Friday, April 20, 2007

Factory Bee Farming

Nature and mass production don’t mix. You can see many examples of this in the natural world – when deer populations explode, predator populations are quick to follow, thereby decimating deer populations. Or when plants or animals are crowded together, deadly diseases thrive. Now, as explained below, honeybee populations appear to be threatened due to large-scale management practices. The recent phenomenon of “colony collapse disorder” has seen the untimely loss of 30-70% of the honeybee population.

In the last two decades beekeeping has become increasingly commercialized and consolidated: beekeepers are trucking trailer-loads of bees from state to state in search of pollination contracts. Also, the bees have been bred in recent decades to pollinate rather than to make honey. In other words, the beekeepers are responding to the demands of the market [there is more demand for pollination services than for honey].

In February 2007, beekeepers and researchers convened in Florida to try to identify possible causes of this mysterious colony collapse disorder. They came up with the following possible reasons:

  1. Stress: "Bees are being raised to survive a shorter off-season, to be ready to pollinate once the almond bloom begins in February. That has most likely lowered their immunity to viruses."
  2. Insecticides: "Mites have also damaged bee colonies, and the insecticides used to try to kill mites are harming the ability of queen bees to spawn as many worker bees. The queens are living half as long as they did just a few years ago."
  3. Pesticides: "A group of pesticides that were banned in some European countries [may be] affecting bees' innate ability to find their way back home."

This is not the first time that mysterious diseases are hitting honeybees but this is the first national honeybee epidemic. The previous diseases were local. Probably, the forced migration of bees in trucks turned this crisis into a national one. The diagnosis of colony collapse disorder is not yet final but all fingers are pointing in one direction: at the beekeepers' efforts to take full advantage of the opportunities that markets are presenting them. (Field Guide to the U.S. Economy)

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At April 27, 2007 8:26 PM, Blogger Edie said...

I am so happy that you have helped to bring the honey bee issue to the attention of others. Few people realize the importance of bees and their economic impact on our daily lives. However, I am more concerned with the decline of the species rather than agricultural profits. If you would like to read more, there is a Congressional Research Service for Congress document that delves more deeply into the issue. The web address is:

I also hope that this will help more people realize that we cannot continue to manipulate and abuse nature without adverse consequences.


At May 17, 2007 9:00 AM, Blogger Ash said...

I too am concerned about the loss of bees. I recently read an article that linked the hive collapses to radiation (or is it radio waves?) from cell phones. It suggested that that world-wide network is causing bees to be unable to navigate back to their hives.

At May 18, 2007 2:07 PM, Blogger Jade said...

Thank you Edie, good to hear from you. I wasn't particularly concerned about the economic impact of the bee loss, I just found the article interesting because of the insight into the problem that I hadn't heard anywhere else until then. I appreciate your pointing out further information.

Hi Ash! I hadn't heard anything about that. I'll have to look into that.


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