At some points during the movie, I just wanted to cry (trailer). I knew about bee health issues but zeroing in on them as a manifestation of the intelligence that is nature and seeing the bees up close struck an even deeper chord.
The best evidence for me about what is going on regarding bee deaths, was the footage in France. We were shown bees foraging for pollen in two fields of sunflowers. The first field was organic. The bees were doing what bees do.
Because bees are fuzzy insects, pollen sticks to them every time they visit flowers. They become pollen magnet. Just like any other insect that washes itself, the bee brushes off the pollen on their antennae with hairs that work like a comb. At the middle section, a bee’s legs also have the comb-like hairs that scrape off the collected pollen, transferring it towards the hind legs. Hairs on the back legs form a pollen basket and at the bottom end of their legs are more comb-like structures and a structure that presses the pollen into the basket. The hairs that surround the area hold the pollen in place while the bee flies from place to place. The pollen will be fed to the young bees in the pupa stage back at the hive.
So back to the gorgeous French fields of sunflowers in the movie, Vanishing of the Bees. The second field of sunflowers was treated with a pesticide. The footage was horrifying. The bee was doing its thing, just covered in pollen, and it began to itch. Instead of cleaning itself, as above, it just fell to the ground.
The problem is that these newer neonicotinoids (pesticides) provide systemic protection of both the seed and developing seedling, working in the plant’s root system and in the plant above ground. It’s not like there is a single application of spray which is washed away in the next rain fall. This type acts from inside the plant. And so what happens when the pollen from these plants are returned to the hive to feed the young? Researchers are still investigating, but suspect that these young do not grow up to be hardy and able to respond to the normal diseases that they usually deal with in the hive.
Now the story gets more personal. When we attack nature, we are also attacking ourselves. But bigger still, the movie, Vanishing of the Bees, suggest that we are also attacking the female. Over 98 percent of bees are female (worker bees). Note that the population of a healthy hive in mid-summer can average between 40,000 and 80,000 bees. But is there an even bigger question here? Perhaps there is a far bigger story behind the death of the bees than we have been able to grasp. One local beekeeper, a producer in Grey-Bruce (one of the best honey producing areas in Ontario) is experiencing a 50-90% fatality rate. Read his story in the Globe and Mail or watch here.
The time to act is now. If you would like to follow the group that seeks the same ban on Neonicotinoids in Ontario as is seen in Europe, follow the group on facebook. A huge thank you to Nathan Carey of Neustadt for all his efforts in coordinating this initiative and the movie showing.
An Introduction to Neonicotinoids
Bees are sending us a sign. Their deaths might be indicating that mono-cropping was a short term solution and that we now need to transition to a new kind of agriculture, perhaps to Agriculture 3.0. The increasing use pesticides necessary for managing this type of agriculture (Agriculture 2.0) is having residual effects that science has formally not understood. We did not know the effects of pesticides with a longer life also showing up in the pollen and being brought back to the hive and fed to brood and how that affects the future generations of bees. We are now seeing the case where they might be affecting not just future generations of bees, but future generations of humans, as residual levels build slowly in the environment.
The difference with neonicotinoids is that they break down slowly in the environment, so they can be taken up by the plant and provide protection from insects as the plant grows. This is where they have an effect on bees, due to a delayed response to the pesticide after the pollen from these plants have been fed to brood in the bee hive. During the late 1990s, this class of pesticides became widely used. Beginning in the early 2000s, two other neonicotinoids were introduced. Currently, virtually all corn that is planted in the Midwestern United States is treated with neonicotinoids in addition to various fungicides. Soybean seeds are also treated with a neonicotinoid insecticide.
On 29 April 2013, 15 of the 27 European Union member states voted to enact a 2-year ban on the use of the three neonicotinoids. Eight nations voted against the ban, while four abstained. The law prevents the use of neonicotinoids on flowering plants for two years unless compelling scientific evidence is presented that demonstrates that the chemicals are safe. Temporary suspensions had previously been enacted in France, Germany, and Italy. In Switzerland, where neonicotinoids were never used in alpine areas, a ban has also been implemented due to accidental poisonings of bee populations and the relatively low safety margin for other beneficial insects. (This information is well referenced in wikipedia under ‘neonicotinoid’).
“Pollination is vital to life on Earth, but largely unseen by the human eye,” says filmmaker Louie Schwartzberg who shows us the intricate world of pollen and pollinators with gorgeous high-speed images in his film, yet to be to be released, Wings of Life: A love story that feeds the earth. His inspiration comes from the vanishing of one of nature’s primary pollinators, the honeybee.