Be kind to the bees (please)!

The survival of the honeybee is one of the most critical issues facing us today

Those poor bees
Despite the fact that I don’t like to be stung (which actually hasn’t happened to me for a very long time), I have a deep affection and respect for bees. Some CN&R readers probably know this already—see “Bee buzz,” my March 27, 2011, interview with local beekeeper Mike Wofchuck, and “Smitten with bees’ (July 28, 2011), an in-depth interview with former Chico Green School teacher and biodynamic beekeeper Keith Gelber about the desperate situation of honeybees (and, by extension, beekeepers) in the face of widespread decimation at the hands of colony collapse disorder (CCD). Gelber’s observation that bees are “in dire straits É like patients in an emergency room” is, unfortunately, all too true.

Bees whose immune systems become weakened after being trucked too early in the year thousands of miles to pollinate single-crop orchards that are sprayed with neonicotinoid pesticides such as clothianidin become highly susceptible to CCD, as Gelber pointed out. CCD is a massive problem, threatening the entire bee population worldwide, and consequently the survival of the many crops—from almonds and alfalfa to cantaloupe, cocoa, kiwi and watermelon—they pollinate.

On Jan. 10, according to a recent PR Newswire press release titled “Beekeepers Are Critical to Economy”, beekeepers from across the United States met at a conference in Las Vegas to discuss the dismal, highly concerning state of affairs of the poor bee. “[C]ommercial beekeepers shared first-hand accounts of the value of beekeeping, and of the dramatic impact of bee declines,” the release reads. “Beekeepers estimate that one single bee kill from a pesticide exposure incident, representing 200 bee colonies, is responsible for an estimated $5 million of value to the agricultural economy.”

Pesticide Action Network spokesman Paul Towers is quoted as saying, “Independent research links pollinator declines, especially honey bees, to a wide range of problems with industrial agriculture, especially pesticides.”

“We are inching our way toward a critical tipping point,” beekeeper and National Honey Bee Advisory Board (NHBAB) secretary Steve Ellis was quoted as saying in a recent article ( Things have gotten so bad that last year Ellis “had so many abnormal bee die-offs that he’ll qualify for disaster relief from the U.S. Department of Agriculture,” writes Grist writer Claire Thompson.

Thompson points out that the very chemicals farmers use to combat certain insects are also wreaking havoc on the bee population. She quotes NHBAB co-chair and Pennsylvania beekeeper Dave Hackenberg, who observes that “we have become a nation driven by the chemical industry.”

Hackenberg, writes Thompson, “owns two farms, and even when crop analysts recommend spraying pesticides on his crops to kill an aphid population, for example, he knows that ‘if I spray, I’m going to kill all the beneficial insects.’ But most farmers, lacking Hackenberg’s awareness of bee populations, follow the advice of the crop adviser—who, these days, is likely to be paid by the chemical industry, rather than by a state university or another independent entity.”

The solution? Let’s hope it’s not too late to find one. As Thompson writes, “Ellis, for his part, thinks that figuring out a way to solve the bee crisis could be a catalyst for larger reform within our agriculture system. ‘If we can protect that pollinator base, it’s going to have ripple effects É for wildlife, for human health,’ he said. ‘It will bring up subjects that need to be looked at, of groundwater and surface water—all the connected subjects associated [with] chemical use and agriculture.'”