepers to build community awareness of the bee industry. This year's theme, "Sustainable Gardening Begins with Honey Bees," showed that concerned citizens are increasingly getting involved in efforts to save the bees.
While beekeeping is most often thought of in regard to large farms and agriculture, bees are important to each and every one of us. The bees pollinate one-third of the food we eat – without which their help we would suffer catastrophic consequences!
Meanwhile, 98 percent of those who keep bees are "backyard beekeepers," raising bees in their backyards, not on traditional farms. In addition to food, bees are required for pollination in your backyard garden, and many municipalities have removed anti-beekeeping laws, allowing just about anyone with an interest to try their hand at beekeeping.1
March Against Monsanto Group Joins the Effort to Save the Bees
The first March Against Monsanto, which took place in May 2013 involved some 2 million people in 450 cities and 50 countries, who took to the streets with the same message—that genetic engineering and Monsanto are out of control, and, at the very least, we need labeling of genetically modified (GM) foods and safety testing.
Monsanto, which is the world leader in GM crops (and the pesticides and herbicides that go along with them), is clearly no friend to the bees. And so the Tampa-born activist group organized Bee Against Monsanto, an event in celebration of National Honeybee Day.
The effort was a success, with 86 events planned across the globe, helping to get word out that corporations like Monsanto could very well be at the foundation of the widespread bee die-offs. This isn't the case if you ask Monsanto, of course, which responded to the media coverage of Bee Against Monsanto thusly:2
"As a company focused solely on agriculture, we recognize the importance of bees to our business, our growers and the environment… In 2013, Monsanto announced its Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) Commitment to Action on Honey Bee Health… Using a diverse group of stakeholders, the Coalition will work to:
- improve honey bee nutrition;
- provide research investment in novel technology for varroa and virus control;
- understand science-based approaches to studying pesticide impacts on honey bees and increasing awareness of pesticide best management practices among growers and beekeepers; and
- enable economic empowerment of beekeepers."
Monsanto also took to Facebook on August 7, just before National Honeybee Day, to reaffirm their "commitment" to "saving" the bees. They posted:3
"Think about the last plate of food you ate. Chances are, it was made possible by a honeybee. Learn how we're working to protect these important insects."
The Facebook community was not amused… nor were they fooled by Monsanto's seemingly altruistic message. Their page was flooded with angry comments, hundreds of them, stating sentiments of outrage like "Protect them?? You're the ones who are killing them off!" and "Totally DISGUSTED!"
Corporate Funding Has No Place in Bee Research
Systemic neonicotinoid pesticides have been increasingly blamed for bee deaths (and were implicated in last year's mass bee die-off of 25,000 bumblebees along with millions of bee deaths in Canada), prompting the European Union (EU) to ban them for two years, beginning December 1, 2013, to study their involvement with large bee kills. At the end of two years, the restriction will be reviewed.
In July 2014, the UK's Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) conducted a consultation on a draft of the National Pollinator Strategy,4 with the final version to be published this fall.
The draft lists plans to produce a "better understanding of the role and value of pollinators, as well as the effects of neonicotinoid pesticides on pollinators and the impact of the EU ban on three neonicotinoid pesticides on farmers' crop growing practices."
The UK's Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has taken issue with DEFRA's strategy, however, stating that it relies too heavily on corporate funding from pesticide manufacturers, which threatens the integrity of the research. Chair of the Committee, Joan Walley MP, said:5
"When it comes to research on pesticides, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is content to let the manufacturers fund the work… This testifies to a loss of environmental protection capacity in the Department responsible for it.
If the research is to command public confidence, independent controls need to be maintained at every step. Unlike other research funded by pesticide companies, these studies also need to be peer-reviewed and published in full."
The concern now is that these studies will be heavily biased with industry funding, or that DEFRA may try to overturn the ban ahead of schedule next year. This includes pesticide makers like Syngenta, which has already tried to seek an "emergency" exemption to the ban.
The EAC is calling on DEFRA to take a clear stance against such loopholes, and their report further added, "New studies have added weight to those that indicated a harmful link between pesticide use and pollinator populations."6
Pesticide Makers All Want Their Hands in the Honey Pot
Monsanto bought Beeologics in 2013, a company whose primary goal is finding a solution to the colony collapse disorder (CCD, the widely used term to describe bee die-offs). Bayer is a leading manufacturer of the neonicotinoid pesticides at the heart of the debate.
They opened the North American Bee Care Center in 2013, where they are conducting "bee health research" and promoting "bee-responsible use of Bayer products." Monsanto and Bayer are going to stop at nothing to make sure their insecticides and GM crops are completely cleared of any wrongdoing.
Already, in 2010 a study by Montana bee researcher Dr. Jerry Bromenshenk found that CCD was not caused by pesticides but rather a combination of fungus and virus, found in all collapsed colonies, may be the culprit…
What was not widely reported in the media, however, was that Dr. Bromenshenk received a significant research grant from Bayer to study bee pollination – a massive conflict of interest that is likely to be carried over into any upcoming research from Bayer and Monsanto.
Are Pesticides Killing Our Bees?
Since 2006, US beekeepers have lost 10 million beehives, worth an estimated $2 billion.7 The monetary loss is staggering, but the losses to the food supply, which could soon be disastrous if bees keep disappearing, is beyond words. There are many theories for why the bees are dying. Viruses, fungi, lack of natural foraging areas (due to monoculture), malnutrition, and even electromagnetic fields (EMFs) have all been suggested.
But no theory has received as much attention, or as much credible support, as the use of pesticides, and specifically neonicotinoid pesticides. Neonicotinoids are now used on most American crops, especially corn. This newer class of chemicals is applied to seeds before planting, allowing the pesticide to be taken up through the plant's vascular system as it grows. As a result, the chemical is expressed in the pollen and nectar of the plant.
These insecticides are highly toxic to bees because they are systemic, water-soluble, and 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. Neonicotinoids affect insects' central nervous systems in ways that are cumulative and irreversible. Even minute amounts can have profound effects over time. 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 secondary, seemingly "natural" bee infections, such as parasites, mites, viruses, fungi, and bacteria. In 2013, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) released a report that ruled neonicotinoid insecticides are essentially "unacceptable" for many crops,8 and in the US, the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) announced that they were restricting the use of 18 pesticide products containing dinotefuran, a type of neonicotinoid.
An independent review by 29 scientists with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (which looked at 800 studies) recently put another nail in the coffin for neonicotinoids. The study found that neonicotinoids are indeed gravely harming bees and other pollinators (like butterflies). And that's not all. The research also showed serious harm to birds, earthworms, snails, and other invertebrates.9
Do You Want to Help Save the Bees?
Bee Against Monsanto is looking for support, either in the form of a monetary donation or by helping to spread the word by "liking" their Facebook page. They note:10
"While the players in our industrial food system are 'bee-washing' themselves at 'Honey Bee Summits' and with 'Bee Care Centers,' the bees are being systematically exterminated by the very products these supposed "bee loving" companies produce. Worldwide, the production of Genetically Engineered produce is skyrocketing. In the US nearly 90% of the corn and 94% of the soy grown is Genetically Modified (GMO). These GMO crops are especially designed to release Bt toxins, result in increased pesticide use, and demand neonicotinoid seed treatments -- all factors in Colony Collapse Disorder and an overall decrease in our pollinator populations.
The companies who produce widely used pesticides would have us believe a parasitic mite is to blame for CCD -- and that their poisons are not only safe to humans, but are also non-toxic to the Bees. A particular class of pesticides, known as neonicotinoids, has been demonstrated -- most recently by a study at Harvard University -- to impair the neurological function of bees, disrupting their ability to navigate home. Beekeepers often find their hives empty and their bees nowhere to be found."
You can further help by supporting the Save America's Pollinators Act, which was introduced in 2013. If passed, this bill, HR 2692, would require the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to pull neonicotinoid pesticides from the market until their safety is proven. Please contact your representative today to voice your support for this incredibly important issue. Friends of the Earth has also launched the Bee-Action Campaign to tell stores to take bee-killing pesticides like neonicotinoids off of their shelves, and you can help by signing their petition now. In addition, you can even make a difference right in your own backyard:
- Reduce or eliminate your use of pesticides
- Plant a pollinator-friendly garden by choosing a variety of plants that will continue flowering from spring through fall; check out the Bee Smart Pollinator App for a database of nearly 1,000 pollinator-friendly plants
- Choose plants native to your region and stick with old-fashioned varieties, which have the best blooms, fragrance and nectar/pollen for attracting and feeding pollinators
- Install your own beehive