About Bees

As beekeepers we are flooded daily with questions from concerned consumers about what is happening to the bees. So we felt it necessary to give a brief explanation, (as brief as possible, anyway.) Scientists and beekeepers across the USA are working hard to uncover the reasons behind the mysterious disappearance of honey bees. Over 30% of the nations colonies died over the winter of 2006/2007 with countless more dying over the 2007/2008 season. However, it seems to be affecting some beekeepers more severely than others. Whether you are a beekeeper or not this disorder is very troubling. It has potentially far reaching effects for all of us. What do we stand to lose? 1/3 of everything we eat is dependant on honeybee pollination. That translates to over 15 billion dollars (to about 130 crops) a year in the US. Not to mention the loss of the wonderful and incomparable bounty of the hive itself. Some crops that require or benefit dramatically from honey bee pollination include almonds, apples, blueberries, cashews, cherries, cucumbers, peaches, pears, peppers, pumpkins, raspberries, soybeans, squash, strawberries and sunflowers. Honey bees also pollinate most wild and native plants in our ecosystem. Helping to feed and support our animal wildlife. Clearly, honey bees are major players in the food supply and ecosystem. By February 2007, the syndrome, which is characterized by the disappearance of all adult honey bees in a hive while immature bees and honey remain, had been named colony collapse disorder (CCD). The question is, Just what is causing CCD? This is a very good question without a simple answer. Some potential causes have been named: environmental stresses (which include climate change and pesticides), pathogens, parasites and management stresses. Many scientists believe that CCD is likely due to a combination of factors. This makes investigating the cause of CCD especially complex. Over the last few years our nation has experienced climate change, such as intensified storms, floods and droughts. Whether caused by human activities or not these changes are affecting the honey bees. Simply put, in drought conditions, plants do not yield the vital nectar/pollen for the bees and in extremely wet conditions the bees cannot fly to avail themselves of the nectar/pollen. These large variations of weather stress the colony. Wayne Esaias, a NASA scientist, is conducting research on how climate change is affecting honey bees. Esaias believes that a beehives seasonal cycle of weight gain and loss is a sensitive indicator of the impact of climate change on flowering plants. According to his honey bees, big changes are underway. The most important event in the life of flowering plants and their pollinatorsflowering itself is happening much earlier in the year than it used to. Changes in the timing of honey production are a sign that climate change is affecting flowering trees. n addition, some believe that pesticides are a major contributing factor. One class of pesticide under close scrutiny by beekeepers and scientists are neonicotiniods, which are known to be highly toxic to honey bees. France banned the neonicotinoid imidacloprid in 2005, when some field studies indicated some possible harm to bees. A German prosecutor is investigating a major pesticide company after critics alleged that they knowingly polluted the environment. In the summer of 2008 German regulators suspended sales of chlothianidine and related chemicals after the family of pesticides was blamed for the destruction of more than 11,000 bee colonies. A state-run crop research institute in Germany collected samples of dead honeybees and determined that clothianidin (brand name Poncho) caused the deaths. This German pesticide company paid approximately $3 million in damages. Unfortunately, on pollination jobs, bees come into contact with a variety of insecticides, fungicides and herbicides used on crops which may ultimately lead to their death and that of their colony. Also affected are wild pollinators such as butterflies, moths and bumblebees who are also in decline. Farming represents what is good in our nation but at the same time can be a significant cause of ruination of water, land, air and climate. In this world scene, the fact is, we have gone so far from what is natural thus many beekeepers and their honeybees are facing an uphill battle. In regards to honey, it is important to note that of all the honey consumed in the US, only 28% is American grown, the rest comes from foreign countries, predominately China. This fact is worrisome considering that a few months ago (late May 08) container loads of honey from China were blocked by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) because the honey was contaminated with an antibiotic which is banned by the FDA. Despite being contaminated this honey was sold to a company in Texas and one in Michigan. This honey was also falsely identified as coming from other countries to avoid anti-dumping duties. Two executives of a German-based food company have been arrested on federal charges in this regard. Regrettably, this was not the first incident of its kind. For many years China has been dumping large quantities of honey into the US market so much so that the wholesale market price in the US dropped to below production costs. This fact put many beekeepers out of business and forced the remaining beekeepers to quit producing honey and instead concentrate on pollination jobs for a living, this way they didnt have to compete with China. Being constantly on the move is not the ideal situation for the bees. Adding to that, now that the bees were on the move they could not collect adequate supplies of nectar/pollen to be as healthy as possible. SO WHAT CAN WE DO TO HELP THE BEES? The beekeepers knowledge is a valuable resource for understanding the challenge we are faced with. So by supporting American bee farms (apiary) you are also supporting American bees. Whether you prefer conventional honey or raw honey, buy American honey, raised by American bees. Like us, you too can support organizations such as the American Honey Producers Association which will ultimately help farmers in your local area find an answer. Thus you will be supporting research to help save the honey bee.