I spent several years in my early twenties traveling on the West Coast sowing a few wild oats. The songs that accompanied my travels were often made up of powerful messages shedding light on social events that had run amok. The Vietnam War was raging, civil rights struggles were blazing and the songs drew us all together to highlight a common cause. If John Lennon was still writing songs today, I think he might be saying…. Let’s, give bees a chance….
According to leading biologists, we are in the midst of one of largest mass extinction of species ever recorded. We sit precariously on the edge of a changing world where many plants and animals are disappearing. Indeed bees and pollinators are especially in big trouble. Colony collapse syndrome has claimed hives all over the world; some note a decline of 30 percent each year. Bee health is imperative to the survival of humanity because seventy of the one hundred most important crops needed to feed the world are pollinated by bees! Now that isn’t exactly something to sing about, but awareness needs to rise quickly around the issue.
The federal government is very concerned and recently Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the USDA would provide $4 million for a Honey Bee Habitat. He indicated that “The future of America’s food supply depends on honey bees, and honeybees play ‘an important role’ in crop production, pollinating about $15 billion worth of crops each year.” This funding is focusing on conservation efforts in five Midwestern states: Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin, where habitat has been lost to over spraying herbicides such as Round Up. Where once acres of milkweed and other native plants flourished, now only barren roadsides and mono-cropped fields are the landscape. Honeybees and pollinators no longer have a place to eat, procreate and live in the Midwest.
Habitat is not the the only issue plaguing our buzzing buddies. There lies a host of problems affecting honey bee health. There are issues with bee nutrition as the climate changes. New pathogens and parasites have done their damage. The effects of pesticide exposure are enormous and clearly under-studied and underestimated. Watch this alarming 27 Minute movie on Neonics, dubbed “THE “NEW DDT”. Neonics are the most widely used insecticides in the world and are directly linked to colony collapse.
The interactions between each of these factors: nutrition, climate change, pathogens pesticides, and parasites, along with loss of habitat, are all serving lethal blows to the bee communities around the world. To learn more you can watch Vanishing of the Bees, a compelling documentary that describes the crisis of disappearing and dying honey bees.
There are organizations making headway communicating the importance of protecting our pollinators. These four organizations are providing great leadership and are worthy of your participation and financial support: Beyond Pesticides, Center for Food Safety, Pesticide Action Network, Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.
An effective thing to do to give bees a chance is to take the pledge to provide a Honeybee Haven! There are four basic and simple principles:
Protect bees from pesticides. Always purchase organic food and textiles! When gardening, use only organic methods such as compost for healthy soil and controlling pests with homemade remedies and bio-controls like ladybugs. Many home and garden products contain Neonics! Read labels!
Provide a variety of food for bees. Consider clustered plantings with staggered blooming times so there is food throughout the year and particularly in the late summer and fall. Native plants are always best and inter-planting and hedgerows provide additional forage on farms.
Provide a year-round, clean source of water for bees. This can be a river, pond, irrigation system, rainwater collection system or small-scale garden water features. Shallow water sources can provide more than enough water for bees, without creating opportunities for mosquitoes to breed.
Provide shelter for bees. Leave some ground undisturbed and untilled and some dead trees and plants on the property for wild bees to nest in.
It is imperative that we all realize the severity and importance of this issue. A collapse of the biodiversity of bees and other pollinators will have a devastating effect on our food supply and on our ability to feed the world. Let’s use the coming of the winter solstice to plan our action to Give Bees a Chance. Our future just may depend on it!
1 thought on “All we are saying….Give Bees a Chance”
hi, Melody—just got this post from you and want to remind readers that the issues outlined are not inclusive of many of the other insults pollinators are suffering and that are delivered by the beekeepers themselves. The media is uniformly failing to tell this part of the story.
I also do not have such a rosy view of the “concern” of USDA regarding pollinator health—the agency and its affiliates—EPA, FSIS, etc—are compromised by too cozy a relationship with the revolving door of private industry. What better example that the recent “approval” of Dow’s GMO soy and corn to resist the new companion toxic cocktail herbicide “Enlist-Duo” which is derived from the Agent Orange defoliant, 2,4-D from the Vietnam era. Below is the post I entered on your site last year which summarizes some of the salient points left out—
—————————————–Susan Rudnicki, Manhattan Beach CA————
Leaving out mentioning the heavily-lab-selected genetics used in the commercial honeybee strains is leaving out a major part of the story here. European Honeybees have almost NO resistance to varroa mite and its vectored diseases. Africanized strains DO have this resistance. From a letter to Melody Myer’s “Organic Matters” blog—
As a backyard beekeeper,
rescuer/re-homer of feral bees found in conflict with humans in the
urban environment, and a mentor to new beeks for using ONLY feral,
genetically diverse bees, I can tell you the media is doing a mostly
terrible job of reporting on CCD and pollinators in general.
First, many of the beekeepers of migratory operations (the ones
trucking bees hundreds of miles from state to state) are at fault for
the poor vigor of the bees they keep. What is not being explained to
the public is the bees these operators are using are subject to
antibiotics, acaricides, HFCS feeding regimens (which disrupt the gut
microbes of the bees, compromising immune response) and intense genetic
selection for larger, more docile and more genetically uniform
honeybees. The bees suffer great immune stress in being hauled by
semi-truck with no food or water and constant hive jostling.
Second, American Ag schools are complicit in pushing this poorly
bred model of shallow genetics, larger bees —after all, ‘bigger is
better’ , eh?—and ignoring immune system vigor/gut microbe balance and
the in-hive chemical treatments that are driving down resistance to the
imported plethora of Asian diseases and pests. Artificial insemination
of Queens, yearly replacement of Queens, drone semen selection, is all
part of a human-centric posture of control that is actually an illusion.
Bee breeding is a big business, just like a lot of industrial
Third, farmers have become so dependent on the migratory honeybee
that much of the native pollinators, who can actually be MORE efficient
and effective, have been driven to extinction—or at least driven from
most of the Central Valley, where all those almonds are grown. There
is NO FORAGE for any pollinator after the almond bloom is over, because
the thousands of acres of mono-crop almonds is scraped clean of any
weeds beneath it, and all verge areas are also devoid of natural growth.
It is a food desert for pollinators. For a clear view of this
egregious situation, as well as on-site fungicide orchard spraying going
on while bees are foraging—killing them—see the new doc film “More
Than Honey”. It’s horrific how blase’ our attitudes. At some point,
my feeling is, the price paid for migratory pollination will become so
untenable, that farmers will re-evaluate the wisdom of sterile thousands
of acres, and start removing every fifth row to plant as permanent
forage for on-site pollinator support and viability. The Xerces
Society for Invertebrate Conservation has articles on this change that
is desperately needed to diversify pollinator services and create truly
sustainable agriculture models.
Fourth, the genetic weaknesses I mentioned ARE known to be
factors in the rise of CCD, and the government DOES know the many
insults occurring to the immune systems of bees (and all pollinators)
but the strength and power of Big Ag and Big Pharma/Chem is such that
the exclusive investigative research into “what’s causing CCD” was
awarded to the very company making tons of the implicated chemical
class, neonicotinoids—Bayer Crop Science. Our EPA is at the root of
this assignment, which so clearly shows the collusion and corruption of
public policy and investigation. Neonicotinoids are now one of the
most widely used class of systemic pesticides—systemic meaning every
part of the plant is contaminated, which for bees is the pollen, nectar,
or night-dew water droplets foraged and brought back to the hive.
Bioaccumulation of these toxics and synergenistic effects with other
chemicals are how bees encounter these chemical residues in Nature, but
the chemical companies are not bound to test their products in this
“real world” scenario. They test their chemicals in careful isolation
in the lab and then gain permission to dump these poisons on the
market, with the caveat that “the label instructions are sufficient to
prevent incorrect applications”—what a farce.
Fifth, even those in organic honey production have now been granted
usage of formic acid for their product, under pressure from the
chemical believers on the NOSB. This chemical is used for treatment of
varroa mite, but is a serious erosion of the organic brand which would
normally dis-allow chemicals in the production of organic honey.
Formic acid is very toxic and must be applied with great care by
operators to avoid human health effects.
So, the reasons for honeybee decline are multipronged, most of the
reasons lie right at the foot of the human managers of bees and the
growers of crops, and the larger picture is we must be more careful to
mimic natural systems instead of constantly applying human devised
“fix-its” which we do not investigate for the many potentially harmful
unintended consequences. The great diversity of the genetics
carried by the feral bee populations, bees capriciously exterminated in
many cases, represent a reservoir of vigor and persistence that most
folks in the “conventional” bee world are very dismissive of.