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Death of the Honey Bee...

Bees have been disappearing and at an alarming rate, threatening not only their livelihoods but also the production of many crops.
“I have never seen anything like it,” Mr. Bradshaw, 50, said from an almond orchard in California. “Box after box are just empty. There’s nobody home.”

The sudden mystifying losses are highlighting the crucial link that honeybees play in the long chain that gets fruit and vegetables to supermarkets and dinner tables across the world.
Beekeepers have fought regional bee crises before, but this is the first national affliction.
Now, in a mystery worthy of Sherlock Homes, bees are disappearing in search of pollen and nectar and simply never returning to their hives. And nobody knows why. Researchers say the bees are likely dying in the fields, perhaps becoming exhausted or simply disoriented and eventually falling victim to the cold.

As researchers try to find answers to the syndrome they have decided to call “colony collapse disorder,” growers are becoming nervous about the capability of the commercial bee industry to meet the growing demand for bees to pollinate dozens of crops, from almonds to avocados to kiwis.
A Cornell University study has estimated that honeybees annually pollinate more than $14 billion worth of seeds and crops in the United States, mostly fruits, vegetables and nuts. “Every third bite we consume in our diet is dependent on a honeybee to pollinate that food,” said Zac Browning, vice president of the American Beekeeping Federation.
“There are less beekeepers, less bees, yet more crops to pollinate,” Mr. Browning said. “While this sounds sweet for the bee business, with so much added loss and expense due to disease, pests and higher equipment costs, profitability is actually falling.”

What can we do?
National Pollinator Week is the last week in June. You, your children and your community groups can become Pollinator Partnership participants and make a difference through actions as simple as creating pollinator-friendly habitat in your back yard! This includes:
• Plant for pollinators in your yard, garden, farm, ranch, local community.
• Reduce your impact on the environment
• Get involved as a Pollinator Partner
• Learn about bees and other pollinators – and teach others of their importance

View video of bee decline at www.wineandfoodtube.com

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  1. This is where education, is a good thing. We're only be told one part of this story.

    Honeybees are an imported insect. They are not a natural insect in america. They were brought over from England.

    Beekeepers are responsible for a lot of this colony collapse, they will transport the hives hundreds of miles and release bees to pollinate fields for a fee, and than take the hives back to their home farm or base, because the bees would always travel back.

    At a recent ag meeting at a Penn State branch, (this was not the topic) the speaker remarked it was a combination of the possiblity of a small virus that the bees weren't immune to, and bad practice standards.

    I'm not saying bees are not important, and we are obviously dependant upon them. But since I've learned that they are not a natural insect, my views have now changed from "save the bee!" to develop other ways to pollinate our fields and crops.

    10 Replies
    1. re: sommrluv

      >>Beekeepers are responsible for a lot of this colony collapse,
      >>bad practice standards.

      That would have been my guess.

      We reap what we sow. Or in this case, what we pollinate for greed.

      1. re: dolores

        http://maarec.cas.psu.edu/bkCD/HBBiol...

        That's some info on importing honey bees.

        I've also heard that alot of beekeepers feed corn syrup, or that corn syrup is an ingredient in feed, to their bees..there is corn syrup specifically made for bees, and some that isn't. I have two friends that keep bees, but honestly I never had much of an interest in it, so I just didn't pay attention.

        But we all know corn is genetically modified....

        It bears food for thought.

        1. re: sommrluv

          The syrup is fed over winter to keep the bees alive. They consume all of it as the colony builds up in spring, and can then gather nectar. No syrup gets into the honey crop, harvested from June to October.

          Even if honeybees are not indigenous to North America (Indians called them 'white man's fly'), they are better at pollinating flowers and fruits than any other method because they are industrious, savers, and plentiful.

          1. re: jayt90

            Wild bees collect nectar and pollinate during the spring and summer, and make honey to support themselves through the winter. This is what well-kept domesticated bees do, except that part of the honey is harvested.

            One of the problems I think this whole situation points to is that of monocultures. In a monoculture there isn't enough diversity in flowering times to support a year-round bee population, which is why the bees have to be shipped in to spend two weeks pollinating in one place before being shipped to the next location. They're the insect equivalent of migrant laborers.

            Bees are useful for pollination of human crops because they are social insects (which makes them relatively easy to control -- as opposed to indigenous pollinators such as butterflies or hummingbirds). Applying human values such as "industriousness" doesn't make a lot of sense, imo. It's not a matter of virtue, but of compatibility with human needs.

            1. re: jlafler

              Your point about monocropping is excellent. I'd like to add that there are other kinds of bees, including bumble bees, that are good pollinators. I don't know if they're indigenous, but I do know that they are less social than honey bees, tend to live in holes in ground, and probably are hard for farmers to "use." On the other hand, I see many of them in my garden, more than honey bees, sadly, and I know that they are helping pollinate my fruit trees. But only because I offer them a safe, diverse habitat, not the sterile environment of most farms.

              1. re: Glencora

                Bumblebees are indigenous, social, and can be colonized for greenhouses. They do not do well at low elevations, but are better than honeybees in low temperatures and visit more types of flowers, such as red clover, than bees.
                They live in colonies of about 50, compared to 80,000 for honeybees, so it is unlikely they will be used as pollinators outside of greenhouses. There is also the fear factor: many people fear the rapid-fire successive stings of the bumblebee, although they are not aggressive, and much less likely to kill than an enraged colony of honeybees.

              2. re: jlafler

                Monocultures are simply places that man brings bees to to do their work. It's an interesting idea, but it doesn't take into account that monocultures are not the only conditions in which bees are disappearing. If left to their own devices, bees could easily migrate beyond the monoculture to a richer food variety. It doesn't seem likely to me that "monocultures" play a role in the disappearance of bees.

                Overharvesting of honey for profit, then feeding bees a simulated diet to get them through the winter may well impact on those bee colonies suffering such treatment, but I doubt very much it has any impact at all on wild populations or even other cultivated populations not treated that way.

                My understanding, though I haven't seen a great amount of information about it, is that there is a noticeable reduction in the wild population of bees, as well as the hives of beekeepers. If this is the case, then the cause has to be something more universal than bees on restricted diets to gain specifically flavored honey or bees fed an artificial diet to get them through the winter.

                Logically, that leaves some sort of disease, natural enemy, environmental toxins, or something that induces a serious case of confusion/disorientation for the bees. And whatever the cause proves to be, it obviously has to impact widely in North America.

                For me, the most logical suspect so far is the theory that microwave cells are the culprit. It may or may not prove true, but it is the most reasonable theory to date. So now we should all fear whether it proves to be true. If it is true, then something as "simple" as changing frequencies of carrier signals could save the bees. Simple in theory. But how much funding do you think this country's communications giants would be willing to throw in that direction? It would not only require reprogramming/retooling every microwave cell phone relay station in the country, it would also require replacement of all telephones currently using those frequencies. Oy, the cell phone pollution of landfills! If that's what the problem truly is, then... Well, next time you see a bee, kiss it goodbye.

        2. re: sommrluv

          I'd love to hear of another way to pollinate our fields and crops without bees. And just because the honey bee came here with European colonists in the 17th century does not mean they are not "natural" just that they were not indigenous. 80% of the world's almonds come from California and growers there (and bee keepers) are suffering from the plight of the honey bee.

          http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article...

          1. re: scoopG

            Do a search on Google for China and hand pollination.

            The alternative is millions of people using paint brushes to pollinate crops and plants. Since some portions of China are so toxic that no pollinators can survive they have gone to hand pollinating.

          2. re: sommrluv

            Good luck navigating life if you want eveything to be "natural" . I assume you like the benefits of a computer or you would not be posting here. How is the construction of a computer and the use of the internet "natural" ?

            Wether you like it or not America is teaming with imported plants, trees, animals and insects.....get over it.

          3. Anybody wanting honeybees is welcome to dig out the massive hives that established themselves in my freaking walls. During swarming season this year, local backyards looked like something out of a National Geographic special - and one nearby house is estimated to harbor more than a million bees beneath its plaster: the walls practically throb.

            The problem is poor beekeeping practices, not the lack of habitat.

            1. fwiw, haagen-dazs is getting in on the issue: http://helpthehoneybees.com/

              also a new honey flavor: http://www.haagendazs.com/

              1. I was under the impression that the crisis with honey bees was due to the vampire mite. (Varroa Jacobsoni mite)

                The US imports 2 tonnes of Australian honey bees each week, as OZ is the last continent free of Varroa.

                Here's a link to a Tasmanian blog, discussing it.

                http://the-gobbler.blogspot.com/2008/...

                6 Replies
                1. re: purple goddess

                  You are right with the fact that Australia does not have this mite. This is one of the reasons we are so strict with our food laws.

                  1. re: purple goddess

                    no one really knows what causes disappearing bee syndrome. varroa is one candidate, plus about a half-dozen others including the issues of monoculture and certain systemic pesticides. it's also worth pointing out that very similar periodic occurences have been reported at least as far back as the 1880s.

                    1. re: FED

                      There are some who believe it is media hype. The almond fruiting in Ca. last year went ahead without a major bee supply problem, and it typically needs almost 60% of all the bees in the U.S. for two weeks.

                      1. re: jayt90

                        As I recall, February 2007 was very, very rainy. This year wasn't. Wouldn't that have an effect?

                        1. re: Glencora

                          You're right. I was referring to The SF Chronicle article linked by ScopeG above, and it was written last October. Mea Culpa.

                          1. re: jayt90

                            doesn't matter. the facts were the same this year. it is a matter of concern ... honeybee rental prices have skyrocketed. here's a more recent piece:
                            http://www.latimes.com/features/food/...

                  2. Um, this is not news. Elizabeth Kolbert had a report on this very issue in the New Yorker almost a year ago. And researchers have tentatively identified a cause - IAPV (Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus). They believe the reason the bees do not return to the hive are not at all related to the global warming myth, or genetically modified foods, but instead are due to the virus literally paralyzing the bees so they cannot fly (or even crawl).

                    That's not to say it's not a disturbing issue; it is. Unfortunately, the idiotic governments where I live (just north of Toronto, Canada) have ridiculous by-laws preventing the establishment of bee-hives within 800 yards of places that might possibly be visited by humans on a regular basis. So, even though we have three apple trees on our property, and our neighbours have pear and crab-apple trees, and we all have large flower gardens that bloom all summer, we can't put a tiny hive in our backyard. So it goes...

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: KevinB

                      I've read some universities have discounted IAPV as a cause.

                      I was just throwing out the fact that some people may not be aware that beekeepers need to feed bees, and the feed is genetically modified. "I" do not eat genetically modified food if I can avoid it, so I find it interesting.

                      I do find this news, as it is currently run in american media as commercials asking for fundraising. People should be aware some fundraising donates money as subsidies back into the beekeepers pockets.

                      People who are possibly causing the problem.

                      I haven't done any research...we all there there are laws in place for good husbandry and care for those who farm cows and chickens, and etc (I'll use the term loosely for those who have visited a feedlot)

                      Are beekeepers also governed in this way?

                      1. re: sommrluv

                        so far there have been no indications that any kind of GMO corn is causing the problem. There are indications that corn syrups that contain high levels of fructose can be problematic if they are stored in certain situations.

                        You can, of course, choose to spend your money as you wish. But it's probably counterproductive to hope that donations don't go to beekeepers since beekeepers are the ones who are going to have to solve the problems.

                        as far as i know there are no regulations controlling how beekeepers treat their bugs, but it is in their best interests to keep them as healthy as possible so the bees can live long and active lives and make the beekeepers lots of money.

                        1. re: FED

                          Than maybe they should start doing so.

                      2. re: KevinB

                        News is anything you didn't know. Or did know and had forgot.

                      3. Maybe they watched Bee Movie and left to go party when the Bee's won the court case against the humans.......

                        Mrs. Sippi was noticing a lack of bees around here so far this year. It's early I think in Ontario but it's something I'll certainly keep an eye on.

                        DT

                        1. I find it interesting that the beekeepers are so sensitive to admit that there might possibly be any wrongdoing among their kind.

                          I know plenty of farmers, who freely admit that factory farming is a problem and restrictions need to be tightened...why are the posters who keep bees so offended?

                          1. In conversations with a few citrus growers here in Florida, they go about their businesss renting hives, business as usual, no thumb on the panic button. Nor have I observed a huge spike in honey prices, or a shortage of it. The literature and the conditions on the ground do not reconcile, at the moment. I'm not sure what to believe.

                            1. There was a blurb on NPR in the last few days that said "scientists" -- or did they say "researchers"? -- now suspect that the crisis with bees is due to cell phone proliferation. The suspicion is that the relay tower signals disrupt the bees ability to navigate and empty hives result.

                              Sounds plausible to me...

                              10 Replies
                              1. re: Caroline1

                                Can you buzz me....... now......???

                                1. re: Caroline1

                                  this has been thoroughly discredited ... by the very scientists who did the study the report was based on. it was one of those things that got totally misinterpreted and blown out of any relationship to reality by the popular press.

                                  one of the funny things in following this problem for the last couple of years is how people search for answers in their pet peeves: cell phones, gmos, organics, callous bosses (beekeepers ... and incidentally, though there is a good chance that there may be something in husbandry practices that aggravate this syndrome, only someone who has never been around beekeeping could opine so freely about beekeepers being responsible).

                                  1. re: FED

                                    Well, that's a relief because you know damned well that the telecommunications industry would NOT foot the bill to rectify that problem! So what''s next? We need our bees back! Not to mention frogs!

                                    1. re: FED

                                      I have three close friends who keep bees, I live next to a farm who rents hives, not to mention all of the farmers I know who rent hives.

                                      The beekeepers I know hail from the south, and also live locally. They are responsible hive tenders.

                                      I don't understand why it's so outside the realm of possibility that in a field as small and uncontrolled as this, that some are refusing to accept the idea that they might shoulder some portion of blame?

                                      From the data I'm reading, Scientists can't possibly locate every wild and feral hive in North America in a field, garage, house, barn, etc etc etc. A lot of suppositions are being made from what can be collected from the keepers hives.

                                      And a lot of keepers cut corners, and don't adhere to 'generally accepted practices'. But the regulations are slim, or not there at all.

                                      Ignoring the fact that your industry needs regulating, not funding, and making assumptions about people who disagree with you, won't make your bees come back.

                                      1. re: sommrluv

                                        that's probably true in some cases, though i hardly think that regulation is the key. the problem is that almost every beekeeper i've ever talked to (and i've talked quite a few) is utterly convinced that they are doing the best job they can for their bees. and their argument--without healthy bees, they have no business--makes a lot of sense. So if there are problems being caused by beekeeping practices, in almost all cases its probably not because of sloppiness, but because some of the things that are currently thought to be best practices might not actually be.

                                        A good example of what i'm talking about: many beekeepers innoculate their hives with pesticide strips in order to keep down the populations of bugs that have devastated hives in the past. These pesticide strips, by themselves, have been proven to be safe. But what about their part in an overall pesticide load? And what about the part of the overall pesticide load in situations that are already difficult (it's probably not coincidental that ccd is occurring at the same time as serious drought through many areas important in beekeeping).

                                        i think what pisses most beekeepers off is when people who have never even tried to keep bees feel free to spout off their wild theories and attack the character ability of beekeepers, unconstrained by modesty or reality-based information. that would probably piss me off, too.

                                        1. re: FED

                                          "Their argument--without healthy bees, they have no business--makes a lot of sense".
                                          But using this logic, there'd be no such thing as puppy mills.

                                          DT

                                          1. re: Davwud

                                            Only if the puppy mill practices caused the puppies to wander off - never to be seen again - and all before they could ever be sold to unsuspecting strangers all over the US.

                                          2. re: FED

                                            For some reason the thread never updated for me. I was looking forward to a reply too. I have to agree, the logic is flawed. The puppy mill comparison to me is a strong one.

                                            "Without healthy bees, they have no business"

                                            Some farmers, don't raise healthy beef, they raise LOTS of beef. Same with chicken. Lots of farmers don't rotate their crops, but it's much better for the land, and the vitamins in the vegetables themselves. Until the bees started to actually leave the hives, maybe beekeepers didn't care.

                                            Food and Wine Magazine just did a story on honey. The data they put forth was that beekeepers that concentrated on honey for production solely, not for catering to pollination...flavored honeys..clover, tupelo, apple blossom, etc. While I'm sure it still serves a purpose in pollination, these beekeepers are concentrating on an end product, and the hives much more closely.

                                            They have experienced no colony colapse symptoms whatsoever.

                                            Also, on a recent "how'd that get on my plate" Sunny Anderson visited a bee farmer in Hawaii. They spoke about how sixty thousand bees live in one hive, and it takes 12 bees one lifetime to produce a teaspoon of honey.

                                            Than they proceeded to load up the flatbed truck of hives (now empty, they smoked and smacked all the bees out) they had transported into the field of exotic blossoms. Her voiceover indicated that "Enough hives are left behind for the hive to live on" as the truck rolls away, heavy laden, and there's a sad pile of half empty hives left behind. It's a quick shot, but it looked like four to me. Maybe six? Is that really enough? I honestly wouldn't know.

                                            1. re: sommrluv

                                              as the one who wrote that post, I have to point out that puppy mills and cattle ranchers don't depend on their puppies and cows for ongoing business. they sell them once and they're done. beekeepers have a vested financial interest in keeping bee colonies healthy and happy. it costs them money when they need to replace them. that's a big difference.

                                              furthermore, i would dispute the food and wine magazine assertion that honey farmers have not been affected. the researchers that i have talked to have said straight out that this ccd does affect honey producers.

                                              it's also important to note that given the extremely low price of honey these days (Chinese imports have ruined the market), there are fewer and fewer beekeepers who can afford to concentrate just on producing honey. most of them need the income from pollination in order to stay in business.

                                              l'm not sure quite what Sunny Anderson was saying, or what you were saying about Sunny Anderson: "Enough hives are left behind for the hive to live on" sounds like it might have been a misunderstanding on somebody's part. For the record: bees reproduce like, well, rabbits (they need to, they have extremely short lives even in the best of conditions). Common practice since medieval times is for beekeepers to take half of the bees out of one hive and move them to an empty hive. They then get busy doing what bees do and both hives fill up.

                                              none of this is to say that CCD isn't a problem and neither is it to say that beekeepers' practices are perfect. It's just to point out that if there are problems, in most cases its despite best efforts, not because of intentionally cutting corners.

                                              1. re: FED

                                                "Puppy mills and cattle ranchers don't depend on their puppies and cows for ongoing business. they sell them once and they're done. beekeepers have a vested financial interest in keeping bee colonies healthy and happy. it costs them money when they need to replace them. that's a big difference."

                                                Puppy mills depend on their breeding stock just the same as bee keepers depend on their bees.

                                                DT

                                    2. There was a very good documentary on tv about this a while ago. It touched on all the various theories, but the final and strongest one seemed to be that suggested that the bees are suffering from a sort of bee aids - their immune system is down and they die from a host of different diseases. Btw, I believe this problem is not limited to the USA, but is also present in Europe where the honeybees are indigenous.

                                      1. a beekeeping periodical i looked at blamed new synthetic pesticides called neo-nicotinoids (they mimic the toxic effects of nicotine on the nervous system) these pesticides are currently banned in germany and france because of colony collapse

                                        http://www.coxwashington.com/hp/conte...
                                        http://www.greenrightnow.com/2008/06/...
                                        http://wiki.answers.com/Q/Why_are_bee...

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: soupkitten

                                          sorry to bump an old thread, but i've continued to follow this issue. more on the pesticide link, EU nations restricting use of neonicotinoids linked to hive collapse and bee decline here:

                                          http://ht.ly/2m0fO

                                          1. re: soupkitten

                                            There is a high number of mosquitoes carrying Eastern Equine Encephalitis (aka Triple E, and deadly to humans) this summer in an area south of Boston. Nighttime aerial spraying of an insecticide commonly used to kill fleas in pets has killed off beehives and crickets as well.

                                        2. As of late July, 2008, Dennis van Engelsdorp, one of the USA's chief experts on bees' dying and Colony Collapse Disorder said there is no one single cause, but a number of viruses are indicated:

                                          Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus (IAPV )seemed to be the leading candidate. This is like a flu, but no direct causal link has been proven. It did show up in nearly every single dead dead hive.
                                          Kashmir Bee Virus (KBV)
                                          Two parasites — Nosema apis and Nosema ceranae

                                          It looks like bees are experiencing something like bubonic plague.

                                          No causal link has been found between the bees' dying and pesticide and herbicide use even though many recent studies have been conducted.

                                          Bee-keeping and maintenance of bee hives is the beekeeper's job and his livelihood. I don't believe that the F&W story that said honey rather than pollination was part of the problem is accurate, after hearing Van Engelsdorf speak twice. One out of every three bites an American eats has used a bee to pollinate.

                                          1. I thought I'd bump up this thread to see if bees are any better off now than a year ago.

                                            One good sign is the drop in price of almonds. There was a crop shortage because of not enough pollinating bees two years ago, and the price of California almonds doubled, staying high for at least a year.

                                            Any other bee news?

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: jayt90

                                              Don't know if the bees are better off, but honey prices are definitely rising - about $0.75 per lb over the last three years, from $3.75 to $4.50 retail. Charts and info at "www.honey.com".

                                            2. I was just commenting on another subject area on Chow that we have had an amzing honey bee season this year. Amazing does not even cover it. Last year - eh.

                                              After so many years watching them, I am wondering if bees just go thru something cyclical year to year.

                                              Last year I sort of got concerned about the bees and was toying with putting up a box or two. Now, I think I will just let that go. We make the yard very inviting for the bees. So far they have been very polite... a little pushy, but so far they have not stung and I have not stomped them.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: Sal Vanilla

                                                it appears that there was both growth and a cure discovered source for colony collapse, which I posted here:
                                                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5903...

                                                (the first link is the most recent one, but appears to have been based on older data; the second 2 links I find more reliable because they're from scientific community)

                                              2. here's some news -- the mite is killing a necessary ribosome protein: http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,5...