While discussing the fourth annual National Honeybee Day, on August. 17, a colleague from the Center for Food Safety informed me that the bees were going to be landing on the front cover of Time Magazine. Did this mean that the bees were officially mainstream now? Was the article going to tell the masses that systemic pesticides are responsible for colony collapse disorder, a theory that my documentary Vanishing of the Bees put forth four years earlier?
Luckily, I subscribe to Time. When I downloaded it onto my Kindle, I was greeted with an audio clip of buzzing bees. That was the most impressive part of the package aside from the cover art. The only new thing I discovered was the development of a genome repository—a.k.a a sperm bank for bees—by Washington State researchers. The article could have easily been dated August circa 2009.
The piece lists several suspects affecting the bees’ demise, such as the bacterial disease American Foulbrood, the parasite Nosema ceranae, and the vampiric Varroa mite. The author also throws systemic pesticides into the mix , but fails to stress that it’s these poisons that are responsible for compromising the honeybee’s immune system, making it impossible for honeybees to fend off pathogens.
Chemical companies coat commercially produced seeds with systemic pesticides that absorb into the plant; they use applicators to spray the air and land from above while beekeepers add miticides and fungicides to their own hives. All of these combined toxins synergize, sometimes becoming 1000x more potent. These days, one itsy bitsy pollen grain typically contains nine different pesticides. No one needs a science degree to know that these poisons affect bees (and beings) in sublethal ways. It’s common sense.
“If we don’t make some changes soon, we’re going to see a disaster,” says Tom Theobald, a beekeeper in Colorado featured in Vanishing of the Bees. “The bees are just the beginning,” he told Time Magazine.
The same thing is happening with humans. “With the rapid increase in autoimmune diseases, it clearly suggests that environmental factors are at play due to the significant increase … Genes do not change in such a short period of time,” says Virginia T. Ladd, President and Executive Director of the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA).
Honeybees are environmental indicators—the modern-day canary in the coal mine. Except you can theoretically escape a coal mine, but not planet earth. To many of us, the only mystery behind colony collapse disorder is that these pesticides aren’t yet banned in the United States. The Center for Food Safety, along with four beekeepers and four other environmental and consumer groups, filed a lawsuit in Federal District Court against the Environmental Protection Agency this past March for its failure to protect pollinators from dangerous pesticides.
EPA has filed a Motion to Dismiss the neonics lawsuit on legal/procedural grounds. Center for Food Safety and others involved are developing written arguments on why EPA is wrong and the case should not be dismissed. Those briefs are due in November and the motion is set on the Judge’s calendar to consider it in early December.
Shockingly, chemical companies have the gall to argue that actual levels of neonicotinoid exposure in the field are too low to be considered the main culprit in colony loss.
“We’ve dealt with insecticides for a long time,” Randy Oliver tells Time. The independent scientist and beekeeper also believes that pesticides are not the direct cause of colony collapse. Word in the bee yard is that Oliver has ties to Bayer Crop Science. He has been cited as a support source for Bayer Crop Science, in addition to being a regular contributor to Bee-List, a beekeeper listerv, where he too often defends the use of chemicals.
Author Bryan Walsh also interviews Jerry Hayes, former Apiary Inspection Assistant Chief for Florida’s Department of Agriculture. Until, that is, he doubled his paycheck by strolling through the revolving door to head Monsanto’s “commercial bee work.” As part of their “bee work,” Monsanto is working on “an RNA-interference technology that can kill the Varroa mite by disrupting the way its genes are expressed.” And we also know that the bee genome has been sequenced. are genetically modified bees on the horizon?
As an aside, it was Jerry Hayes who told me in a phone call many years back to “check my tires.” This was when I told him I wanted to start investigating Bayer Crop Science in connection to their systemic pesticides and CCD. An interview with Bayer isn’t in our movie but we did travel to North Carolina to meet with them. We weren’t allowed to film the conversation let alone tape it. We met with two science flacks who towed the line and insisted their products don’t harm bees as long as the label is properly followed. On our way out of the parking lot, I asked George Langworthy, friend, cinematographer and co-director, to snap a picture of their sign. We were stopped on the spot and forced to delete the image.
“One-third of U.S. honeybee colonies died or disappeared during the past winter, a 42% increase over the year before and well above the 10% to 15% losses beekeepers used to experience in normal winters,” reads the Time piece.
In 1946, the United States had 5.8 million hives. Today we are down to 2.2 million. Although Time Magazine is not ahead of its time when it comes to the bees or explaining their disappearance, every bit of publicity does help raise awareness. And it is up to us to be the change we want to see if we want to save our honeybees and ourselves—not to mention saving the native bee populations and all the other creatures that are slowly dying.
Let us continue to stand up against the ills of Big Agra and Big Pharma. August 17th is National Honeybee Day. Consider calling your representative now and urging them to support the Save the America’s Pollinators Act, or voting “no” on the upcoming King’s amendment to the Farm Bill. Host a screening of Vanishing of the Bees to spread the buzz. Or buy a Bee the Change T-Shirt to make a statement. We will donate part of the proceeds to a bee cause.
[cross posted from Honey Colony]