Cause of Colony Collapse Disorder Found: It’s You

Bees are in crisis, experts aren’t sure exactly how to save them, and without them our food supply will shrink by a lot. Not good.

The crisis is called Colony Collapse Disorder. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency describes it:

During the winter of 2006-2007, some beekeepers began to report unusually high losses of 30-90 percent of their hives. As many as 50 percent of all affected colonies demonstrated symptoms inconsistent with any known causes of honeybee death: sudden loss of a colony’s worker bee population with very few dead bees found near the colony. The queen and brood (young) remained, and the colonies had relatively abundant honey and pollen reserves. But hives cannot sustain themselves without worker bees and would eventually die. This combination of events resulting in the loss of a bee colony has been called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).

40 to 50 percent of commercial beekeepers’ hives have succumbed to CCD.

This isn’t bad news only for bees and the people who make money off of them. It is also bad news for any humans who eat food. By that I mean “cashews, beets, broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, chestnuts, watermelons, cucumber, fennel, strawberries, macadamia, mangoes, apricots, almonds,” and dozens of others. Without bees to pollinate plants, some crops will be in mighty short supply. Even if you don’t give a hoot about bumblebees (or brussels sprouts), you have a very strong incentive to care about this disorder.

Theories about the cause of CCD include:

  • pesticides in or on the plants that bees like, as explained by Care2 Causes’ Beth Buczynski;
  • bees absorbing metal pollution from flowers that absorbed it from the soil that absorbed it from modern machines and vehicles, as Care2 Causes’ Kristina Chew explains; and
  • an increase in the population of a mite that preys on bees.

The theory that makes the most sense to me is less speculative. When beekeepers steal bees’ honey so you can eat it, they are taking away the insects’ food. They replace it with high-fructose corn syrup, leaving the bees malnourished and weakening their immune systems.

It would be like removing all fruits and vegetables from your diet and replacing them with Pez. I know, you’re thinking that you don’t eat enough produce as it is and you’re fine. Me too. But we’re not fine, we’re just falling apart more slowly than bees do.

Researchers have identified some specific nutrients that bees need, get from honey, and don’t get from corn syrup:

When honeybees collect nectar from flowers, they also gather pollen and a substance called propolis, which they use to make waxy honeycombs. The pollen and propolis are loaded with three types of compounds that University of Illinois entomologists discovered can help the bees detoxify their cells and protect themselves from pesticides and microbes.

Those compounds are p-coumaric acid, and two others found in the sap of poplars.

Pesticides (including some applied inside the hive to keep mites out) and metal pollution may very well play a role in CCD, but they would not wreak the same havoc if bees were healthier. “If you’re feeding them high-fructose corn syrup, then pathogens may be more dangerous and pesticides can be more toxic,” according to the lead author of the study identifying high-fructose corn syrup as the cause of CCD.

I think there is a law that scientists can’t publish a study without warning that (1) more research is needed; (2) the study found correlation, not causation; or (3) their academic conclusions won’t be available as practical, real-world solutions for many years. These researchers went with number three: “there’s a big gap between a scientific finding and practical application,” the lead author told the Los Angeles Times.

The European Union, in its typically upstart style, decided to do some applying anyway, but unfortunately it chose to address only one part of the problem: pesticides. Last month it restricted the use of three pesticides on crops bees rely on for nectar. The restrictions expire in two years.

Predictably, scientists wailed that there is too little evidence to take action. But what is the harm in restricting some pesticides temporarily? If they call it a research experiment maybe everyone will feel better — except for the pesticide manufacturers, which are pitching fits at the EU.

In the meantime, let’s all follow the EU’s devil-may-care brashness by applying scientific findings right now. Stop eating honey. Bees cook it up for themselves, not for you. What they make for you is all those other yummy foods listed above. So leave them the honey and have some strawberries.


Photo credit: iStockphoto


Jim Ven
Jim Vabout a year ago

thanks for sharing.

Nina S.
Nina Sabout a year ago


Sherry Kohn
Sherry Kohnabout a year ago

Many thanks to you !

Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing

Kimberlee W.
Kimberlee W4 years ago

Great point Penny! RESPONSIBLE keepers CARE about their bees like any other livestock.
And Exactly; you take some, but not All.

And while the author would really like to keep the vegan image of millions of poor bees being enslaved (isn't their world one of enslavement anyway? Duh!), my weight will fall behind climate change and the advent of harsher pesticides and GMO crops.

And one more little gem no one likes to mention is our cell phones. That's right!
Over several studies, once a bee is heading back to the hive, the signals from your phone to the person on the other end confuse their natural ability to find their hives again and they get lost.
A lost bee is a dead bee.

Penny D.
Kim M4 years ago

In the good old days honey was taken from the hive, some of it, not all of it, so the bees still had enough to live on - now the money grabbing idiots are starving them of their natural food and giving them rubbish, that is wrong and hopefully when this happens they'll realise their mistake, but I doubt it as in todays world, profit comes first and that's the big problem.

Sabrina I.
Past Member 4 years ago


Diane L.
Diane L4 years ago

Good question, Nessie! Never thought about that aspect, but since Monsanto is at the root of much of this problem, that could also be a factor.

Nessie Benjamin
Nessie B4 years ago

Aside from the stealth attempt to promote veganism in this article,

has anyone investigated/considered the effect GMOs have on worker bees???

Karen F.
Karen F4 years ago

I am beginning to view this particular author, Piper Hoffman, as more of a troll than an educated author who fully researches what she writes about BEFORE wasting people's time with false claims. Trolls like to stir up trouble and will use any method to do so... is that what's going on here? This is the second article today, written by this "author" that I have ALMOST read but, I can't bring myself to bother reading this one beyond the accusatory, false and "BLAMING the innocent" title. I've read too much about bee colony collapse and the research world wide being done to pin point the causes to bother. I find it amazing that some people get PAID (?) for doing such a crappy job at what they do.