Colony Collapse Disorder is a growing threat to bee populations worldwide. While scientists have hypothesized many causes, from cell phone towers to nutrition to pesticides, new evidence is showing that it is most likely a combination of parasite infection and bee colonies with weakened resistance to this parasite. The most recent news on this subject blames a combination of pesticides and fungicides, which weaken the bees’ resistance to the disease carrying parasite, Nosema ceranae.
I can’t help but wonder if the devastation in bee populations is a warning bell for human populations. Just like the bees, our own resistance to various chronic conditions is decreasing. We can’t deny that rates of autism, allergies and even cancer are growing as people are weakened by exposure to chemicals and poor food choices. It is estimated that by 2025, nearly half of the US population (49%) will suffer from a chronic health condition.
The Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner predicted in his 1923 lectures that domestication and more intensive bee-keeping methods would lead to decimation of the honeybee population. His bee lectures are deep and fascinating. I highly recommend taking the time to read them. He even discusses the parallels between modern bee-keeping and modern dairy farming, which even in his time seemed to be pushing animals more and more toward maximum production. Steiner pointed out, however, that unlike cows and humans, bees could not completely be removed from nature and were therefore better able to heal themselves through their daily contact with wildness and nature.
Today, we have indeed domesticated honey bees to a point that goes beyond anything that people in 1923 could have imagined. One article on the colony collapse problem describes our current bee crisis:
Bee populations are so low in the US that it now takes 60% of the country’s surviving colonies just to pollinate one California crop, almonds. And that’s not just a west coast problem—California supplies 80% of the world’s almonds, a market worth $4 billion.
In simple terms, bees are now being trucked to California every year to pollinate giant mono-crops of almonds. Many people don’t realize that we are even doing this. Recently a vendor at our farmers’ market was selling “vegan” cheesecakes made from nuts, but he was using ethically raised, local honey as the sweetener. This made several vegans very angry because of their beliefs that taking honey does harm to the bees. I’d be willing to bet, however, that these same vegans have no qualms about eating almonds. If they knew that bees were being mistreated in order to grow those almonds, would they reduce their consumption? Would they demand that their cheesecakes be free of both honey and almonds? I think that the current state of farming demands that everyone make choices that are based on real knowledge and understanding rather than a set of black and white beliefs.
Due to intensive mono-cropping combined with shortages of wild bees and pollinators, bee-keeping for pollination rather than honey has become big business. It is not just almonds, but also other crops such as apples, blueberries and pickling cucumbers. Indeed, there are hives of bees being trucked all over the country at any given time. Though these bees are free to roam while in an area and touch base with nature, they are never truly wild or free to live their lives in any normal way. Certainly bees that are raised in this captive way will not be able to resist parasites and disease as well as wild bees or even naturally raised bees. Bee health is just one more reason to shop at your local farmers’ market and be conscious of the choices you make every day. My own plan is to eat more local honey from farmers who treat their bees well and to eat less almonds.