Film Exposes Bee Colony Collapse Cause
The honeybee is not just important because it supplies us with medicinal raw honey. The honeybee also pollinates many of the plants that produce our food. Without healthy honeybees, we will likely starve.
The film, Vanishing of the Bees, reveals the primary causes of the mysterious bee colony collapse disorder with a combination of scientific and firsthand knowledge from large and small beekeepers from around the world.
The film, narrated by Ellen Page and directed by George Langworthy and Maryam Henein, was produced in 2010 and released for general distribution in 2011. The film reviews the science and history of bees, beekeeping and the mysterious disappearance of uncounted hives among beekeepers throughout the world and particularly in the United States.
Researchers have estimated that about 35 percent of U.S. honeybees have been killed by the disorder. The disorder has been mystifying researchers looking for a single pathogen or threat because they have found that affected hives have had a variety of infections, from fungi to bacteria to mites – and most recently, fly larvae – with the latest news reports focusing on “zombie bees.”
The film also covers the similar collapse of hives around Europe a decade ago, the resulting beekeeper protests, the research by governmental and private scientists, and the eventual banning of systemic pesticides, which evidence found to be the primary cause for the loss of hives throughout Europe.
The problem, the scientists and bee experts interviewed in the movie point out, is that the systemic pesticides damage the immune systems of the bees, allowing infections previously fought off to invade the hives. This weakened immune system and subsequent abandoning of the hive – the bee experts agree – is most prevalent following the hives being exposed to fields that have been sprayed with systemic pesticides.
Meanwhile, government agencies in the U.S. remain unconvinced, as most of the research utilized by the EPA – the agency governing the marketability of systemic pesticides – has only studied the short-term affects of the pesticides upon the bees, rather than the non-lethal, residual effects of systemic pesticides – which the plants harbor over long periods.
Systemic pesticides, which include the category called neonicotinoids, include (in a list provided by The Senior Extension Associate at Penn State University) the common pesticide brand names:
Actara, Platinum, Helix, Cruiser, Adage, Meridian, Centric, Flagship, Poncho, Titan, Clutch, Belay, Arena, Confidor, Merit, Admire, Ledgend, Pravado, Encore, Goucho, Premise, Assail, Intruder, Adjust and Calypso.
Government-sponsored European research found direct evidence that systemic pesticides resulted in a delayed accumulation of weakened immune system and damage to the honeybees’ navigation systems. In one taped excerpt, the film compares a honeybee’s behavior gathering pollen from a systemic-pesticide-free sunflower with one that was previously treated with a neonicotinoid pesticide. The pesticide-free sunflower hosted normal bee pollen-collecting activity, while the systemic-pesticide sunflower caused the bee to become disoriented, and eventually lose the ability to stay attached to the sunflower’s filaments. The result was the bee’s hampered navigation and a weakened honeybee.
Once back to the hive (for those who can make it back), the tainted and weakened bee supplies the poisoned pollen to the hive, damaging the workers and nursing bees, and eventually, the queen.
This assumption that non-lethal doses of low-level, systemic pesticides can damage the bee’s ability to navigate was confirmed in a 2001 study from French university researchers, who found that doses of imidacloprid, a neonicotinoid systemic pesticide, directly affected the bee’s navigation abilities. The researchers concluded that: “The ability of the honeybee to move in an open-field-like apparatus is impaired at the doses of 2.5, 5, 10, and 20 ng/bee. These effects are amplified with time and reach a maximum 60 min after application.”
A public announcement by European beekeepers documented that since the European Union’s ban on these systemic pesticides, European honeybee hive counts have made a dramatic comeback.
The link between damage to wildlife species by pesticides is not a new one. Damage to reptiles and frogs, seals, bats and monarch butterflies have been shown links to pesticide residues in past studies. In the case of honeybees, these are insects being exposed to insecticides.
The film also points out issues with modern beekeeping methods that also contribute to the weakening of the immune systems of the bees. These include feeding the bees white sugar while transporting them over long distances, and utilizing laboratory-cloned queen bees instead of letting honeybees birth and develop their own – more versatile – queens. When these laboratory-cloned bees are introduced, they must be quarantined by the beekeeper in a section of the hive in order to prevent the bees from killing the cloned queen.
These pointed out, the film concludes that the systemic pesticides are the most prevalent cause, as multiple large, commercial beekeepers testify that their die-offs occur after their bees are allowed to forage among systemic pesticide-treated crops.
The movie, Vanishing of the Bees, is now available for rent on Netflix and Blockbuster, and can be rented or purchased online at http://www.vanishingbees.com/.
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