Friday, July 31, 2009

Honeybees and Beekeeping

By Roy Nettlebeck

Tahuya River Apiaries

The future of honeybees and beekeeping in general is critically imperiled. The problem is systemic in nature. Agriculture has evolved into an industry dependent upon un-natural food production. The use of chemicals and monoculture has profited some for the short term, but Nature is too complex for man to interfere and think he can improve it. The honeybee is now exhibiting the tragic results of this mentality.

The industrialization of beekeeping has put us into a position of, “too big to fail.” Thirty percent of all the food we rely upon for sustenance is directly dependent upon the honeybee for pollination. Another fifty percent is indirectly linked to the labor of honeybees.

The collapse began in 1990 with the importation of the Varro mite into the United States. A program to isolate the mite failed, and then chemicals were enlisted to eradicate it. Nine years and three chemicals later, the mite still survived.

When we were short bees in the United States for the pollination of California’s almond groves, the USDA opened the door to the importation of bees from Australia. It was known in 1979 that Australian bees carried three viruses that were not existent in the United States[i] More than 200,000 Australian hives were mixed with American honeybees, and the following winter American beekeepers saw their livelihood disintegrate in Colony Collapse Disorder (“CCD”).

Now we are faced with a more complex problem.

An intrinsic part of honeybee sustainability is genetics. In a study completed some years ago by Dr. Steve Shepard of Washington State University, it was discovered that we only have three families of honeybees in the United States. We have been breeding Queen Bees from a very small amount of genetic diversity. Genes produce proteins that kill viruses, so they are very important to the survival of the species. There is a lot of work being done by researchers to evaluate the genes for protein production. One gene was found to give off 10,000 different proteins, a critical component to the survival of the species.

Agriculture is tumbling toward a very large black hole of genetically modified organisms (“GMO’s”). As time, nature, and industrialized food production move forward, ever increasing problems surface from the use of GMO seed. We were told in the beginning that it would NOT jump species, but evidence is to the contrary, and we are left to accept the answer that “the science is better now.” The real question is why did the USDA allow that technology to go out into nature and our food source without complete scientific research?

The answer lies in profits.

Now we have plants that are insecticides themselves because of their genetic makeup. The pollen from these plants is a neurotoxin to honeybees or any other insect. We do not know what the long-range effects will be for humans. Unfortunately, this genetic genie cannot be put back into the bottle.

Knowledge is power, but you must be very careful to find out where the information you rely upon for food nutrition and safety comes from. Industrialized food producers are only worried about their bottom line and will continue to lobby Congress and market consumers away from the truth.

[i] Drs. Ball and Bailey in the UK, Honeybee Pathology, 1990.