In These New Times

A new paradigm for a post-imperial world

Bees and the Future of Food

Posted by seumasach on May 25, 2009

Milt Bowling

Imagine going to the grocery store to find that a third of the products have temporarily disappeared-staples that you depend on. You could get by for a while, but what if this change was permanent? 

Up until recently, we took for granted the Western (or European) honeybee, Apis mellifera. Beginning in the summer of 2006, however, the commercial honeybee industry has collapsed suddenly and precipitously. The term being used to describe this recent phenomenon is Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD for short. CCD is defined as no adult bees left in the hive, only the queen and the capped brood.

Beekeepers in North America and Europe particularly have reported their numbers of hives have dropped anywhere from 25 to 100 percent, which is devastating. 

What does all this have to do with your grocery shopping? One third of the human food supply depends on insect pollination, with about 80 percent of that being accomplished by bees. A recent United States Congressional study stated that honeybees add about $18 billion a year to the food supply, and pollinate over 130 different types of crops. Their total disappearance would also cause $75 billion in indirect losses. 

The official position of the Canadian government is that there is “no problem;” however, according to American bee expert Jerry Bromenshenk, beekeepers in five Canadian provinces have reported CCD.

Causes of CCD
US researchers are exploring a number of potential causes of CCD, including viruses, mites, fungus, pesticides, stress, poor nutrition, genetically modified (GM) crops, habitat loss, and climate change. Because of the spread pattern through different countries, however, most of the theories don’t stand up to closer scrutiny.

Viruses, for example, are unlikely to have the same global spread pattern. Mite infestation has been occurring for decades and would result in dead bees in the hive, which there are not in the case of CCD. Pesticides and GM crops are not a factor in every region reporting CCD. Stress and poor nutrition are applicable only for the US bees, as a result of trucking hives long distances for rent and feeding bees a fructose or sucrose solution. Habitat loss, although problematic, is not relative to only the past year. Climate change, as well, has been gradual. In addition, the oldest bee, Cretotrigona prisca, discovered in New Jersey, dates back 65 million years, which tells us that bees are adaptable to changes in climate.

One area talked about but not yet investigated in North America is the effect of electromagnetic fields (EMFs) from wireless technology. At Landau University in Germany, placing a portable phone base station at the hives caused fewer bees to return. Dr. George Carlo, chairman of the non-profit Science and Public Policy Institute in Washington, DC, states that wireless transmissions affect all living things at the cellular level. Most bees are fuzzy and carry an electrostatic charge, which helps in the adherence of pollen. Carlos’ theory is that the waves disrupt intercellular communication, which in the case of bees would disrupt their ability to communicate and navigate. It is quite possible that the enormous proliferation of wireless signals in the environment has reached the tipping point of the bees’ ability to cope.

An organic advantage?
Organic beekeepers, who have fewer reported cases of CCD, must locate their hives three and a half kilometers away from an urban center, landfill, golf course or highway. Their location means that they have a lower exposure to EMF than their commercial counterparts. With conceivably less exposure to pesticides and other agro-chemicals, these bees may also have healthier immune systems. 

How do we fix the CCD problem? How do we return nature to balance and allow bees to pollinate the crops we depend on for food? Well, first we have to have an open mind and consider all possible causes. As the saying goes, we can’t solve the problem with the same thinking that created it. With an accurate idea of the cause, we can take action to remedy a potentially devastating change.

HANS consultant and member Milt Bowling is President of the Clean Energy Foundation, which works with the public, industry and government for better regulation and safer technology. His contact info is listed under “Electromagnetic Fields and Radiation” in the HANS online directory at References are available upon reques

2 Responses to “Bees and the Future of Food”

  1. Will Rusho said

    Sir: How do we know bees carry an electromagnetic charge, and what effect EMFs affect it? The theory is good but untested.

  2. inthesenewtimes said

    You can find more in the electromagnetic charge here:

    Effects of Electric Charges on Honeybees

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