The Staggering Plight of the Honeybee
Photo Courtsey Of: iStockphoto/Thinkstock
Bees have been dying off around the world for more than a decade now, a phenomenon that has been named “Colony Collapse Disorder,” or CCD.
The U.S. and the U.K. both reported losing a third of their honeybees in 2010. Italy lost half. The die-offs have spread to China and India, in addition to many other countries.
A third of the U.S. food supply requires the assistance of the honeybee.
The collapse of bee colonies is probably multifactorial, rather than a response to one type of toxic assault.
Although experts don’t yet understand all of the underlying factors and how they interact to cause our pollinators to disappear, they agree about one thing: if we allow this to continue, our already-limited global food supply is at risk, which means more than 7 billion humans occupying this planet are at risk as well.
The common honeybee pollinates 130 different crops in the U.S. alone, including fruits, vegetables and tree nuts.
Without our bees, almonds, pumpkins, watermelons and other varieties of melon, and even vanilla, could completely disappear.
Haagen-Dazs donated $250,000 to research into bee colony collapse disorder because it says the honeybees are responsible for 24 of its 60 ice cream flavors, including strawberry, toasted pecan and banana split.
As usual, at the core of the problem is big industry, which is blinded by greed and enabled by a corrupt governmental system that permits the profit-driven sacrifice of our environment. Unfortunately, this motivation reflects an extreme shortsightedness about the long-term survival of the human race, as well as of our planet. Not only are commercial agricultural practices harming honeybee colonies, but your own health is being compromised by deceptive marketing practices about the “honey” you buy, some of which isn’t really honey at all, despite what it says on the label.
Honey: Nectar of the Gods
Pure, natural, unfiltered raw honey has an abundance of medicinal and nutritional uses, including the following:
- A bounty of nutrition, including enzymes, antioxidants, amino acids, vitamins and minerals
- Promotes the growth of friendly bacteria in your intestinal tract
- Good for your skin
- Helps with occasional sleeplessness
- Promotes heart health by reducing homocysteine levels
- Tames allergies
- Can help fight viruses, such as herpes, and bacteria, such as that present in chronic sinusitis
- Helps soothe a cough
- Helps prevent tooth decay
A special kind of honey that has healing benefits far exceeding that of ordinary honey is called Manuka honey. Manuka honey is made by bees that feed off the flowers of the Manuka bush, a medicinal plant native to New Zealand. Fake honey is unfortunately common in this era of food manipulation and control. Some Chinese brokers sell a mixture of sugar water, malt sweeteners, corn or rice syrup, jaggery, barley malt sweetener or other additives, and label it “honey.” A recent report by Food Safety News reveals just how often they get away with this trickery.
Is Your Honey Fake?
In a new report by Food Safety News, more than 75 percent of the honey on American supermarket shelves may be ultra-processed—to the point that all inherent medicinal properties are completely gone—and then smuggled into the country by the barrel drum. Nearly all of this fake honey is made in China. Some of these brokers will even create bogus country of origin papers. All 60 jars of “honey” tested by FSN came back negative for pollen (including Sue Bee and Winnie the Pooh brands), which is a clear sign of ultra-processing.
According to FSN:
“The removal of these microscopic particles from deep within a flower would make the nectar flunk the quality standards set by most of the world’s food safety agencies. The food safety divisions of the World Health Organization, the European Commission and dozens of others have also ruled that without pollen, there is no way to determine whether the honey came from legitimate and safe sources.”
Millions of pounds of honey that have been banned by the European Union are being smuggled into the U.S. from China. Much of this honey is tainted with illegal antibiotics, including chloramphenicol, which can cause DNA damage and cancer, and heavy metals like lead. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that any product that’s been ultra-filtered and no longer contains pollen IS NOT honey.
In their investigation, FSN discovered the following:
- 76 percent of honey samples bought at grocery stores (such as TOP Food, Safeway, QFC, Kroger, Harris Teeter, etc.) were absent of pollen
- 77 percent of the honey from big box stores (like Costco, Sam’s Club, Walmart, and Target) were absent of pollen
- 100 percent of the honey sampled from drug stores (like Walgreens, Rite-Aid, and CVS Pharmacy) were absent of pollen
The good news is, all of the samples from farmers markets, co-ops, and natural stores like Trader Joe’s had the full, proper compliment of pollen, as did organic brands from common grocery stores. But fake honey—the sorry substitute that it is—might be the ONLY thing even remotely resembling honey that you’ll be able to get if we don’t find a way to save our honeybees from total global collapse.
Humans are Causing the Demise of the Bees
Each year, commercial beekeepers have reported unprecedented losses. Steve Ellis, secretary of the National Honey Bee Advisory Board and a beekeeper for 35 years, had so many abnormal bee die-offs that he’ll qualify for disaster relief from the USDA.
The main theories are the following:
- Malnutrition of the bees due to destruction of their food supply, causing irreparable damage to their immune systems, which makes them more vulnerable to toxic exposures and pathogens, like viruses and fungi
- Toxic pesticides, especially the newer systemic pesticides, insecticides, and genetically engineered crops, are a massive source of toxic exposure to the bees
- Microwavesfrom cellular phones have been shown to cause CCD within 10 days, apparently by affecting the bees’ communication with the hive and disrupting their navigational ability
- Changing global climate, drought, and migratory stress brought about by moving bee colonies long distances to provide pollination services
The EPA claims that new systemic pesticides are safer for humans because farmers can use less of them. However, experiments show that agricultural chemicals that are safe for bees when used alone are lethal in combination. Farmers increasingly combine sprays. They also destroy nearly all flowering weeds, depriving bees of essential nutrients from different kinds of pollen.
Bee Very Afraid…
While much has been made over the “mystery” surrounding CCD, the problem began shortly after neurotoxic pesticides, which are known to be particularly toxic to honeybees, took over the global insecticide market. These relatively new pesticides are called neonicotinoids. Two prominent examples, Imidacloprid and Clothianidin, are used as seed treatments in hundreds of crops.
Virtually all of today’s genetically engineered Bt corn is treated with neonicotinoids. A Purdue University study found multiple sources of pesticide exposure for honeybees living near agricultural fields, including high levels of Clothianidin in agricultural machinery exhaust, in the soil of unplanted fields near those planted with Bt corn, and on dandelions growing in those fields. The chemicals were also found in dead bees near hive entrances and in pollen stored in the hives.
Bee colonies began disappearing in the U.S. shortly after EPA allowed these new, toxic insecticides to be used. Even the EPA itself admits that “pesticide poisoning” is a likely cause of the collapse of bee colonies.
These insecticides are highly toxic to bees because they are systemic, water soluble, and very 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. They enter the vascular system of the plant and are carried to all parts of it, as well as to the pollen and nectar.
These chemicals affect insects’ central nervous systems in ways that are cumulative and irreversible. Even minute amounts can have profound effects over time. Foraging insects may become disoriented and unable to find their way back to the hive.
Jim Frazier from Penn State sampled hives from across the U.S. and found an average of six different pesticides in each hive, with one hive testing positive for 31 different pesticides, some of which are of the systemic varieties. Beekeepers everywhere are concerned for their own livelihood, in addition to being fearful of the broader implications of CCD. But one small Colorado beekeeper has served as a one-man sting operation in exposing the EPA’s negligence on this issue.
Courageous Beekeeper Battles Negligent Regulators on Behalf of Bees
Colorado beekeeper Tom Theobald became concerned about the effects systemic pesticides were having on his bee colonies. Theobald discovered that EPA allowed Bayer Crop Science, manufacturer of Clothianidin, to market its pesticide for public use without safety studies. Clothianidin has been used commercially for eight years now, with no good safety studies to back it up. Theobald uncovered the documents proving that Congress gave Bayer a thumbs-up to market their product while awaiting the results of a safety study, promised to be complete within 18 months.
And guess who conducts and funds honeybee studies?
The pesticide companies themselves… the fox is again guarding the henhouse. The EPA merely receives the report from the pesticide company, has its scientists make a recommendation, and then EPA administrators make a decision about product safety, supposedly based on good science. In this case, there is NO good science to be found—at least coming from Bayer.
The supposedly scientific research by Bayer proved to be woefully inadequate. Bayer performed the study on one 2.5-acre plot of land planted with canola seed. However, this is a mere fraction of the area foraged by a typical bee colony. In fact, the average area foraged by such a colony is 28,000 acres! Theobald called Bayer’s study a “mockery of science” because it was nowhere near an accurate representation of the bees’ natural habitat.
So, Theobald wrote an article for the July 2010 issue of Bee Culture, which created quite the buzz. The EPA changed their tone in response to his article, admitting the Bayer study was deficient. Nevertheless, they haven’t pulled Clothianidin from the market. According to the Pesticide Action Network:
“Governments in Italy, Germany, France and elsewhere have already taken action against neonicotinoids to protect their pollinators. And beekeepers there are reporting recovery. Yet regulators in the U.S. remain paralyzed, apparently captive to industry-funded science and a regulatory framework that finds chemicals innocent until proven guilty.”
No Simple Answers—Persistence is Key
Saving the honeybee will require much more than removing one or two pesticides from the market. It will require a complete change in the mindset and values of industry, and the regulators they hold captive. There is no force for change greater than that fueled by public outrage, so I encourage you to spread the word. Educate your friends, your family… your grocery bagger!
If the goal of pesticides is to increase food yield to more easily feed 7 billion human beings, this goal falls flat on its face if it leads to the collapse of our food chain.
As Tom Theobald says, we can eliminate this one product, maybe, but that won’t solve the problem. In a year or two, there will just be another equally dangerous chemical, unless we can change the conditions that lead to the problem. And this means we must yell loud enough to awaken our government from its stupor.
Some folks are doing just that. Honeybee sanctuaries are springing up everywhere, as the award-winning documentary Queen of the Sun shows. Many city dwellers are becoming smalltime backyard beekeepers. If you are interested in supporting the cause, you can check out some of the following websites to guide you in how you can help.