Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Canary in the Coal Mine (Colony Collapse Disorder)

     Colony Collapse Disorder is a phenomenon in which an entire colony of bees abruptly disappears from its hive. The term was first applied in 2006 following a drastic rise in the disappearance of honeybee colonies in North America and Europe.  Cases of CCD have since been reported globally. The food staples of corn, wheat and rice are wind pollinated but a third of global farm output depends on animal pollination, mostly by honey bees.  These foods provide 35% of our calories, most of our minerals, vitamins and anti-oxidants.  Albert Einstein claimed that "if the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, man would have only four years to live".  Albert was given to bold claims, often wrong but in this case there is a foreboding element of truth.  Winter death of bee colonies has risen in the U.S. from a norm of 10% to 30% and in Canada from 15% to 35%.  A similar trend is being realized globally.  Bee colonies worldwide were shrinking even before CCD because of cheap imported honey from Asia (China being the biggest producer). In China pesticides used in pear orchards wiped out bee populations in parts of Sichuan and today some areas pollinate by hand using feather brushes.  Studies show that even low levels of pesticides reduce the resistance of bees to fungal pathogens. While researchers have not identified a single cause of CCD they believe there is a combination of factors:  blood feeding parasites (i.e. Varroa mites); pesticide exposure (lowered immune system); bee viruses; fungi; and decreased plant diversity causing poor nutrition for honeybees.  Bees have a third the number of genes involved in their immune system as compared to other insects like fruit flies.  This makes them particularly susceptible to the effects of pathogens or pesticides making them a prime indicator species for a screwed up agricultural system based on a screwed up economic system.  Whatever the final solution it is clear that the practice of decreased plant diversity and increased pesticide usage to increase agricultural productivity for increased profit is realizing dire consequences.  

      A number of beekeepers in East Vancouver (Bryce and Kelly in Strathcona) lost their bees last winter.  Cause, unknown.  We are fortunate to keep our bees at Cottonwood Garden which is a four acre, organic community garden in Strathcona Park.  There is no pesticide usage in the garden and there is a very diverse food supply for the bees.  While there is a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and flowers we have noticed seasonal favorites like raspberries in June, Black Locust trees in July and blackberries in August. Members of the community can help out the bees by planting a diverse, bee friendly landscape (Make your garden a bee friendly garden) and not using pesticides.  Check out these videos on CCD:

To Bee or Not To Bee (David Suzuki)
Dennis vanEngelsdorp - A Plea for Bees (Ted.com)
60 Minutes - Why are the Honeybees Disappearing (Part 1)  
 60 Minutes - Why are the Honeybees Disappearing (Part 2)
Colony Collapse Disorder (University of Illinois)

For more videos on Bees and Beekeeping go to the Video Page of this website.

One possible solution organic farming, organic gardening, organic beekeeping and organic living.

Honey bee enjoying a sedum (stonecrop) at Cottonwood Community Garden


  1. There is a growing body of research showing that CCD is caused by cell mast towers emitting microwaves to transmit data. The frequency of that transmission is very similar to that of the Sun by which the bees navigate. So they get lost and simply disappear. The microwave is also proven to be genotoxic, meaning it damages DNA, weakens the immune system and is listed as a possible carcinogen by the World Health Organisation. If microwaves can cause cancer in the human and lab mice, surely continual exposure where hives are relatively close to cells masts will cause bees to suffer ill-health also, and make them easy targets for mites. Add pesticides to the equation and you have a terrible combination of damage effects on bees. The rise of CCD has occurred at a similar time to the rise of the massive increase in cell phone transmitters globally. This is the one dramatic change in the environment the world has seen over the last 10-15 years.

  2. Electro Magnetic Radiation is a pollutant that negatively effects bees (impaired navigation, reduced egg laying...) and is just one more environmental toxin that is weakening their immune system. I agree with you that CCD is caused by a combination of factors: environmental toxins (including EMR and pesticides); large scale, monoculture, industrial farming (annual mass transit of thousands of hives = stress); pests (including the introduced varroa); diseases; and oversized bees (beekeepers enlarged honey bees over 100 years ago to produce more honey). The Bees are truly the "Canary in the Coal Mine" telling us there is something wrong with the world we live in.


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