The Vanishing Bee: Update

In recent weeks The Coffee House has reported on the phenomenon of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) , which has seen large-scale disappearances of honey bees across the US and lately in Europe. If the problem continues to spread, there are massive implications for crop pollination and agricultural production. New theories on the causes of CCD are put forward on a regular basis. The latest contributions to the debate suggest that modern beekeeping practices may be to blame.

Sharon Labchuk is a longtime environmental activist and part-time organic beekeeper from Prince Edward Island. In a widely circulated email, as reported by the Organic Consumers Association, she wrote:

“I’m on an organic beekeeping list of about 1,000 people, mostly Americans, and no one in the organic beekeeping world, including commercial beekeepers, is reporting colony collapse on this list. The problem with the big commercial guys is that they put pesticides in their hives to fumigate for varroa mites, and they feed antibiotics to the bees. They also haul the hives by truck all over the place to make more money with pollination services, which stresses the colonies.”

The Bush Bees web site reports that it is common practice among commercial beekeepers to run hives with cells much larger than are found in nature. Bees bred in these hives can be up to half as big again as is natural. By reverting to a ‘normal’ cell size, incidence of varroa mites has been virtually eliminated.

“Who should be surprised that the major media reports forget to tell us that the dying bees are actually hyper-bred varieties that we coax into a larger than normal body size? It sounds just like the beef industry. And have we here a solution to the vanishing bee problem?”

We’ve been pushing bees too hard, says Dr. Peter Kevan, an associate professor of environmental biology at the University of Guelph in Ontario, in an interview for CBC. We’re starving them out by feeding them artificially and moving them great distances. Given the stress commercial bees are under, Kevan suggests CCD might be caused by parasitic mites, or long cold winters, or long wet springs, or pesticides, or GM crops. Maybe it’s all of the above…

Ring or Buzz? , The Vanishing Bee

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3 Responses to The Vanishing Bee: Update

  1. matt says:

    So CCD hasn’t been reported within the organic beekeeping world. And the commercial beekeepers are forcing the boundaries with what is hoped for from bees themselves. Oh dear, reminds me of the BSE crisis; cows collapsing, with one reason given being that they had been fed meat!

    Stupidity in the extreme. There’s always a come back. We really shouldn’t be surprised. Maybe nano-technology hopes to produce mimics for pollination. One just never knows!

  2. the Grit says:

    Hi Matt,

    Actually, from a farming point of view, it’s not stupid at all. It’s economic and practical necessity. The areas of our country where they grow one main crop, and some of these are larger than England, won’t support enough bees to get the pollinating done, because everything blooms at once, and then very little blooms for the rest of the year. Without the trucked in bees, the only alternative would be to plant a variety of crops. Unfortunately, due to climate, soil types, and competitive pressure in our agricultural industry, this would bankrupt all but the most well financed farms.

    As to efforts by farmers to be as efficient as possible, and thus the BSE and larger bee colonies, that’s the hidden cost of low food prices. As long as profit margins on agricultural products are so low, every penny that can be saved will be, just to stay in business.

    Many thanks for finding the info on the vanishing bees. I’ve been following this, but I missed that article.

    the Grit

  3. amicus curiae says:

    hmm the grits reply left me shuddering. Going back to a varied range of crops, in rotation, with animals is the sanest way to farm, Volume may be less but profit is higher for quality product, and organic premium prices even the balance a lot.
    Get off! the chem and GM bandwagon, and think about the soil and the land that has fed many for many generations, small intensive natural systems outproduce a monoculture everytime.

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