Photo Courtesy Of: iStockphoto/Thinkstock
Honeybees are perhaps one of the least recognized workers in the agricultural industry. They contribute $15 billion in annual agriculture revenue to the U.S. economy alone, as a full one-third of the U.S. food supply depends on them pollinating crops.
Apple orchards, for instance, require one colony of bees per acre in order to be adequately pollinated. So, unless the mysterious disappearance of bees is reversed, major food shortages could result.
This is not a brand new issue.
For several years now, scientists have been struggling to determine why bee colonies across the world are disappearing—a phenomenon dubbed colony collapse disorder (CCD). In a series of reports and videos, PBS talks about the bee colony devastation and its impact on the food supply and U.S. agriculture.
For a great review, please watch the PBS episode, Silence of the Bees.
What’s Causing Colony Collapse Disorder?
A few different theories are currently circulating that may explain the bee die-offs:
Pesticides and insecticides—such as Imidacloprid and Clothianidin, which kills insects by attacking their nervous systems. These are known to get into pollen and nectar, and can damage beneficial insects such as bees. According to the EPA’s fact sheet on clothianidin:
“Clothianidin has the potential for toxic chronic exposure to honey bees, as well as other nontarget pollinators, through the translocation of clothianidin residues in nectar and pollen … In honey bees, the effects of this toxic chronic exposure may include lethal and/or sub-lethal effects in the larvae and reproductive effects on the queen.”
Unfortunately, the EPA approved these pesticides, known as neonicotinoids, on the basis that the amounts found in pollen and nectar are not enough to kill bees. However, the marketing of these pesticides coincided with the occurrence of large-scale bee deaths in many European countries and the United States, resulting in lawsuits against Bayer.
Meanwhile, France banned Imidacloprid for use on corn and sunflowers after reporting large losses of bees after exposure to it. They also rejected Bayer´s application for Clothianidin, and other countries, such as Italy, have banned certain neonicotinoids as well. Another possibility is the inadvertent transfer of built-in pesticides found in genetically engineered crops, which has now been shown to create ‘pesticide factories’ in the human gut.
Malnutrition/Nutritional deficiencies—Many beekeepers place the hives near fields of identical crops, which may result in malnutrition as the bees are only getting one type of nectar. This possibility is discussed in the PBS video, “Silence of the Bees.” Essentially, this theory is identical to that of human nutrition; we need a wide variety of nutrients from different foods. If you keep eating the same limited range of foods, you can easily end up suffering from nutritional deficiencies.
Poor nutrition suppresses immune function, making the bees far more susceptible to toxins from pesticides, viruses, fungi, or a combination of factors that ultimately kill them.
Viruses and fungi—There’s also the possibility that some new form of “AIDS-like” viral infection is affecting the bees. In one 2010 study published in PLoS, researchers claim CCD is due to “a fungus tag-teaming with a virus.” However, the study was found to be heavily tainted by financial conflicts of interest.
The study’s lead author, Dr. Jerry Bromenshenk, had received a significant research grant from Bayer Crop Science to study bee pollination. Even more suspicious is the timing of the grant. Bromenshenk was reportedly all set to serve as an expert witness in 2003 for beekeepers involved in a class-action lawsuit against Bayer. He dropped out without explanation, however, and subsequently received the grant from Bayer.
Bromenshenk also owns Bee Alert Technology, a company that is developing hand-held scanners designed to detect bee ailments. His company would therefore profit nicely if a disease, such as a virus, was found to be causing CCD rather than a pesticide. So, all in all, his study, which suggests a virus/fungus combination is killing off bees is by no means the final word on the subject. Then again, it may very well play a role in combination with malnutrition causing reduced immune function.
The Cell Phone Connection: Are EMFs Causing Bee Colonies to Collapse?
It’s also hard to ignore research that points to cell phones and electromagnetic fields (EMF) as major threats to the bee population. Researchers have discovered that when a cellular phone is placed near a hive, the radiation generated by it (900-1,800 MHz) is enough to prevent bees from returning to them, according to a study conducted at Landau University several years ago.
This result was duplicated in 2009 by Sainuddeen Pattazhy, a researcher and dean in the department of zoology at SN College, Punalur, Kerala. His experiments showed that microwaves from mobile phones appear to interfere with worker bees’ navigation skills. When cell phones were placed near beehives, the hives collapsed completely in five to 10 days. The worker bees simply failed to return home…
Adding to the mystery, parasites, wildlife and other bees, which would normally raid the abandoned hives, would not go near the collapsed colonies. Pattazhy said in The Pioneer:
“The navigation skill of the worker bees is dependent on the earth’s magnetic properties. The electro-magnetic waves emitted by the mobile phones and relay towers interfere with the earth’s magnetism, resulting in loss of the navigation capacity of the bee. Then it fails to come back. So, the radiation causes damage to the nervous system of the bee and it becomes unable to fly.”
More recently, a study published earlier this summer found that the presence of microwaves from cell phones have a dramatic effect on bees, causing them to become quite disturbed. So, cell phones and related wireless technologies appear to be another likely threat to bees around the globe, and there may be a cumulative effect going on that is making it more and more difficult for bees to survive, let alone thrive.
Beware of Contaminated Honey
The U.S. consumes about 400 million pounds of honey a year, according to Food Safety News, which recently reported that dangerous, adulterated honey is reaching the US market in massive quantities. According to their investigation, about a third or more of all this honey is illegally smuggled into the US from China.
“Honey laundering” may sound odd, but it’s actually quite serious as much of this honey is tainted with illegal antibiotics, including chloramphenicol, and heavy metals like lead.
The US FDA banned chloramphenicol after it was discovered that children given this antibiotic become susceptible to DNA damage and carcinogenicity. China uses it to combat a bacterial epidemic of foulbrood disease, which has been decimating bee colonies. According to public health experts, presence of chloramphenicol in honey can cause aplastic anemia—a severe and potentially fatal reaction—in certain people. The lead contamination is caused by the unlined, lead-soldered drums used by many small-scale beekeepers in China to collect and store the honey.
As of last summer, 27 European countries banned all shipments of Asian honey for these reasons. Unfortunately, even if you decide to avoid this problem by buying locally-produced honey (which would be ideal), you are likely getting it anyway unless your diet consists primarily of whole foods, because 65 percent of all honey consumed is used by food manufacturers for the use in all sorts of processed foods…
Are You Buying FAKE Honey?
Furthermore, there’s also the issue of fake honey being sold as the real thing…
According to Food Safety News:
“[A] favorite con among Chinese brokers was to mix sugar water, malt sweeteners, corn or rice syrup, jaggery, barley malt sweetener or other additives with a bit of actual honey. In recent years, many shippers have eliminated the honey completely and just use thickened, colored, natural or chemical sweeteners labeled as honey.”
High quality raw honey has many health benefits, but you have to know what you’re looking for. Most store bought honey is filtered and pasteurized, which removes most of the beneficial nutrients and basically leaves you with liquid sugar. Manuka honey is the top of the line in terms of quality, both for internal and external use. In fact, the FDA has approved Manuka honey to be used in wound and burn care in the United States. If you can’t find Manuka, your next best option would be raw honey produced by a local beekeeper.