Bees pollinate 80 percent of the world’s plants. Their existence is vital to a healthy planet. Yet their importance to our food chain has done nothing to protect them from being treated like pests.
Until I watched Vanishing of the Bees, I didn’t realize how much these marvelous insects have in common with the factory-farmed livestock we raise for meat.
Take the manipulation and discarding of queen bees. As actress Ellen Page narrates, “… worker bees and drones live only a few weeks or months. A queen bee can live up to five years. She is the mother of every bee in her hive.”
That, however, is only true for queen bees in the wild. Page continues:
“Commercial beekeepers routinely kill the queen after only a few months and replace her with a younger, artificially raised one.”
They do it by removing her from the hive, pinching off her head and replacing her with the new queen, which remains in a cage until the hive “adapts” to the change.
But the replacement queen doesn’t fare much better. The film’s most shocking scene showed one being artificially inseminated:
“The queen bee is knocked out by carbon dioxide, and knocked up with semen collected from male drones.”
After inserting the semen directly in her ovary duct, the beekeeper holds the stunned queen up to the camera and says, “She looks a little rough, but she’ll come around in a few minutes.”
The violated bee is returned to her hive, where the honey has been removed and replaced with sugar syrup.
What kind of parent would I be I took all the nutritious fruits and vegetables out of our home and fed myself and my children only junk food and candy?
What would that do to our immune systems?
Scientists don’t think depriving hives of their natural food is the primary reason that bees are vanishing. It does, however, weaken the insects’ immune systems and make them more susceptible to sickness and disease.
Why, then, are the bee colonies collapsing? The answer is complicated, but the evidence indicates that modern agricultural methods are at least partially responsible.
The documentary features renowned author — and UC Berkeley Professor of Journalism — Michael Pollan. He discusses the devastating effects of monoculture (single-crop) farming and its associated pesticide use on bee colonies:
“Once you have a monoculture, you need pesticides because pests love monocultures! You know every plant… has its pests or diseases — and when that pest or disease encounters a monoculture, it’s a party… there’s so much food that its population explodes.”
Toward the end of the film, Pollan continues:
“In one sense, it’s a mystery. We don’t know exactly what’s responsible… and there are many conflicting theories. But in the larger sense, we know that these huge monocultures are making bees’ lives very difficult and creating conditions where they’re vulnerable to disease and exposed to pesticides.”
Pesticides are used to treat over 95% of the food we eat. Systemic pesticides, including Bayer’s Gaucho and Poncho, are so lethal to bees that France’s beekeepers had their use on corn and sunflowers banned. French bee colonies eventually began to bounce back.
Imagine a world without:
or blueberries and cherries. They’re just a few bee-pollinated fruits and veggies. If you think they’re worth saving, here are some things you can do:
Stop eating honey. The best food for bees to eat is the one they make for themselves, not sugar syrup.
Buy organic produce to discourage pesticide use.
If you have your own garden, plant a few bee-friendly plants native to your area. Choose ones that flower at different times to provide a regular food supply.
And if they need it, support your local bees by making your voice heard!