Since August, bees in the French town of Ribeauville in Alsace have been returning to their hives with “strange products colored blue and green and sometimes brown chocolate” and producing — quelle horreur — blue and green honey. Beekeepers have been baffled, the French newspaper Le Monde reports.
Recently the keepers believe they have found the culprit, a biogas plant about 2.5 miles away that processes waste from a factory making M & M’s. The bees have apparently been collecting the sugary waste from containers used in manufacturing M & M’s at a Mars plant about 62 miles away in Strasbourg.
Unusual weather conditions including a harsh winter, a wet spring and a dry summer have been detrimental to harvests and already had an adverse effect on the bees’ ability to forage. As Gill Maclean, a spokeswoman for the British Beekeepers’ Association, tell the BBC, the bees have most likely responded by being resourceful. “Bees are clever enough to know where the best sources of sugar are, if there are no others available,” Maclean notes.
The company operating the biogas plant is Agrivalor, which converts organic waste from kitchens and also agribusinesses into energy. Philippe Meinrad, a spokesman for Agrivalor, stated that procedures have already been put in place such as storing waste in airtight containers to prevent the bees from foraging on sugary residues anymore. The Mars company itself had “no immediate comment,” says Reuters.
But the damage has been done to some of the 2,400 beekeepers in Alsace who oversee some 35,000 colonies and produce about 1,000 tons of honey; France is one of the European Union’s largest producers of honey, making some 18,330 tons of honey per year. “For me, it’s not honey. It’s not sellable,” as Alain Frieh, the president of a beekeepers’ union, told Reuters.
Bees turning to M & M’s waste is just one example of the challenges they face. It has been well-documented that the number of bees around the world has been declining, sometimes dramatically, in recent years. The French government has singled out the pesticide Cruiser OSR as a factor; three studies have linked the decline in the number of bees to common pesticides called neonicotinoids.
The French beekeepers’ union is analyzing the blue honey to see if the bees have been in any way affected. While beekeepers are not planning to sell the unnaturally colored honey, the bees’ larvae have ingested it. It seems unlikely but if blue bees are sighted flying around in northeastern France in the spring of 2013, Mars will need to provide some comment and, even more, an extensive explanation.
France itself has not seen such drastic declines in its bee population. But the blue honey is simply freakish. It’s a scary harbinger of the fate of bees in a world challenged by climate change, extreme weather and the inevitable presence of industry. At the least, the curious case of the blue honey in France should be a warning about the need for companies to dispose of waste sustainably and safely, for the sake of all creatures great and small.
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