Honeybees are the canary in the coalmine of today’s environmental crisis. I have been a beek (beekeeper) for 7 years now starting just about the time that Colony Collapse Disorder was being discovered, described and research was beginning. I watched as various theories were proposed and disproved: it’s the cell towers, it’s the aliens, it’s the beekeepers. I have always thought and said to anyone who would listen it’s an immune system problem. The bees are too stressed by the constant moving of the hives to follow the pollination to be able to effectively fight off the various disease pressures to which they are exposed.
Last night my Sweetheart and I went to a showing of “The Vanishing of the Bees”. I went expecting to be saddened by the state of the bees and to join in the discussion if there was one after the film. When the documentary started out with a lot of footage of David Hackenburg I was skeptical. I have not been a fan of this guy since seeing him on 60 Minutes weeping and wailing about how he was losing his bees. They showed him trucking them from Pennsylvania to California to Maine to Massachusetts for the various crop pollination seasons and I had no sympathy. As far as I was concerned he was a greedy jerk who refused to see that you couldn’t stress an organism like that and expect that it’s immune system will be able to fight off anything. Let alone be able to combat the viruses, mites and fungi that the bees are exposed to over and over again. But after watching this movie I find him a much more sympathetic figure. If he is not quite the folk hero that they make him out to be at least he is very likeable and appears to be trying to do the right thing.
They did however include several of my organic beekeeping heroes: Dee Lusby, Gunther Hauk, Marla Spivak, and Simon Buxton. I found the fact that they left out Ross Conrad and Kirk Webster puzzling. Ross and Kirk are two of the gurus of organic beekeeping. And Ross is such a great guy. I saw him speak at the annual meeting of the Maine State Beekeepers Association and he handled the heckling from the conventional/chemical beekeepers with such grace, style and good humor. I think he would have been a great addition to the film.
So why are the bees dying? Systemic pesticides seem to be the answer that this film offers. Monoculture agriculture. An Environmental Protection Agency that as Hackenburg says really should take the word Protection out of its title. And maybe, just maybe the practices of commercial beekeepers.
So Bayer (Dupont, Monsanto, etc etc) is the enemy. This is not new news, as my kid would say. We have known for years that pesticides are a bad idea. Remember “Silent Spring”, Agent Orange, the apple pesticide scare? Organic agriculture is the way to go. It has been proven over and over that we can feed the world without chemical input. In fact the research shows that production in central African has actually increased since they have returned to more traditional methods of agriculture. Compost, cover crops, diversified cropping etc. Why is our government pushing the chemicals? Well as usual it is because there is little money to be made from compost but lots of money to be made from monocultures that need intensive chemical support to be productive.
So back to the bees. When they started to die in record numbers they were trying to tell us that the environmental degradation wrought by chemically intensive agriculture is at the breaking point. We need to be paying attention.
In the film the French beekeepers marched on the headquarters of Bayer and their country’s minister of Agriculture paid heed and moved to ban the two systemic pesticides linked to the mass deaths in the bee colonies. Maybe we should try something like that here.
Beekeepers can save the world!