Thoughts on Bees and Pesticides


Like many I heard about Colony Collapse Disorder a few years back with Bees mysteriously vanishing. It seemed alarming but bee keeping marched on and I shrugged and figured it was the usual media hyperbole on what was admittedly a fascinating story.

Today I watched a nice documentary called Vanishing of the Bees which chronicled the tale from the beekepers angle and included information up through 2008. It prompted me to get more up to date on the issue, reading this and that while watching the film.

The plain truth is they still don’t know the cause for certain. Many different ailments seem to be at fault, many different factors have taken the spotlight. The documentary makes a case for systemic pesticides being the root catalyst. These are pesticides that are not sprayed on plants but are inculcated within them such that the pesticide is expressed in the plants body, pollen, seeds etc… Not unlike the way plants themselves fight insects.

The notion is that the bees pick it up and feed their young and that over time the levels build up and damage the bees. This is also how these pesticides work on bugs, not immediate but by degrading their defenses against their own predators and diseases until the pest population is degraded to a low level. The most compelling evidence is that France experienced this same phenomena and after banning such pesticides, quickly restored their bee populations. Circumstantial, but strong circumstantial evidence.

The documentary finishes off with a strong call for organic farming and banning such pesticides, following Europe’s cautionary stand, “prove its safe start” rather than the US “Prove it’s dangerous to stop.” I think that makes some sense but I’m a somewhat risk accepting kind of person and I think you can really shoot yourself in the foot if you never take a risk and must ensure safety before any step. I think some balance makes sense and a blend of both.

Of course they also drew the line from agro dollars to the government saying that the EPA was the fox guarding the henhouse. And that I think is true to an extent. I believe there are always some folks not indebted to the money and who take their mission seriously, but there are always many whom chase money and promotions more than their own ethics.

And that brought me to a thought that the movie, and according to a couple google searches, few if anyone has brought to the discussion. If the bee keepers really are concerned they should stop selling their bees out to pollinate such crops or any producer that can’t prove they don’t use them. If they can organize sufficiently, that would put a great deal of pressure on producers to stop such practices. Yes, it means they would take a big financial hit, but that excuse is no different than the EPA which likewise depends on the money from such industry.

Now I’m not saying the keepers are bad, and there were examples of organic bee keepers, but those who were campaigning strongest for laws, were also those who routinely take their bees to the trough of chemical pesticides to make their living and were being impacted as a result. I’m surprised no one even discussed the possibility. It’s like a case where someone says, the stove keeps burning me we need a cooler stove, when the most direct answer is, stop touching it!

I’m not blaming the victim, the victims are the bees; they don’t know any better. I’m taking aim at all the humans that are taking dollars today in exchange for greater pain tomorrow. It reminds me of the folks I’ve worked with who complain about their work or their bosses, but don’t say anything because it would jeopardize their paycheck. We can do better.

If you worry about the bees you can…

  1. Buy organic food, ideally local food
  2. Buy honey from local bee keepers (and use it instead of sugar when you can)
  3. Keep flowers in your yard instead of grass (which is less work to boot)

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