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I also found some more details about animal welfare of bees and the ethics of bee products,
Honey is a product avoided by vegans, because it involves the exploitation of bees. Honeybees fly 55,000 miles and visit 2 million flowers to produce one pound of honey.
Even though pollen is the honeybee's primary source of nutrition, honey is their sole food source during cold weather and other times when alternatives are not available.
Products, besides honey, that come from the bee industry are:
• Bee pollen: pollen collected by bees; their primary source of nutrition.
• Royal jelly (bee milk): the pharyngeal gland secretions of the nurse bees. The queen larvae receives more of the royal jelly than the worker larvae, growing her into a queen bee.
• Beeswax: secreted by bees to help build their hives.
• Propolis: a brownish resinous material of waxy consistency collected by bees from the buds of trees and used as a cement and an antiseptic.
• Bee venom: obtained from a bee sting. Honeybees die after stinging someone.
Clipping of the queen's wings. Problems with the Honey Industry
• To prevent the queen bee from leaving the hive, honey producers sometimes cut off her wings.
• Often, queen bees are artificially inseminated.
• Large commercial operations sometimes take all the honey instead of leaving enough for the bees to get through the winter. The honey is then replaced with a cheap sugar substitute.
• Most beekeepers remove all the spring-season honey.
• In colder areas, some bee keepers will burn the beehives, killing all the bees inside, before the winter starts, to reduce cost.
• Bees are often killed or harmed by haphazard handling.
Bees are hardworking animals who deserve to keep the labor of their work. Stealing products from them is a form of exploitation, which should and can be easily avoided. Honey can be replaced by rice syrup, agave nectar, barley malt, maple syrup, molasses, sorghum or fruit concentrates.
Many people who understand the cruelty involved in factory farming and are morally opposed to eating meat find it less obvious that the lowly honeybee should also be of ethical concern. Just who are these honeybees, anyway? And what’s the big deal about sharing a bit of their honey in a symbiotic relationship that gives them free access to billions of flowers, full of the nectar they so like to collect?
Beekeeping is big business, to be sure: 15 to 30 percent of all food crops depend on bees for pollination. Like all factory farming, beekeeping has morphed into an industrial process which puts profits ahead of animal concerns. Commercial beekeepers truck some 2.4 million hives all over the country to track seasonal crops. These journeys clobber the bees with physiological stress, pesticides, diseases, and related disorders. Even small outfits and hobbyists subject their bees to cruelty, such as cutting off the queen’s wings so that she can’t swarm. Honeybees are thought to have originated in the tropics; winter mortality in temperate zones remains a serious issue. And recently, colonies across the world have been decimated by colony collapse disorder (CCD), a result of the abuses that we have wrought against these fascinating creatures. The range of pesticides, fungicides, and invasive procedures it takes to make bee hives profitable is staggering, and it is not yet clear what combination of these offenses is exterminating so many bees.
But so what: A bee is just an insect, a miniature biological robot, is it not? Who cares, as long as the crops are pollinated and there’s honey on the table? And how else could we pollinate all those plants, anyway–by hand, with a tiny paintbrush? Actually, there are 20,000 to 30,000 other native bee species who are quite up to the task, without factory farming them. To let nature take her course, however, we must stop destroying the diversity of ecological systems.
These marvelous creatures are famous for their sophisticated cognitive feats. Many other insects are similarly talented, of course, but they haven’t been as well studied. We know that honeybees process massive amounts of information about flowers, locations, and the behavior and physiological status of other bees in the hive, not to mention their ages, weather, and the seasons. As they mature, young worker bees progress through a series of nest-keeping chores before graduating to the task of foraging for nectar outside the hive. Consider for a moment the decisions that a foraging bee makes as he or she visits a number of different places and flowers on a trip from the nest. Where are the best flowers in relation to the hive, which individual flower to visit next, how to harvest the nectar from that particular flower, how long to stay in that patch, where to search next, how much nectar to load up with before returning to the hive, and oh, yeah, what direction is the hive from that location and how far is it?
When they do find good flowers, bees advertise them to everyone else in the hive with their famous waggle dance. In route, they use landmarks to guide their flights; they can recall their surroundings and remember visual images. For years, researchers have thought that honeybees must have some sort of “cognitive map”–a mental representation of local geography–to navigate by, because their bearings and routes to and from the nest are so nuanced and accurate. Recent work has brought the notion of cognitive maps up for reconsideration, but the bottom line remains: The mental life of bees includes decision-making that would indicate conscious awareness if performed by vertebrate animals. This is not hard-wired robotic behavior. Honeybees change their minds when conditions change. When looking for a new nest location, for example, scouts report back to the hive and spread the word to their sisters. The scouts will then visit the sites recommended by others, and if they are convinced that the suggested location is better than their previous choice, they change their vote and spread the word to the rest of the hive about the better site. Let that sink in for a moment. Do honeybees think? I leave that question open for comments.
Do bees suffer as a result of agricultural manipulation? Of course they do. And whether or not honeybees are consciously aware of the insults that we inflict upon them, they are so very alive and engaging that I could not bring it upon myself to kill one just because I can, or just for some honey. Nor would I want to invade their nest, cut off their wings, relocate them, and subject them to toxic pesticides, environmental stress, diseases, infections, and all the rest that beekeeping bestows upon them. Live and let others live. Be free and allow others to be free.
That’s why I don’t eat honey, but please pass me the maple syrup and agave nectar!
Animal Rights Issues Concerning Bees
Bees are manipulated worldwide to produce many products for human use: honey, beeswax, propolis, bee pollen, royal jelly and venom. They are intelligent insects with a complex communication system.
Because bees are seen flying free, they are also often considered free of the usual cruelties of the animal farming industry. However bees undergo treatments similar to those endured by other farmed animals. They go through routine examination and handling, artificial feeding regimes, drug and pesticide treatment, genetic manipulation, artificial insemination, transportation (by air, rail and road) and slaughter.
Here I will discuss why animal rights apply to bees. Here you will find not only information about how and why bees are abused and exploited for their honey, wax and other derivatives, but why it is important that we stop doing so. I will discuss the reasons why beekeeping is cruel along with reasons why we should treat bees differently, more humanely.
Unfortunately when people think of animal rights, if they do at all, rarely do bees or other insects come into consideration. Yet insects are animals and they like other animals are exploited, abused and factory farmed. If you stop and think about it, you will be shocked to find that there are few creatures on this plant that are not effected by the negative interference of human kind, and sadly bees are no exception. In this, and no doubt other instances of animal exploitation, our mistreatment and use of other beings with whom we share this world is having a negative effect not only upon the unfortunate creatures themselves, but also upon our own survival. Do not forget for one moment that bees are responsible for the pollination of over ninety percent of the plants we eat. Many species of bees are either now extinct or endangered by our actions, and this includes the bumblebee and the honeybee - the later species of course is exploited for honey and other derivatives.
Sadly we humans have the misconception that we are somehow justified in enslaving and exploiting other animals, and indeed the entire environment for our use. But do we have the right to do so regardless of the consequences to these creatures, the environment and eventually to ourselves. Most certainly we do not.
Surely animals exist for there own purposes and not for the benefit of one species to be enslaved, exploited for food, clothing and entertainment, to be used in experimentation and as labour.
The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for white, or women created for men.
Are bees abused, enslaved and exploited?
It may surprise you that many people consider that bees make honey for our use, just as as many believe that cow's milk is produced for our convenience, to supplement our diet, when in reality a cow's milk is meant for her calf just as human milk is meant to feed a human baby.
How are honey bees abused, exploited and enslaved?
“The bee, from her industry in the summer, eats honey all the winter”
Indeed she does unless another animal, man, takes it of course.
Many would say we steal their honey. Some people think this is a bit extreme, but consider the reasons why bees make honey. Honey is made from nectar, it takes one bee her entire life-time to produce enough honey to fill 1/12 of a teaspoon, but she is not making honey to provide mankind with a luxury food product he can well do without, no; nectar is collected by the female worker bees to provide food for the queen, the larvae, the drones and to store as food over the winter after being made into honey. Bees are not doing a marvellous and arduous task to provide you with this food, bees like all animals exist for their own reasons. In the case of domesticated bees, if it were not for the intrusion of the beekeeper as he robs the hive of its honey after interfering and manipulating the colony according to his requirements, they would not even be aware of our existence. In short bees make honey for...well...bees! Therefore to take this honey is stealing is it not? Moreover like all theft there is both a negative result for both the victim and, but less obvious, for the perpetrator. We benefit indirectly from the behaviour of bees, as do flowering plants, but only because we indirectly benefit from the pollination of plants which in turn are provided with the means of reproduction as a result of bees spreading pollen from flower to flower as they go about their business of collecting nectar and pollen. Bees are vital for our continued existence as important pollinators of nearly ninety percent of plants which provide us with food. Nevertheless this does not imply that bees are here for our purpose, rather like the flowering plants which are dependent upon bees as a means to reproduce we are in turn indirectly dependent upon their continued existence, as of course without plants we would not survive. So we, rather like the plants, are benefited by the behaviours of bees but only as an indirect effect of their behaviours which have evolved to bring about their continued survival rather than ours. All life forms it seems are interconnected, dependent on other life forms for their survival in indirect ways, but no species has evolved to directly serve the purposes of another. Such anachronistic ways of thinking are born mostly from religion and need to be revised.
On this page I will discuss the following issues: Why honey is stealing; methods of bee keeping and how they compare to factory farming; the serious circumstances of colony collapse disorder CCD and other threats to the survival of bees and why it effects us, and reasons why it is just as important that we should stop exploiting bees as indeed we should stop exploiting and mistreating any animal.
Is Honey stealing
Their loyalty and attachment to their queen cannot be surpassed: no distress or extremity is able to overcome it. Nor is their patriotism inferior to their loyalty. Every private interest and every appetite seems to centre, or rather to be lost, in a zeal for the public good. In labouring for this they wear out their little lives, which they are ready every moment to sacrifice in its defence. Each restrains its own appetite in order to bring the greatest possible addition to the common stock of honey; and when the cells are once closed up, it does not presume to break one of them open, unless urged by absolute necessity, and even then exhibits a pattern of frugality and temperance : but if the public stores be attacked, no inequality of strength of size will deter it from assaulting the aggressor.
The above quotation from Thomas Young's, 'An Essay on Humanity to Animals,' written in in 1798 eloquently describes the importance of honey for the bees and the zeal with which they support the queen and the colony and protect their supplies. No I don't think bees consider that they are making the honey for our benefit or are willing to share it, do you? Not only does the taking of honey make us thieves and in the case of the factory farming of honey, animal abusers but taking honey makes us parasites, after all what do we give the bees in return? Sadly in the case of large scale beekeeping only slavery, cruelty, deprivation and sometimes death.
For at least 150 million years Bees have been producing honey for their own nutritional needs. The collection of nectar to produce honey involves intensive labour. The gathering of pollen and nectar is the task of the female bees called worker bees who have a structure on their legs called a pollen basket. The basket is constructed of a row of stiff hairs that form a hollow space on the outside of the bee's legs, most usually her back legs. The bee combs grains of pollen into each of the baskets every time she visits a flower. Bees collect nectar by sucking it up with their specially adapted long and slender hairy tongue called the proboscis, and store it until they return to the hive in an anterior section of the digestive tract near their throats called the crop. It is the nectar that is made into honey which bees store in large quantities in the hive for use as food. Bees produce honey by repeatedly regurgitating, as much as fifty times, and dehydrating nectar. Bees then store this honey as food for the hive during the winter when little or no nectar or pollen is available to them. Bees feed on nectar, primarily as a source of energy, and pollen, mostly for protein and other nutrients. Most of the pollen collected by bees is used to feed the larvae. During a typical collection trip a honey bee visits 50 to 100 flowers.
To produce just one pound of honey, bees may have travelled 55,000 miles visiting over two million flowers ! To produce one ounce of honey, bees will have travelled an average of 1600 round trips of up to 6 miles per trip; bees travel a distance equal to 4 times around the earth in order to produce just two pounds of honey and it takes
thirty-five pounds of honey to provide enough energy for a small colony of bees to survive the winter. Worker bees will live only for a few weeks if they are born in the spring, but if they are not born until autumn they may continue to live throughout the winter. For a worker bee her final job, and perhaps the most arduous, during the last few weeks of her life is to collect pollen and nectar for the hive; the honey so tirelessly produced is stored in the hive as food for the winter months.
I am sure you will agree that the life of a worker bee collecting honey is one of extreme labour and exhaustion.
Is there any surplus honey? Yes sometimes there is a surplus, not that this of course justifies humans taking it as such intervention, as you will see later on, is often of detriment to the bees. Do the beekeepers take only the surplus? Most certainly in the case of large scale beekeeping the answer is mostly NO. In the autumn some large scale beekeepers extract, that is steel, ALL the honey and than feed the colony with sugar syrup or corn syrup.
Honey is stored in the hive as winter food for the bees . Yes, sometimes they make more than they can eat, but do the beekeepers only take the extra? No, according to James E. Tew, an Extension Specialist in Apiculture at Ohio State University in Wooster, "Commercial beekeepers frequently extract [steal] all fall-season honey and then feed colonies either sugar syrup or corn syrup in quantities great enough to provide all the winter food the bees would need" (Tew). (Everyone steals most of the spring-season honey.) Theft of all of the fall-season honey is merely the most blatant form of exploitation. Bees are also often fed in the fall in preparation for winter and in the spring and early summer to ensure the hive gets off to a good start (Bonney, 131; Vivian, 101). That is, to make the bees start working earlier than they would normally. The sugar that is fed in the fall is turned into honey by the bees, so even if a beekeeper tells you their bees survive on honey over the winter, much of that honey may have simply come from Ziplock bags full of sugar water. A typical hive in the UK uses at least 8 kg (17.6 lbs.) of sugar per year (Consumers in Europe Group, 21). In the US, a typical figure can be 25 lbs. ..
Some people claim the sugar water is better for the bees than honey, and if this is the case, I don't want to hear any claims about the health benefits of honey or pollen. Sugar water may be better if the bees had particularly poor nectar sources in the fall, but this would not normally be a problem if their spring honey hadn't been stolen. Honey is more than sugars; it contains very small (by human standards) amounts of fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals that bees' bodies might like to use over the winter.
Extract from Why honey is not vegan where you will find more information about bees.
Bee keepers claim that honey bees have been selectively bred to produce an excess of honey. If this were the case the fact remains that the lives of bees are nonetheless interfered with in a detrimental way to obtain this surplus, and furthermore in the case of large scale bee keeping, the above practice of taking all the honey still takes place. Moreover, do we have the right to selectively breed any animal to cater to our needs? Most certainly not ! Compare this also to cows who also have been selectively bread to produce more milk. Often you will see cows with huge udders which are of course not natural and are a result of selective breeding, these oversized udders are heavy and prone to mastitis and cause the animal much suffering. The fact that animals have been bred to produce access of these products by no mean justifies our continued abuse of these animals. Left to reproduce naturally in the wild animals, including both bees and cows, will return to their natural state, become once again what evolution or nature intended.
It is a fact that bees, like many species of animal on the planet, are enslaved and exploited, and like other more familiar animals are factory farmed. Their natural existence is interfered with by man entirely for his own benefit. The very structure of the modern bee hive is designed to control and exploit the bee colonies.
We have domesticated bees for about 10,000 years, before that honey was taken from wild hives. Until 1682 when removable top bar frames were introduced in Greece, bees were kept in forests in containers hanging from trees and also in logs, baskets and pots, all of which lay horizontally to the ground. In 1851 a more efficient hive, in regard to controlling the lives of bees and extracting their honey, was invented.
It was not until 1851 that the modern Langstroth hive was invented (where else but in the US). Here the combs fill up entire frames (like a window screen) and are rectangular. This makes hives stackable and since the frames are of universal size, they can be interchanged between hives and prepared by humans. Additionally, honey extraction equipment can be built due to the standard size. A queen excluder is generally used to keep the queen from laying eggs in the area where the beekeeper only wants honey stored. Additional frames can be added as necessary to allow for and encourage excess honey production. Needless to say, the Langstroth hive caught on very quickly and is the hive of choice today. New technology is on the horizon that allows even greater efficiency in extracting honey (Lomas). So if a beekeeper tells you that they are only continuing an ancient tradition, keep in mind that the practices they are using are only 100 years old and are radically different from the methods that existed for millennia. They also have nothing in common with non-Western beekeeping methods that emphasize humility, respect, and truly being part of nature, as opposed to managing nature for human gain.
Extract from: Why honey is not vegan
More often than not in the large scale beekeeping system, there is a lack of concern regarding the bees' lives. From here on I will refer to large scale beekeeping and factory farming interchangeably as they are one and the same.
This is how large scale beekeepers treat their bees:
Rather like more familiar farm animals, many people think of the idyll of bees kept in a few hives in people's back yards or gardens, with bees basically living their lives as nature intended, flying in and out of their hives as they collect pollen and nectar, gently buzzing on a warm summer's day. And indeed this is the case to some degree. However the majority of the honey you will eat comes from large scale factory farming as do most of your eggs, meat and dairy products. Full-time beekeepers will have as many as 300 plus hives.
The bees in factory farms most certainly do not live out their lives according to their natures. During the course of the season the lives of bees are under the control of the beekeeper who routinely examines and handles the bees, some are killed in the process. Bees are in addition like other factory farmed animals subjected to artificial feeding regimes, artificial insemination, treatment with drugs and pesticides, genetic manipulation, transportation and slaughter.
The queen bee, around whom in the case of honey and bumble bees their whole social structure is based, is a much abused creature in the factory farming system of beekeeping. In nature there is usually only one mated queen in a hive or colony and she is selected from larvae by the worker bees and specially fed in order to become sexually mature. In the case of factory farmed bees man selects the next queen after killing the reigning queen after she has lived for only two years, In Israel they are killed and re-queened every year. Without man's intervention queen bees may live for up to five years.
Why you may ask? Why does man interfere with a processes of nature which has evolved over millions of years. Surely nature knows best and can manage quite well without our interference. Evolution adapts a creature for survival, but sometimes an adaptation which is of benefit to the animal is often an hindrance to man however, and is seen as a liability. For a number of reasons man sees many of the creatures on this earth not as living beings with their own purposes but as commodities for his use. Moreover this use is, particularly in modern times, not to supply others of his kind with food, but often to supply the few with luxuries that are not really of any nutritional value, and often the sole purpose of the exploitation of such animals is to make money rather than feed people. As with all factory farming every intervention in bee keeping is done solely to increase profit not to provide people with food, which in the case of honey is a luxury food and one we can well manage without, lets not forget this for a moment. There are some exceptions of course, the amateur hobbyist for example who may interfere little with his bees taking only a small amount of honey. Nonetheless even a modicum of intervention must result in death or other detriment, however inadvertently, that would otherwise not occur. In my opinion though bees like all creatures should be left to follow the dictates of their own natures and live their lives without negative intervention at any level or to any degree. Also many hobbyists or backyard beekeepers cut off the queen's wings. He may also kill the reigning queen.
Here are some of the ways in which man controls bees: clipping the queen's wings, killing the old queen to replace her with a new queen as already mentioned, using a smoker to control bees to make them docile, transportation, artificial insemination and other manipulative control of the hive.
In the case of the honey bee, man's intervention in the ways mentioned above is done for a number of reasons, for instance killing or removing the wings of the reigning queen is done to prevent swarming (more about this later on), other interventions are undertaken to subdue aggression and mite infestation, but this is not of course for the benefit of the bees but rather to maximise the production of honey.
Lets look in more detail at some of the ways in which beekeepers detrimentally interfere with their bees.
Bees are subjected to transportation for many miles by road, rail and air. In order to follow the nectar flows to increase the production of honey, and consequently profits, bees are packed into lorries like so many crates of bananas, not living beings. Bees are also transported thousand of miles to pollinate crops. Also replacement queens, more about this further down, are commercially supplied by mail order and often transported in less than ideal conditions, such as being exposed to the elements, left in the sun to become desiccated or cold for hours, or thrown around like so much baggage. They can be left for days in storage until collection, even exposed to insecticides, in fact just about anything can happen.
Such treatment of our more favoured animals such as a cat or a dog would not be allowed, yet such happens to bees.
Aggression control: The smoker
Further interference with the colony comes in the form of a smoker, a method used to assert control over the hives in order to make the bees docile and prevent them stinging the beekeeper or anyone in the vicinity and to prevent bees becoming more aggressive when their territory is intruded upon and their honey is stolen. This method of subduing the bees as their colony is invaded has been in use since ancient times. Right back in ancient Egypt and earlier honeybees were kept, on the walls of the sun temple of Nyuserre Ini from the 5th Dynasty, before 2422 BC, workers are depicted blowing smoke into hives as they are removing honeycombs. Today more sophisticated devices are used as as that shown in the picture below.
The device generates smoke which has a calming effect on the bees because it initiates a feeding response and induces the bees to glut themselves on honey in anticipation of possible hive abandonment due to fire. Also when a bee consumes honey the bee's abdomen distends, making it difficult for her to make the necessary flexes to sting. In addition smoke masks pheromones - honey bee pheromones are mixtures of chemical substances released by individual bees into the hive or environment that cause changes in the physiology and behaviour of other bees. Pheromones are released by the guard bees, worker bees whose task it is to protect the entrance of the hive from enemies and who also raise the alarm which would alert the colony and cause defensive agitation and aggression. After all, their honey which is their food supply is being stolen. Such is bound to result in aggressive responses. Pheromones are also released by bees who are inevitably injured during a beekeeper's inspection. Indeed many of their number are squashed or otherwise harmed as is bound to occur in such situations, but I imagine that just like other farmed animals no one cares, after all they're only bees, at least according to the perspective of large scale beekeepers. Introducing smoke creates an opportunity to open the beehive, take the honey while the natural defence response mechanism of the bees is interrupted.
Killing bees in the autumn
The most shocking form or cruelty is the practice of killing off the bees in the autumn. Despite the dire situation regarding CCD and the consequent threat to bees, in colder areas some large-scale beekeepers kill off their hives before winter, using cyanide gas. Some beekeepers will burn the beehives, killing all the bees inside. This seemingly counter productive and cruel act is done for financial considerations; killing the bees is apparently cheaper than housing, feeding and providing disease prevention over the winter. Considered as a financial liability bees are killed without compunction. For these people bees are merely a means to an end, these creatures are of value only to make honey or rather money. Although not all bee keepers do this; bees who are factory farmed are more likely to be treated this way, there is the attitude that bees have no status as living beings and no value except a monetary one. Moreover If you hear that in fact only a few bee keepers do so, the minority, it is important to consider that such statistics are misleading. Consider that even though most backyard or hobbyists bee keepers do not kill their bees nonetheless a good number of bees are killed this way. Compare the numbers: Factory farmed bee hives may number as many as 300 compared to ten to twenty hives kept by backyard or hobbyist
beekeepers. Even if beekeepers do not directly kill their bees intentionally, many will die at the hands of beekeepers that would not have otherwise done so without man's interference.
As you can see already the modern practice of beekeeping is a form of factory farming and like all factory farming is exploitative and cruel. There follows more examples of exploitation, many of which may surprise you because as already mentioned people think bees live out their natural lives without interference of any kind and only surplus honey is taken. Moreover some people even have the misconception that the beekeeper actually keeps bees for their protection and that without such protection bees cannot survive. Rather like the erroneous idea that sheep need us to shear them and cows need us to milk them. Yes indeed many sheep due to selective breeding now depend on the shearer to cut their wool but this is not natural and is a result of man's intervention.
Beekeepers like to control the lives of their bees, they do not want their colonies to increase in an uncontrolled way or in other words as nature intended; many of these methods of control are harmful to the bees.
A disturbing and increasingly common abuse is artificial insemination. Many people would think the implication of abuse concerning an insect is simply a misnomer. Why! bees, as are all insects, are animals are they not, sentient beings aware of themselves and others of their own kind, otherwise they would not be able to co-operate in any way one with another even at a basic level, never mind the tightly and highly organised system of the hive. You will be able to read more about sentience and intelligence in bees in Page Two.
It is a fact that after copulation in nature the male bee dies, but that is nature however seemingly cruel. Yet man's intervention by comparison appears even more horrific. The artificial insemination of the queen also involves the death of the male and involves pulling off his head. This sends an electrical impulse to the creature's nervous system which triggers sexual arousal. The lower half of the animal's decapitated body is than squeezed to make him ejaculate which is than collected in a hypodermic syringe. Queen bees are than artificially inseminated with the combined sperm obtained from several decapitated bees. This is done on the anesthetised queen by injection.
Artificial insemination of queen honeybees
If beekeepers do not want to increase the number of hives there are several methods of swarm control.
Swarming is the process whereby one colony will divide into two with the queen departing with a good percentage of the original colony. More rarely more than just one swarm occurs. In nature at some stage bee colonies swarm and divide when a new queen is chosen or when there is overcrowding. Prior to swarming the queen lays her eggs. New queens are raised and the hive may swarm as soon as the queen cells are capped and before the queens emerge from their queen cells. Swarming is the natural means of reproduction and takes place usually in spring when the reigning queen leaves the colony, usually before the virgin or new queen emerges. The departing queen is accompanied by a large group of worker bees, approximately sixty percent during a primary swarm. Secondary swarms may occur but this is not usual and they are much smaller and are accompanied by a virgin queen, a queen bee that has not mated with a drone. On these rare occasions the entire hive may become almost entirely depleted of worker bees by a succession of secondary swarms. Although this is not a problem in nature of course it is a predicament for beekeepers, as it effects the season's production; the hive may be so depleted that there will be no production of honey for the entire season, therefore swarm management is undertaken by beekeepers.
One way beekeepers attempt to reduce swarming is by clipping one of the queen's wings. This method does not prevent swarming as such but allows the beekeeper to collect the bees who would have otherwise left the hive and become feral; because the queen is not able to fly the swarm will gather outside the hive from where they can be easily collected by the beekeeper rather than fly elsewhere.
Another method of control involves replacing the reigning queen who is ready to swarm with a newly mated one. The appearance of queen cells are a dramatic signal that the colony is determined to swarm. Queen pheromone suppresses queen cell raising and swarming preparation by worker bees. Queens produce less pheromone as they age. As a result hives with older queens swarm more readily. Replacing the queen therefore minimises the likelihood of any further attempts to swarm. In order to influence the natural swarming process beekeepers observe colonies for signs of swarming in spring in order to take control of the situation and keep the bees together to avoid depletion of the colony and the loss of the entire honey crop.
Sometimes beekeepers will also clip off one of the middle or posterior legs from the queen. Having been mutilated she will be unable to properly place her eggs at the bottom of the brood cell. The worker bees detect this and will rear replacement queens. This will bring about a natural occurrence called superdure a process by which an old queen bee is replaced by a new queen. In nature Superdure may be initiated due to the old age of a queen or a diseased or otherwise failing queen.
There are many methods of swarm control and you may read about them in Wikipedia Swarming (honey bee) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia from where the extract below was taken.
In the Demaree method a frame of capped brood is removed with the old queen. This frame is put in a hive box with empty drawn frames and foundation at the same location of the old hive. A honey super (A honey super is a part of a commercial beehive that is used to collect honey) is added to the top of this hive topped by a crown board. The remaining hive box sans queen is inspected for queen cells. All queen cells are destroyed. This hive box, which has most of the bees, is put on top of the crown board. Foraging bees will return to the lower box depleting the population of the upper box. After a week to ten days both parts are inspected again and any subsequent queen cells destroyed. After another period of separation the swarming drive is extinguished and the hives can be re-combined.
If you 're not familiar with beekeeping terminology or know much about the biology of bees the above may seem rather confusing and I was tempted to include an explanation of terms but considered this would make the example rather lengthy. I think the main points concerning cruelty to bees is obvious without explaining all the terminology. Cruelty such as All queen cells are destroyed is self explanatory along with the obvious interference with the normal life processes of bees which most likely results in the deaths of many them.
As you can see, bee keeping is a complex procedure, it is a major interference with the lives of these creatures and involves much abuse.
For those of us who care about all creatures without discrimination the keeping of bees is surely to be considered inhumane, cruel and exploitative, an enslavement. It is very similar to the treatment of other factory farmed animals. Moreover in a similar way our treatment of bees may have an adverse effect on the environment. The recent phenomenon of colony collapse disorder CCD may well be the result of man's interference with the natural processes of bees.
Colony collapse disorder
The phenomenon called Colony CCD sometimes called also honeybee depopulation syndrome HBDS effects the European honeybee. Although this event has happened before throughout the history of apiculture, a limited number of occurrences resembling CCD have been documented as early as 1896, it has not previously occurred to quite such a drastic degree as it did in the northern USA in October 2006. This is when the term CCD was first used after beekeepers were reporting the loss of between thirty and ninety percent of their hives. It is true of course that during the winter there are some losses. However the enormous extent of the loss is highly unusual.
The main and most alarming symptom of this phenomenon is simply that after the winter there are no or very few adult bees left in the hive, however there are no dead bees, the bees are simply not there! The queen however is present and alive as are the brood (immature bees). Often there is honey in the hive.
The honeybee is the most important pollinator in the world.
Because many crops worldwide are pollinated by bees this is a serious problem not only for bees but for our own existence as we are of course dependent for food on plants pollinated by bees, 90 percent in fact. Here are just a few examples of the most commonly consumed foods reliant on bee pollination: Onion, cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, turnips, cucumber, carrots, buck wheat, soybean, apple mango, apricot. pears, black and red currents. Quite a list! And that is only a small selection of foods that reply on bee pollination . To read a comprehensive list:
List of crop plants pollinated by bees - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Although North America appears to be the country where this phenomenon has been most dramatic it has occurred also here in the UK and throughout the rest of Europe to include Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Greece, Italy, Portugal, and Spain, and to a lesser degrees it has been reported in Switzerland and Germany. Also possible cases of CCD have been reported in Taiwan.
In the USA :
Beginning in October 2006, some beekeepers began reporting losses of 30-90 percent of their hives. While colony losses are not unexpected during winter weather, the magnitude of loss suffered by some beekeepers was highly unusual.
United states department of agriculture
The bee population of Europe has been falling at an alarming rate. In the UK, it dropped by around 30% between 2007 and 2008, according to the British Bee Keepers Association.
But Britain is only a minor player in the European beekeeping scene, with around 274,000 hives. According to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), Italy had 1,091,630 hives in 2007 and France 1,283,810. In the same EFSA study Italy revealed its bee mortality rate was 40-50%
BBC NEWS | World | Europe | Why are Europe's bees dying?
The big question is: Why?
The search for factors that are involved in CCD is focusing on four areas: pathogens, parasites, environmental stresses, and bee management stresses such as poor nutrition. It is unlikely that a single factor is the cause of CCD; it is more likely that there is a complex of different components.
Questions and Answers: Colony Collapse Disorder
edgecombe.ces.ncsu.edu/files/library/33/ARS _ Questions and Answers...pdf
The cause or causes remains a mystery. However, although inconclusive, a number of possibilities have been speculated. Biological causations have been suggested such as Varroa mites and insect diseases including Nosema apis and Israeli acute paralysis virus. Since the 1980s bee populations have declined in the USA as a result of these diseases and pests, particularly varroa and Acarine (Tracheal) mites. Environmental change related stresses, malnutrition and pesticides have also been attributed as possible causes. Migratory beekeeping, unnatural conditions in which bees are transported thousand of miles to pollinate crops, as discussed above, has also been considered as another possible cause. With the decline in bee populations since 1940 when honey bee colonies numbered 5 million, as compared to only 2.5 million today, along with an increased demand for hives to supply "pollination services" bees have been transported for increasingly greater distances and at a greater frequency. Poor nutrition as a result of apiary overcrowding, crop spraying, artificial insemination of queens, and sugar water feeding are thought to all contribute to a general weakening of the constitution of the honeybee.
Also implicated is the possibility that malnourishment may be due to the pollination of crops with low nutritional value; scarcity of pollen or nectar; genetically modified crops with pest control modifications; a limited or contaminated supply of water and radiation from mobile phones, although this last seems less likely. In the case of GM crops, though there seems to be no conclusive evidence, it does appear to be a logical possibility. It is possible that there may be no single cause and CCD may be the result of an accumulation of a number of stresses to which bees have been subjected in recent years and which have weakened colonies. Stress in general compromises the immune system of bees and may disrupt their social system and increase susceptibility to disease. At the present time there is no real answer to this bewildering occurrence. In my opinion, if not the cause, human intervention in the form of beekeeping, which most certainly disrupts the socials system of bees, and GM crops and others issues mentioned above play a significant role in this phenomenon.
Consider the profound effect that man's interference has upon bees so well described below:
Dave Hackenberg's bees have been on the road for four days. To reach the almond orchards of California's Central Valley, they pass through the fertile plains of the Mississippi, huge cattle ranches and oilfields in Texas, and the dusty towns of New Mexico on their 2,600-mile journey from Florida. The bees will have seen little of the dramatic landscape, being cooped up in hives stacked four high on the back of trucks. Each truck carries close to 500 hives, tethered with strong harnesses and covered with black netting to prevent the millions of passengers from escaping. When the drivers pull over to sleep, the bees have a break from the constant movement and wind speed, but there's no opportunity to look around and stretch their wings
Surely man's intervention in the natural cycles of life now known to be the cause of environment damage plays some role in the tragedy of CCD. Two and a half thousand miles of travelling! Trapped in their hives surely this is an abuse of any creature.
Bees are a barometer of what man is doing to the environment, say beekeepers; the canary in the coalmine. Just as animals behave weirdly before an earthquake or a hurricane, cowering in a corner or howling in the wind, so the silent, empty hives are a harbinger of a looming ecological crisis.
Both quotations are from the Guardian Article "Last Flight of the Honeybee" by Alison Benjamin . Please take time to read this informative article
Last flight of the honeybee? Alison Benjamin reports on a very real threat | E
Update: More Information about colony Collapse disorder added July 2012
It is absolutely outrageous that Monsanto, an American multinational agricultural biotechnology corporation, with obvious conflict of interest has be allowed to buy out a research laboratory such as Beelogics which conducts research into bees. With Monsanto having control of research there is concern that they will manipulate results in order to shift the blame of CCD from chemical pesticides and GM foods. In fact this is the most likely reasons that this corporation purchased the lab
Monsanto, the genetically modified food giant, has recently purchased Beeologics, a leading bee research firm. Borrowing a move from the tobacco companies’ playbook, Monsanto appears to have decided that if you do not like the scientific reports coming out about you, then you should just buy the labs.
Beginning in 2007, Beeologics has researched two critical bee issues: colony collapse disorder and Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus. In late September of last year, Monsanto acquired Beeologics for an undisclosed amount. In making this purchase, Monsanto now has control of research that has previously pointed at its pesticides for contributing to – if not outright causing – a sharp decline in bee populations. Multiple studies in recent years have linked pesticides and high fructose corn syrup with colony collapse disorder.
Portential outcome manipulations
With Monsanto’s vested interest in bee research’s conclusions, there is reason to believe that the true causes of and solutions for these bee epidemics may be manipulated if not lost entirely
Click the link below to continue reading
Research Firm Blames Monsanto for Bee Deaths So… Monsanto Buys It
by Kevin Mathews
What can I do about colony collapse disorder
One thing you can do is not to use pesticides, especially during
mid-day when honeybees and and indeed bumblebees and other bees are about collecting nectar and pollen. Use of pesticides is a danger to the environment, and crops and garden plants are well able to thrive without their use. Consider that before the development of such chemicals crops grew as did garden flowers. Organic vegetables and flowers are of course grown with out recourse to pesticides. Pesticides are far too easily available in garden centres where advice is often given to use them instead of more humane and environmentally friendly alternatives. Despite warnings on some of the containers not to use were bees are likely to be collecting pollen, it is unlikely that the average buyer really pays much heed to such advice. Furthermore such advice is perhaps only included to make the manufacturers look good, as though they are doing their bit towards the environment, and in this case bees, when the reality of the situation is that the use of these chemicals is very disruptive to the environment, including ourselves, which of course has been widely known since Rachel Carson wrote 'Silent Spring' in 1965.
In addition you should try and plant flowers or other plants that provide a good source of nectar and pollen. Where land is given over to agriculture bees depend upon gardens to provide them with suitable flowering plants. Find out which plants, both flowers and vegetables native to your particular country that bees favour and which provide them with a good supply of nectar and pollen and plant these in your garden such as bee balm, red clover, fox glove and joe-pye weed, include the allium family, all the mints, beans and flowering herbs. Bees like daisy-shaped flowers - asters and sunflowers, also tall plants- hollyhocks, larkspur and foxgloves. You will find links to more information, which includes facts sheets about how to grow a miniature meadow in your garden, in the section for
Now please read more about animal rights and bees on
Page Two: Why it is it so important that we should stop exploiting bees, and Page Three: a mention of Bumblebees. Also see Bee facts
PETA Prime: Celebrating Kind Choices: But What About Honey? Is It Cruelty-Free?
Below is an extract from the above article, to read the complete article please the above click link.
"Beekeeping is big business, to be sure: 15 to 30 percent of all food crops depend on bees for pollination. Like all factory farming, beekeeping has morphed into an industrial process which puts profits ahead of animal concerns. Commercial beekeepers truck some 2.4 million hives all over the country to track seasonal crops. These journeys clobber the bees with physiological stress, pesticides, diseases, and related disorders. Even small outfits and hobbyists subject their bees to cruelty, such as cutting off the queen’s wings so that she can’t swarm."
Vegan Peace : Animal Cruelty - Honey
Good facts about bees and why honey is not Vegan.
Bees are hardworking animals who deserve to keep the labour of their work. Stealing products from them is a form of exploitation, which should and can be easily avoided. Honey can be replaced by rice syrup, barley malt, maple syrup, molasses, sorghum or fruit concentrates.
Why honey is not vegan
Good information concerning the exploitation of bees under the heading, The Enslavement of Bees, from which the extract below was taken
It is important to realize who is keeping these bees. You may have an image in your mind of a man (indeed, 5% of US beekeepers are women (Hoff & Schertz Willett, 10)) with a few hives out in his backyard. While that is in fact the proper image of most beekeepers, most honey comes from full-time factory bee farmers...
PETA Media Center > Factsheets > Honey: From Factory-Farmed Bees
Below is an extract from this very informative fact sheet. Please click the link above to read the complete fact sheet.
Since “swarming” (the division of the hive upon the birth of a new queen) can cause a decline in honey production, beekeepers do what they can to prevent it, including clipping the wings of a new queen, killing and replacing an older queen after just one or two years, and confining a queen who is trying to begin a swarm.(20,21) Queens are artificially inseminated using drones, who are killed in the process.(22) Commercial beekeepers also “trick” queens into laying more eggs by adding wax cells to the hive that are larger than those that worker bees would normally build.(23)
Honeybee populations have declined by as much as 50 percent since the 1980s, in part because of parasitic mites, but more recently, millions of honeybees in farmed colonies have succumbed to a disease called Colony Collapse Disorder, for which scientists have yet to find a cause.(24,25) BeeCulture magazine reports that beekeepers are notorious for contributing to the spread of disease: “Beekeepers move infected combs from diseased colonies to healthy colonies, fail to recognize or treat disease, purchase old infected equipment, keep colonies too close together, [and] leave dead colonies in apiaries.”(26) Artificial diets, provided because farmers take the honey that bees would normally eat, leave bees susceptible to sickness and attack from other insects.(27) When diseases are detected, beekeepers are advised to “destroy the colony and burn the equipment,” which can mean burning or gassing the bees to death.(28)
Why Honey is Cruel
You may be wondering why us vegans don't eat honey. Is it some vague moral idea? Sheer stubbornness?
No, and no. While the exact reasons vary from person to person, here is a list of the main points:
1. Honeybee cultivation destroys the colonies of honeybees. They have been dying out at a very fast rate worldwide due to Colony Collapse Disorder, which is supposedly the result of poor nutrition and inbreeding. Since modern beekeepers breed for desirable characteristics, the gene pool has been shrinking. If honeybees go extinct, we will lose 80% of our major food sources and one quarter of the world's flowering plants. In other words, we would totally destroy the biodiversity of the planet, condemning it and ourselves to slowly die. Honeybees should be kept wild, not penned away to die a painful death. Which leads to my next point...
2. Bees die off in large numbers when they try to defend themselves against the beekeeper. They die simply by using their stingers once. Sometimes beekeepers use a "smoker" to flood the hive with smoke, which prevents the bees from stinging. The smoker makes them groggy and eat too much honey.
3. Commercial beekeeping is even worse than backyard beekeeping. It pretty much boils down to factory farming.
4. Queen bees have the potential to live for five years, but they are killed after two years alone so that the hive does not "swarm" (divide into two parts with half of the hive leaving to start a new colony elsewhere). The bees are not free to leave when they want to due to the nature of swarming (read http://www.vegetus.org/honey/swarming.htm for more details).
5. During cold months, the beekeepers put a mouse guard at the mouth of the hive to prevent rodents from entering. Unfortunately, the bees, who would naturally drag their dead out of the hive, are unable to remove the bodies, so they slowly build up in the hive.
6. As you will find on http://www.vegetus.org/honey/honey.htm, "Some beekeepers kill off their hives before winter. This practice can make economic sense. Unfortunately, it is not the small backyard beekeeper, but rather the large, factory bee farmer, so a lot of bees are killed even if most beekeepers don't use the practice. Also, in the process of checking up on the hive and taking the honey, some bees get squashed by the frames or stepped on. Bees who sting the keeper in defense of their home necessarily die. If two colonies are combined, the queen of the weaker colony is killed. So that the honey can be easily removed from the comb, it is often warmed prior to removal. "Bees brought into the warming room with the supers will fly to a window where they can be trapped to the outside by a wire cone or bee escape. If there are no windows in the room other methods such as an electric grid can be used to dispose of the stray bees" (Root, 121 emphasis added)."
7. There is also the concept of bees as slaves in general. Animals are not ours to exploit.
8. Bees make honey for themselves to eat over the winter. When beekeepers take it from them, the bees don't have their own food to eat. Remember this when you wonder whether to use honey or another sugar source in your food. Honey isn't human food; it's meant for bees. So please don't eat it!
A recent survey of U.S. beekeepers shows that 23 percent of American honeybee colonies died this past winter, largely because of parasites, pesticides, poor nutrition, disease, and unknown causes. An unseasonably cold winter coupled with climate change have also devastated the U.S. honeybee population. The demand for honey and beeswax remains high though. Consequently, bees are factory-farmed, much like chickens, pigs, and cows are. And like other factory-farmed animals, bees are victims of unnatural living conditions, genetic manipulation, and stressful transportation.
The white box that commonly serves as a beehive on bee farms was created so that beekeepers could move the hives from place to place. As an article in The New York Times pointed out, bees have been “moved from shapes that accommodated their own geometry to flat-topped tenements, sentenced to life in file cabinets.”
Business is Buzzing
The honey industry can take in more than 176 million pounds of honey every year, at a value of more than $215 million. Since “swarming” (the division of the hive upon the birth of a new queen) can cause a decline in honey production, beekeepers attempt to prevent it by clipping the wings of a new queen, killing and replacing an older queen after just one or two years, and confining a queen who is trying to begin a swarm.
The queens are artificially inseminated using drones, who are killed in the process. Many commercial beekeepers will also “trick” queens into laying more eggs by adding wax cells to the hive that are larger than those that worker bees would normally build.
Bees need their honey for nourishment, especially during the winter. Industrial beekeepers want consumers to believe that honey is just a byproduct of the necessary pollination provided by honeybees, but honeybees are not as good at pollinating as many truly wild bees are. A worker bee may visit up to 10,000 flowers in one day, yet in his or her lifetime produce only one teaspoonful of honey.
If you like the taste of honey but don’t want to support factory bee farms, try vegan honey, including Suzanne’s Specialities’ Just Like Honey and Rice Nectar or Bee Free Honee, which was included in the 2014 Oscar swag bags. Bee Free Honee is made from U.S.-grown organic apples and comes in five flavors: Original, Ancho Chili, Chocolate, Mint, and Slippery Elm. Agave nectar, rice syrup, molasses, sorghum, barley malt, maple syrup, and dried fruit or fruit concentrates can also be used instead of honey.
Honey, beeswax, and other bee products can also be found in lip balms, lotions, and other beauty products, but PETA maintains a list of cruelty-free products that are also bee-free. To learn more, please visit PETA.org. And if you want to do more to help save pollinators, including bees, hummingbirds, butterflies, and bats, the Disneynature documentary Wings of Life recommends planting a garden wherever possible.
What do you thinks of bees? Be honest, and why do you think that?
My name is Jenny and I am a Commodity Consultant for MOCC.
This is a really interesting question. In terms of ethics, bees, alongside other insects, are often marginalised or placed outside of normal animal cruelty and welfare legislation. Many people might even argue that bees are insects, so they are pests, or even ‘dangerous’ as they sting. This side-lined status often crops-up as an issue for vegans; can they eat insect produce?
The truth is, bees are fragile, and they hold an integral part in our fragile earthy ecosystem, as do many other animals.
Personally, I think bees are great; their famous little black and yellow stripes and the way they bumble along in the early summer evening is ever so endearing, and they represent quite a british coming of summer.
They are fascinating animals, and I really enjoyed researching this for you. Below is a collection of research articles I found, which I hope you will find insightful.
Even if you're not a lover of bees or honey, you should know that bees are critically important to our food supply. They help pollinate billions of dollars of crops each year, from apples and carrots to blueberries and almonds.
So if bees are threatened, ultimately, the production of these crops will be threatened, too.
As a vegan, honey is officially out of bounds. The originator of the vegan movement, Donald Watson, singled it out as a no-go food stuff in the British Vegan Society manifesto of 1944.
Naturally he had the originators of honey in mind. Viewed through the vegan lens honey consumption seems less cutesy, as in Winnie the Pooh, and more shabby, as in literal daylight robbery: the bees toil to manage nectar from surrounding flora, incidentally pollinating our plants. They regurgitate this substance and fan it with their wings to the right consistency, whereupon bee vomit becomes honey. Then they painstakingly store it for their sole use during the cold weather.
While they're out working, we rob the hive, stealing the core product and its associated royal jelly and beeswax. And to speed up the process we harvest earlier in autumn, leaving the bees without the nutrition they've stored for the cold weather and instead we feed them on sugar supplements.
Bees are being driven to the brink. Not only are they being attacked by a viral infection spread by mites, they appear to be at odds with industrialised agriculture and perilously vulnerable to pesticides – honey production is one of the few yields that has not significantly increased as a result of the "green revolution". While we plough on with agri-industrialisation it's difficult to hold out much hope for bees at all.
Will your honey boycott help? I don't think so. In fact natural apiculture should be one of the bedrocks of sustainable and resilient food production. Unlike commercial apiculture, it is not dependent on cheap fossil fuel and has a vested interest in protecting the ecosystem.
The question is how can we make this theft more ethical? Hives managed properly (such as those harvested during spring as advocated by the naturalbeekeepingtrust.org) and products from local hives (buy local, non-blended honeys) should help landscapes to flourish.
Honey is also the least gas-guzzling sweetener we have. Beets and corn (processed into fructose syrup) are spectacularly energy intensive in growth and production, and cause a plethora of ethical problems.
Conscientious consumers need to understand the amazing product that honey can be and say no to cheap, imported products. If ethical consumers all disappear up a moral cul-de-sac, the bees have a problem. And if the bees have a problem, we have a bigger one.
Honey presents the greener shopper with some sticky dilemmas. Ethical Consumer's honey guide, which includes ratings for 22 honey brands, helps you choose honey that keeps our bees happy and healthy.
You can also help our bees by taking part in Friends of the Earth's Great British Bee Count.
Thanks to your support for The Bee Cause campaign, we've persuaded the Government to produce a Bee Action Plan. But as well as political action to help bees and other pollinating insects, there's plenty more we can do. Choosing the right honey is a great way to help our honey bees.
Organic or local honey?
Does it matter? Well, yes, if we want happy bees and healthy ecosystems, we can make a real difference by choosing the right kind of honey.
Usually we can rely on organic certification to help us select food that's produced in a more sustainable way. This isn't possible with honey sourced from here in the UK, as our beekeepers can't guarantee foraging bees only visit organically-grown flowers.
So buying certified organic usually means importing honey. This has the disadvantage of potentially high food miles. It can also be linked to poor working conditions - unless it's Fairtrade certified.
But even though UK-sourced honeys are unable to carry the organic label, many UK beekeepers still raise their hives on organically-managed land, and follow organic principles. If you’re able to buy from a known source or contact a local beekeeper directly, you can ask about their practices.
Check the honey guide for tips on buying local honey.
Is buying honey good or bad for bees?
We might not think of bees' welfare when we buy honey, in the way we might think of hens, when we buy a box of eggs. But in the same way, bee-keeping practices lie on a spectrum between industrial-scale beekeeping and bee conservation.
Ethical Consumer suggests that regular honey consumption can contribute to declining honey bee populations, especially if sourced from a business driven by profit.
And even an organic approach to honey production - which involves sustainable agricultural practice and better animal welfare - often fails to put bee welfare before human desires.
Growing movements such as ‘natural' and 'balanced beekeeping’ promotes a bee-centred approach to hive management. This emphasises bee welfare, and encourages the natural behaviour of bees. Honey is only taken when plentiful and appropriate.
Ethical Consumer’s Best Buys
If we want to encourage a more sustainable approach to bee-keeping, we need to think of honey in a different way - a special occasion treat or natural remedy.
As shoppers, we have a couple of choices. Besides the bigger brands, there are hundreds of small-scale honey producers in the UK. It hasn't been possible to include all of these in the report, but Ethical Consumer recommends we look out for:
• Local honey
Buy from a known source (ideally organic or uncultivated land), where the honey is produced by individual beekepers who practice balanced beekeeping. Read the honey guide for tips on what questions you can ask, to be sure they take bee welfare issues seriously.
• Ethical honey
The guide recommends Equal Exchange organic Fairtrade honey (£5.35) as the Best Buy. Next best is Tropical Forest’s Fairtrade and organic honey (£3.19). See how all 22 honey brands score on environmental, animal, social and political criteria in the guide.
Organic and Fairtrade certification
Organic certification normally acts as a simple navigation tool for consumers trying to identify more ethical food products. However in the case of honey this is less obvious if you hold environmental or animal welfare issues close at heart.
Organic versus local
You cannot buy certified organic honey sourced from the UK due to strict regulations on bee foraging distances, which are particularly difficult for UK beekeepers to meet.4 The Soil Association standards state that hives must be located so that a four-mile radius of organic crops and/or uncultivated land can be maintained to provide a source of nectar and pollen for honey bees. Sufficient distance must also be maintained between hives and potential contamination sources, for example: urban centres, motorways, industrial areas, waste dumps or waste incinerators.
The relatively small size of UK farms and the fragmented nature of uncultivated land, in addition to poor, UK-wide land management practices, mean that few British beekeepers could meet the organic honey standards even if they wanted too.
Buying certified organic honey in the UK therefore means importing honey with potentially high food miles compared to honey produced and bottled in the UK. This perhaps undermines some of the environmental motivations for buying organic in the first place. There is also some debate about whether honey can ever truly be organic due to bees’ foraging activity being relatively uncontrollable. Furthermore, unless it is Fairtrade certified, organic (imported) honey may be linked to poor working conditions, depending on the country of origin and a company’s supply-chain policies and practices.
Even though UK-sourced honeys are unable to carry the organic label, many UK beekeepers still raise their hives on organically managed land and follow organic principles in regard to hive management, honey collection and processing. Buying local honey from a known source or contacting a local beekeeper directly and asking about their practices and honey sources will tell you more than a label which simply says ‘English Honey’. Perhaps honey producers could be persuaded to provide more detailed information.
Although we haven’t covered the hundreds of small UK beekeepers on the score table above, you can use the local honey directory to find beekeepers close to you. This directory provides you with contact details for beekeepers by region and some information on honey sources. You could also contact your local beekeepers’ association or natural beekeeping group who can put you in touch with local beekeepers too.
Is buying honey good or bad for bee populations?
If you are concerned about bee populations, honey consumption in its modern form is arguably complicit in contributing to declining honey bee populations, especially if sourced from a business driven by profit. Buying organic honey may cast a vote for sustainable agricultural practices, but still maintains an human-centred view towards beekeeping that often fails to put bee welfare before human desires.
Organic standards encourage the feeding of bees with organic honey rather than sugar water; limit the use of antibiotics; prohibit the clipping of a queen bee’s wings and prohibit artificial insemination. But organic beekeeping can still include a number of practices that could be conceived of as ‘unnatural’, and as violating animal rights, and are argued by ‘natural beekeepers’ to be linked to a higher incidence of pests, disease and stress.
Beekeeping practices lie on a spectrum between industrial-scale beekeeping and bee conservation. The further you move towards the bee conservation end of the spectrum, the more you encourage a colony to take control and produce a hive in its natural form and shape, without pre-set wax moulds and with minimal disturbance of the hive. Bees are allowed to swarm according the colony’s own impulses, and, rather than relying on man-made medicines which are often developed by the same companies that sell neonicotinoids, bees are encouraged to fight off pests and disease themselves in order to develop a natural resistance. Honey, if taken at all, is taken when there is true excess and in the spring once a hive has survived the winter.
Viewed from a perspective of sustainability, honey consumption by humans might be less frequent than it is now. It could be seen more as a special occasion product or medicine rather than a regular item of choice.
Is honey vegan?
The advice from PETA is unequivocal – “avoid honey”. They, and fellow vegans, see the consumption of honey as ‘theft’ from bees who rely on honey as a winter food source and therefore we shouldn’t consume it. There are also a number of arguments against honey consumption derived from the methods used in its production. Most of these issues are associated with industrial-scale honey production. Alternative bread spreads and sweeteners include jams and jellies, soaked dry fruits or maple syrup.
Choosing ethical honey
For the purpose of this guide, we have covered the most widely available national honey brands on the score table, including supermarket own brands.
However, there are hundreds of small-scale honey producers within the UK, which we have not been able to cover for reasons of practicality and space. This does not mean that local honey will not be a better buy, especially if you can get more details about beekeeping practices.
Choosing local honey
A local honey directory can be used to locate your nearest honey producer, and a few key questions can help you ascertain whether they hold bee welfare issues close to heart:
Does the beekeeper comply with organic guidelines?
What is the bee’s primary pollen and nectar source? (Uncultivated land or organically cultivated land would be preferable).
Where do the beekeeper’s practices lie on the industrial to conservation beekeeping spectrum?
Once taken from the hive, commercial honey can be processed in a number of ways including filtering and heat treating. This is done to stop the crystallisation of honey, remove visible impurities (bees legs, wings, wax particles), and ensure long shelf life by removing yeast. There is some debate over the consequences of the various treatments with many believing that some interventions, especially the pasteurisation process, reduce the nutritional value of honey and alter its taste.
However recent research by the National Honey Board analysed vitamins, minerals and antioxidant levels in raw and processed honey. The study showed that processing significantly reduced the pollen content of the honey (which can lead to crystallisation), but did not affect the nutrient content or antioxidant activity. The study did, however, state that heat treatment should be kept to a minimum as the issues around raw honey “remain poorly understood.”
Equal Exchange is a workers’ co-operative and vegetarian company and so scores positively under Company Ethos. All of their products are organic and GM free, and all of their honey products are Fairtrade certified.
Essential Trading is also a workers’ co-operative and vegetarian company and also scores positively for this.
Tiptree, owned by Wilkin and Sons, have some worker ownership. The company website states that, “through an EBT (Employee Benefit Trust), employees today own almost half the voting rights of the shares in the Company”.
Littleover Apiaries has a turnover of less than £8 million and offers a number of environmental alternatives. All of the company’s hives are managed according to organic standards, even the English honeys that are unable to achieve organic certification due to the issues highlighted above.
Baxters is a family-owned, UK-based business that produces a number of food products including honey, jam, soup and mayonnaise. The company scored worst for both environmental reporting and supply chain management due to a complete lack of information on both topics.
The Andros Group, owners of the Bonne Maman brand, also scored worst in these categories for similar reasons, as did Duerrs.
Despite farming to organic standards, Duchy Originals also scored worst for their environmental reporting and supply chain management. In 2009, Duchy Originals (which is owned by the Prince’s Charities Foundation) made an exclusive deal with Waitrose to make and sell Duchy Originals products in the UK.
Gales is owned by Hain Celestial Group which also owns the vegetarian brand Linda McCartney and vegan milk substitute Rice Dream. The company also sells meat products, however, and scores a worst mark for their supply chain management.
Raw Health organic honey is sold by Windmill Organics Ltd. Windmill used to sell BioFair Fairtrade organic honey, but sadly this product is now delisted. Windmill Organics scored worst for its environmental reporting as the company did not produce an independently verified environmental report and did not present dated environmental reduction targets.
As with all things, there are shades of grey in the morality of producing and eating honey. Not all honey is cruelly produced, nor is all honey ethically produced. The important thing is that some beekeepers consistently put their bees and the health of the environment first. If you are interested in helping bees to survive, and if you want to ensure that more honey is ethically produced, then support your local apiary. Or better yet, start your own!
What could present a more peaceful, bucolic image than the scene of beekeepers tending their bee hives? Beekeepers are traditionally seen as the gentlest of agriculturalists, not killing for food but merely reaping the labor of an industrious insect in exchange for nurture and protection. Yet there is little peaceful about the verbal and political battle swirling about beekeepers and honey bees at the moment.
Two new studies published in the journal Nature add to the evidence that overuse of neonicotinoid pesticides may also be contributing to the decline of bees.
Neonics, as they're known for short, have become among the most widely used insecticides in the world. The pesticide is coated onto the seeds that farmers plant to grow their crops. These pretreated seeds are used extensively in corn, soy and canola crops. In fact, it's estimated that treated seeds are used in more than 95 percent of the U.S. corn crop.
Part of the appeal for farmers is that neonics are simple to use. Farmers plant the seeds in the spring. "The neonicotinoid [which is water soluble] is then absorbed as the plant grows ... and protects the tissues," explains scientist Nigel Raine, who authored a News & Views piece that accompanies the new Nature studies.
This is effective at protecting farmers' crops from pests. But it may be risky for the bees, because "you get [neonicotinoid] residues in the nectar and pollen, even when the plant is flowering months later, potentially," Raine says.
And this means that when bees feed on the nectar of these flowering crops, they can be exposed to the pesticide.
Researchers estimate the strength of a honeybee colony filled with busy bees tending their brood and food storage.
Now, neonicotinoids, as the name suggests, are derived from nicotine and act as a poison to the nervous system. There's been a theory that bees might actually be repelled by it and avoid plants grown from treated seed. But one of the new studies published Wednesday suggests this is not the case.
Researchers in the United Kingdom conducted a lab experiment to see which kind of food sources bees are drawn to. They offered bees a choice between a plain, sugary solution and one laced with neonics. They found the bees preferred the pesticide solution.
"I think it's a surprising result," Raine says, "because the data suggest that they can't taste the [pesticides], but they are still preferring them."
It's possible that they're getting a little buzz from the neonics, similar to the way a human may get a buzz from nicotine.
Wild Bees Are Good For Crops, But Crops Are Bad For Bees
"It might be a similar pathway," says Raine. "They're getting some kind of positive reinforcement."
And the upshot is that bees could be opting for the food source that may harm them.
In a second study published in Nature, researcher Maj Rundlof and colleagues document the negative effects on the growth and reproduction of commercial bumblebee colonies feeding on flowering canola plants that were grown from seeds coated with neonicotinoids.
The study also documents a negative effect on populations of wild bees — both in seed-treated fields and in adjacent meadows.
Interestingly, the researchers did not observe a negative effect on honeybee colonies.
Scientists for Bayer CropScience, a leading producer of neonics, wrote in a statement emailed to The Salt that the research "demonstrates yet again there is no effect of neonicotinoids on honeybee colonies in realistic field conditions, consistent with previous published field studies." The statement goes on to question the methodology and the "overall robustness" of the data on wild bees.
But given the accumulating body of evidence on the potential risk of neonics, there's a growing movement to restrict their use.
Are Agriculture's Most Popular Insecticides Killing Our Bees?
The European Union already has a temporary, partial ban in place restricting the use of some neonics.
And the Ontario government in Canada has proposed a regulation aimed at reducing the number of acres planted with neonic-treated corn and soybean seed by 80 percent by 2017. The proposal, which is currently open for a public comment period, would take effect in July.
In the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency announced this month that it is unlikely to approve new neonicotinoid pesticide uses.
"I definitely think we are overusing neonicotinoids," Christian Krupke, an associate professor in the department of entomology at Purdue University, tells us.
"We're simply using too many of these compounds, in such an indiscriminate way," he says. He points to a recent EPA review that concludes that using neonic-coated seeds offers little, if any, economic benefit to soybean farmers' economic bottom lines. In other words, some farmers are using pesticide-treated seeds they don't need.
And around the globe, there's concern that this may be undermining the health of bees.
By pollinating our crops, bees have kept us from starvation. Is it right that we're still hungry enough to eat their honey too?
My research into the world of hives and honey began with the discovery that vegans don’t eat honey. As Ben Hewitt of The Vegan Society explained to me, the “fundamental reason” behind this is the ethical vegan principle that no animal is there for humans to use. And because honey is produced by an animal, vegans will not eat it.
Ben outlined several issues with beekeeping. Honey, he says, is “produced under very controlled, abusive conditions, where Queen Bees that would live years and years are mass produced and killed off very regularly.” Citing also the possibility of the rapid spread of disease within colonies, as with other intensively farmed animals, and the practice of replacing extracted honey with "less healthy" sugar water and corn syrup, Ben’s case took on a new slant. "By using bees for honey, humans are treating an animal as a commodity, rather than as a being that has a right to everything it produces. We do not have the right to the fruits of their labour.”
Is farming honey simply stealing?
Our lack of entitlement to the produce of another creature's hard labour also strikes a chord with food blogger Kerstin Rodgers (who you may know as MsMarmitelover). Kerstin is currently writing a book on veganism and has gone vegan while working on it. She confesses that she’s becoming more convinced by veganism as she learns more about the subject.
However, she would still eat honey (at the moment): “It’s really hard to feel emotional about an insect, because they’re not mammals, but we should. They’re still creatures and they are being exploited.” Insects might be “small and often unattractive… [but honey farming] is basically enslaving the bees, forcing them to work – for free, for no return whatsoever.”
She asks me if I’m vegan – no. I’m not even a vegetarian, but researching this feature has given me a lot to think about. For me, it’s somehow harder to imagine honey being from bees in the same way as knowing that eggs come from a chicken, and milk comes from a cow. Or to remember the hard work bees have to do to actually create the stuff. Kerstin also mentioned silk being non-vegan, as it's produced by silkworms and cochineal (a food colouring) which is made out of crushed beetles. Which makes sense, but I’d never seen it from this point of view before – when you only see it on a shop shelf, it’s easy to overlook the methods of production.
Where would the bees be without us?
Not that this is the only perspective, of course. Gill Maclean of the British Beekeepers Association (BBKA) was keen to point out the difference between commercial farming and amateur beekeepers, who actually play what she calls a “vital service” by stepping in to feed bees where they would otherwise starve.
“Not this summer, but the year before,” she says, “it started raining in April and didn’t really stop all summer. So we had a situation where colonies of bees were starving, and if it hadn't been for beekeepers stepping in and actually providing them with sugar syrup, the colonies would have died out.”
Furthermore, Gill says, wild colonies of bees have greatly dwindled in numbers, and the fact that there are honey bees at all "is due to the care and attention of beekeepers.” And where would we be without bees? We rely on them to pollinate plants, which is a natural process, but as their numbers fall in the wild, do humans have a moral responsibility help honey bees survive? Should we have a symbiotic relationship, rather than a dominating one?
In fact, steps towards that equilibrium are already being taken, according to Kerstin. There’s a new movement in beekeeping that is “based on politely taking a small amount of [spare] honey… as opposed to grabbing all of it and feeding [the bees] sugar.” Which sounds a lot fairer. Some people, says Gill, only keep bees for the “beneficial impact on the environment”, and though they might take an amount of honey from those hives, it would only be a small amount – and they definitely wouldn’t turn a profit from their work.
In fact, General Secretary for the Bee Farmers Association (BFA) Margaret Ginman says that most of those who do turn a profit don’t take more honey than is “surplus to requirements”. Furthermore, unlike vegan Ben, she claims that substitute feeds are “just as nutritious as honey.”
Would vegans accept beekeeping as a mutually beneficial practice undertaken by amateurs, rather than what they usually see as an exploitative commercial endeavour? It’s still a no. Ben argues that there is “always a nutritionally equivalent alternative to any animal-derived product; arguments about how we obtain that product are assuming that there is a need for those products.” He was also keen to point out that there are alternative solutions to honey such as agave syrup and nectar, which are free from all animal products.
What about commercial farmers?
While there might be alternatives to honey, how would the bees fare without big colonies managed by humans? Margaret Ginman backed up the claims made by the BBKA, stating that, without beekeepers, the population of bees in Britain would be zero, as hives are under constant threat from infestation by parasitic mites.
“Beekeepers are keeping honeybees alive [by protecting them from] varroa predation," says Margaret. "A hundred years ago there were many millions of honeybee colonies, both managed and feral, and the wild pollinator population also flourished despite the honeybee numbers. Now there are less than 200,000 hives in the UK. If these numbers fall any lower we could have problems meeting pollination targets for sustainable food production to feed our growing population.”
Beekeepers help keep the levels of pollination high by moving their bees at key times of the year to boost pollinator populations in “monoculture situations – orchards, borage, and crops” says Margaret. They will move bees in “at the start of the glut and out when it is over, thus protecting the native pollinators.” So not only do they protect the bees from parasitic predators, they move them to areas in which the bees can thrive and at the same time help farmers keep their crop production high. Isn’t this already fairly close to the system of give-and-take outlined above?
So should I eat honey?
There’s no easy answer to whether or not honey consumption is ethical. Having said that, I don’t intend on presenting these counter-arguments to vegans in an attempt to convince them that honey farming is utterly necessary. But there’s never been any doubt that bees play a key role in our ecosystem. If they were to die out due to a lack of human intervention, we’d have some very big problems to deal with.
The domestic bee industry in the U.S. and in other countries around the world was hit hard in 2006 with puzzling bee and colony losses, since referred to as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). In a typical year beekeepers expect to lose 10-15% of their colonies to disease and various stresses. Since CCD arrived, colony losses have averaged 30% each winter, a significant increase. Despite dire headlines warning of the doom of agriculture, according to one 2012 report, the costs of CCD to consumers so far seem to be minimal and honey bee colony losses have been compensated for effectively by beekeepers themselves.
Nevertheless, something seems wrong with the world if bees are dying. Initially all sorts of crazy ideas were promoted about the cause of CCD, including radio waves from cell phone towers. Since then the theories have narrowed to other, more reasonable suspects. In the past few months some researchers and advocates have claimed that pesticides are the principle cause. And whenever pesticides are mentioned, the debate is sure to get lively.
The USDA, university researchers and EPA have been mostly united for several years in the position that CCD is the result of multiple causes including parasites, lack of nectar source diversity, diseases, and overworked bees. However some recent research on neonicotinoid insecticides has raised alarm bells for critics, and has even led to a temporary ban on this group of insecticides in Europe. The research in question includes laboratory studies with bees and field studies with bumblebees, thought to be more sensitive to insecticides than honey bees because of their smaller colony size.
The smoking gun for environmentalists opposed to neonicotinoids came in the form of studies reported last year that show that one of the sub-lethal effects of low exposure neonicotinoids include loss of the bees’ sophisticated ability to find their way back home. This loss of homing ability would account for one of the more distinctive symptoms of CCD, namely colonies that slowly decline with no signs of dead bees around the hive. Other forms of colony decline typically include dead bees around the colony entrance.
While there is no doubt that neonicotinoids are toxic to bees at high enough doses, scientists are still divided on the question of whether bees that forage on neonicotinoid-treated crops are exposed to high enough levels of toxicant to suffer from flight disorientation, and whether there is even a correlation between CCD and neonicotinoid use. Indeed, in some parts of the world where neonicotinoids are extensively used, such as Australia, CCD is not reported to be a problem.
If you’re a gardener, chances are that you’ve heard the dire warnings about these insecticides and are wondering if you should avoid their use. After all, no one wants to be a bee killer.
If the scientists who study bees are divided on the cause of bee risks from pesticides, it’s likely that the answer to this question will be not be simple. But here are some points that might be useful as you consider whether these insecticides have any place in your yard and garden:
• Both the USDA and EPA recently issued a report summarizing positions that CCD is a result of multiple factors, not just pesticides.
• All labels are approved on the basis that when used according to label directions the pesticide must not pose unreasonable adverse to humans or the environment, including honey bees. The EPA has recently reviewed registrations for some of these insecticides and stands by its risk/benefit assessment that these products can be used safely if the label is followed.
• While research is suggestive of a potential risk to bees from agricultural uses of neonicotinoids, the case is far from proven. And so far, to my knowledge, no credible sources have suggested that urban residential uses of neonicotinoids pose any unusual risk to bee colonies in urban areas.
• The greatest potential risk to bees from neonicotinoids appears to be in agricultural settings, where bee colonies are exposed to large acreages of treated plants. The diversity of plants and the relatively low use of pesticides in urban settings argues for lower potential risks in residential and commercial landscapes.
• Although neonicotinoids, like most nervous system toxins, are relatively toxic to birds, there is no pattern of bird deaths associated with appropriate use of neonicotinoids, as claimed by some.
• Neonicotinoid insecticides are moderately low in toxicity to people and mammals due to some unique nerve junction differences between us and insects. Just because an insecticide is toxic to bees doesn’t mean that it has broad ecological toxicity.
• Use of neonicotinoid sprays should be avoided on flowering plants during daylight hours. Bees are at high risk when sprayed directly, or if they contact wet spray deposits. In residential and commercial landscapes, neonicotinoids can often be applied effectively through root injection, greatly minimizing risks to pollinators like bees.
As a pest control specialist, I know that neonicotinoids are effective and valuable insecticides for a variety of pest problems around the home. For some landscape pests, especially some of our tougher scale pests and whiteflies, there are no highly effective alternatives. It’s up to all of us to ensure that these products are used in such a way that beneficial insects are protected. You can start by reading your insecticide labels carefully. The label will tell you how to protect honey bees and other pollinators. But a label is only useful if we read and follow them.
What are Neonicotinoids? Neonicotinoid insecticides are a relatively new class of systemic insecticides that have grown to make up approximately 20% of the global pesticide market. The first neonicotinoid to be introduced to the home garden and pest control markets in the U.S. was imidacloprid, used for termite control, garden and lawn insect control, and even flea control (in the popular Advantage® spot-on product). Imidacloprid, remains at the center of the CCD controversy because of its widespread use in agriculture and in the ornamental landscape market. The neonicotinoids currently available to consumers for garden pest control include imidacloprid, dinotefuran and acetamiprid. If you are not sure whether a product you may be using contains a neonicotinoid, check the active ingredients list on the front panel of the insecticide container. Because neonicotinoids are systemic, and can be taken up into plant tissues, they can be applied to root zones, eliminating the need to spray. For this same reason, neonicotinoids are not generally labeled for fruits and vegetables, unless the insecticides are barred from the edible portions by plant physiological barriers.
A controversial new study of honeybee deaths has deepened a bitter dispute over whether the developed world’s most popular pesticides are causing an ecological catastrophe.
Researchers led by biologist Chensheng Lu of Harvard University report a direct link between hive health and dietary exposure to imidacloprid, a so-called neonicotinoid pesticide linked to colony collapse disorder, the mysterious and massive die-off of bees across North America and Europe.
The study isn’t without critics, who say doses used in the study may be unrealistically high. But the level of a realistic dose is also a matter of controversy, and even critics say the findings are troubling.
“Our result replicates colony collapse disorder as a result of pesticide exposures,” said Lu, who specializes in environmental exposures to pesticides. “We need to look at our agriculture policy and see if what we’re doing now is sustainable.”
Developed in the 1990s as a relatively less-toxic alternative to pesticides that seriously harmed human health, neonicotinoids soon became the world’s fastest-growing pesticide class and an integral part of industrial agricultural strategy. In the United States alone, neonicotinoid-treated corn now covers a total area slightly smaller than the state of Montana.
Like earlier pesticides, neonicotinoids disrupt insects’ central nervous systems. But unlike earlier pesticides, which affected insects during and immediately after spraying, neonicotinoids spread through the vascular tissues of plants. They’re toxic through entire growing seasons, including flowering times when bees consume their pollen.
The first reports of colony collapse disorder came in the mid-2000s from commercial beekeepers, who depending on region have experienced colony losses ranging from 30 to 90 percent. Commercial pollination costs have since skyrocketed, and as wild bees are also afflicted, even naturally occurring pollination is threatened.
Measuring bee declines, however, proved much easier than explaining them. Among a lineup of potential culprits including fungus, mites, viruses, bacteria and pesticides, studies failed to find an obvious, smoking-gun cause — but, piece by piece, evidence against neonicotinoids has steadily accumulated.
Honeybees are clearly exposed to them throughout the year and through multiple environmental routes. At certain times, especially in spring, death often follows exposure, and even non-lethal exposures may disrupt bee learning and navigation. Neonicotinoids also appear to make bees especially vulnerable to certain parasites and may interact similarly with other stressors.
'These pesticides are everywhere, every year. We've never used pesticides in the way we're using them now.'
Some European countries, including France, Germany and Italy, have even banned neonicotinoids, though pesticide companies vehemently defend their ecological safety and say concerns are based on inconclusive and premature science.
Lu’s study, released April 5 and scheduled for publication in the June Bulletin of Insectology, attempts to replicate the life history of commercial bees, which are often fed dietary supplements of high-fructose corn syrup that may contain neonicotinoid residues that survive processing.
“We tried to mimic commercial beekeepers’ practices. I believe one reason that commercial beekeepers are experiencing the most severe colony collapse disorder is because of the link between high-fructose corn syrup and neonicotinoids,” Lu said.
In the spring of 2010, the researchers set up four groups of commercially purchased colonies. Each contained five hives, and during the summer months were fed a diet containing either no imidacloprid, what Lu considered a small dose of 20 parts per billion, or a much higher dose of 400 parts per billion.
Colony collapse disorder is characterized in part by bees abandoning their hives during winter, and that’s precisely what Lu’s team reported in 15 of 16 imidacloprid-receiving hives. While other colony collapse disorder symptoms, such as queens that stay in the hive while workers flee, were not reported, Lu considers the experimentally induced collapse to be realistic.
Reaction to the study was swift and varied.
Bayer, the chemical and pharmaceutical giant that manufactures imidacloprid, issued a formal statement denouncing the findings as “spectacularly incorrect” and “based on artificial and unrealistic study parameters that are wildly inconsistent with actual field conditions insecticide use.”
But Jeffery Pettis, a bee biologist at the United States Department of Agriculture, called the results “tantalizing but not conclusive.” With only four colonies used per dose level, the study’s statistical significance is limited, “but I would love to see this study replicated such that the trends … they observed could be actually validated,” wrote Pettis in an email.
Among Bayer’s criticisms is that imidacloprid, a first-generation neonicotinoid, is little-used in the United States. It’s largely been replaced by newer formulations — but these, said pesticide expert Charles Benbrook of The Organic Center, an organic food research consultancy, are chemically similar to imidacloprid.
“Virtually all our corn seed has been treated with a very similar neonicotinoid,” said Benbrook. If the study had been conducted with clothianidin, another controversial neonicotinoid, “they’d almost certainly have found the same thing.”
According to Bayer, “analysis from actual field grown corn samples have shown no detectable imidacloprid residues” in high-fructose corn syrup. But Benbrook said that extensive testing by the Organic Center found traces of imidacloprid, but they were impossible to quantify.
“It’s very difficult to test for this particular chemical in high-fructose corn syrup. A lot of labs have spent lots of time trying to do it, but high-fructose corn syrup is a very sticky, dense matrix that basically gums up the testing machines,” said Benbrook. “That’s why relatively little is known about imidacloprid in high-fructose corn syrup.”
Separate from the corn syrup issue is how the experiment’s imidacloprid doses compared to real-world neonicotinoid exposures from pollen and crop residues. Bee biologist Dave Goulson of Scotland’s University of Stirling, co-author of a recent paper on neonicotinoids and hive health, said the doses “seem to be unrealistically high,” a critique echoed by Bayer.
But Pettis said the study’s lower dose ranges, which were sufficient to destroy the colonies, “were what bees could encounter in the environment.” His take was echoed by biologist Christian Krupke of Purdue University, who said the doses “are certainly within the range that bees may encounter in the field.”
One way in which bees are regularly exposed to neonicotinoids is through drops of sap that form on the edge of plants. Studies of these droplets have found neonicotinoid levels even higher than those used in the new study, and the droplets can be fatal to bees (see video above).
Another major route of exposure is through dust emitted by air-powered seed planters. Several years before the emergence of colony collapse disorder, neonicotinoid manufacturers started to coat seeds in the pesticides, vastly increasing the amount used in fields. The coatings are partially pulverized inside seed planters and emitted in plumes that appear to be highly toxic. Neonicotinoids also remain biologically active in soil for years and perhaps decades, and it’s possible that they seep into roots and throughout plants in ways that haven’t yet been measured, said Krupke.
The Environmental Protection Agency is currently evaluating the safety of neonicotinoids, and more than 1.25 million people have signed petitions requesting a ban. In parts of Europe that have already banned neonicotinoids, colony collapse disorder may have slowed, though Krupke said these reports are too anecdotal to consider scientifically reliable.
“If the relationship was as easy as that, we’d have noticed it long ago. There are areas where neonicotinoids are used, but you don’t have colony loss,” Krupke said. “But what these studies are showing is that because neonicotinoids are absolutely ubiquitous, and we’re seeing sub-lethal effects, is that they’re stressors. They’ve softened up the bees for other parasites.”
Pesticide risk analysis in the United States has focused too much on whether chemicals are immediately, obviously toxic, said Krupke. “Our way of thinking is fundamentally flawed,” he said. “We need to look at sub-lethal effects, and for a longer time period. These pesticides are everywhere, every year. We’ve never used pesticides in the way we’re using them now, where we charge up a plant and it expresses pesticides all year long.”
Lu described standing in front of the dosed beehives used in his experiment, and referenced Silent Spring, an influential work that lamented the unintended consequences of bird-killing pesticides.
“The hives were dead silent,” he said. “I kind of ask myself: Is this the repeat of Silent Spring? What else do we need to prove that it’s the pesticides causing colony collapse disorder?”