GOLDEN GOOSE IN BEEKEEPING
The whole world is alarmed regarding the latest reports about the disappearance of honey bees. “The picture is alarming – honey bee losses are severe in many countries”. Rogers et al, ABJ, May 2007, p441). Fears are justifiable since honey bees are involved in pollination of most of the foods that humans and animals consume in our planet. Such fears would be even more justified if we were to take into consideration Albert Einstein’s prediction, should honey bees disappear from our planet, humanity would last exactly four years. There is no doubt in my mind that this catastrophe would take place if bees were to disappear, but fear not, it is not going to happen, at least not at this point and time. However, we are in for pretty hard times if the present trend in beekeeping continues. As in every other aspect of the world’s economy, beekeeping is ruled by money, enormous amounts of money. Beekeeping, for some, is becoming the goose that lays golden eggs. As Kirk Webster, a commercial beekeeper, so very aptly quoted Mark Twain, (ABJ, September 2006, p755), “In America, the dollar is our God, and how to get it is our religion.” Unfortunately, this phenomenon applies not only to America but also to the entire world.
It would take several pages of this publication for me to explain all the factors that I believe to be involved in the process of the disappearance of honey bees. I hope to be able to convey my thoughts in a simple way that is appealing to many readers, especially to beekeepers, and that my dialogue makes as much sense to them as it does to me.
I have been a beekeeper for 70 years and a veterinarian for 45 years and performed research in honey bee pest management for the last 15 years as a devoted nature lover, qualities that I believe make me well prepared to address the factors that I believe contribute to the to the present aliment of honey bees. In order to understand what is happening in beekeeping I believe that a brief analysis of the situation should be made at this point. We have the same diseases and parasites in beekeeping as we had 20 years ago (bacteria, mites, protozoans, viruses, hive beetles, Cape Bees, fungi, moths, lots of stress and definitely, transgenic seeds! Used to be, that if we had an ailment affecting honey bees in a large scale, we would be made aware of it the moment we came near a hive due to the stench of dead bees and one could see a pile of dead bees either in front of the hive or inside on the bottom board. In modern days we have added a convenient phrase to what we used to see in the past, disappearing bee syndrome, an inappropriate terminology. Why? Simply, because it does not exist. (Syndrome: the aggregate of symptoms associated with any morbid process, and constituting together the picture of the disease, Stedman’s Medical Dictionary, p1339). Yes, bees do disappear but it is not a syndrome. It is a condition, not an enigma as it has been made to be. It is an occurrence very easily related to economics. Instead, I prefer the term colony collapse disorder, or CCD, term that describes the situation appropriately.
Pharmaceutical/chemical manufacturing enterprises and the scientific community are enjoying a “windfall” from beekeepers in particular and beekeeping in general who worry at the prospect of going bankrupt, fact amply described in the media. It is not difficult to make a connection regarding money spent about disappearing honey bees and the factors responsible for their disappearance. Beekeepers are desperate attempting to save their bees and livelihood trying all kinds of remedies, commercial or otherwise, hoping to find the “silver bullet,” term commonly used by just about any one speaking about such remedies. Government agencies, institutions, beekeepers and beekeeping associations are spending huge amounts of money; for example, Scientific AG Co. donates $75,000 to California Association, ABJ, September 2006, p723, multimillion dollar funding now in process by United States legislature assigning funds for honey bee research for the next four years, Senate Bill, ABJ, August 1007, p663. Bee research conferences are being held frequently in the United States and in foreign countries, to which private individuals, corporate business, institutions and government representatives converge to discuss their views and findings about this disorder. All of them have a common view; beekeepers are losing great numbers of bees. All agree about lots of contributing ideas; almost as many different ones as there are investigators working on the subject. Unfortunately, in spite of the large number of accomplishments brought to these meetings, everything is not in agreement. Beekeepers in attendance complain that scientists are using different testing methods, times and numbers, (Bill Ruzicka, ABJ, August 2007, p658. Hence the need for an international standard treatment method as could be found in the FGMO/thymol treatment method. On the other hand, these meetings are good for the industry because they show ample range of social impact and human interaction. Proof: read the minutia of honey bee conferences, meetings, congresses and other contributing authors who are jumping into the scene,
i. e. Mike McInnes, linking honey bees, diabetes and stress, ABJ, July 2007, p562. But do they solve the question of CCD? It does not appear to do so because the problem continues unabated.
Honey bees are very sensitive organisms and respond to just about all kinds of variants introduced into their colony. Beekeepers in their desperation are pouring many kinds of chemicals into the hives without taking into consideration that most of these remedies are toxic to their bees and that together with the illnesses affecting the bees, parasites, pesticides, transport to long distances (migratory beekeeping), all these conditions cause stress to honey bees. Honey bees under stress abandon their normal activities including hygienic behavior, an activity of vital importance for hive welfare, the bees many times respond to these factors by absconding. In other instances, chemicals, (especially those that leave residues in the combs), diseases and manipulation affect laying and brood rearing ending with diminished populations. This is especially true during winter months when bees are confined to the hives with little or no brood development. Under these circumstances, disasters such as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) are likely to occur.
CCD has given bee researchers a field day with huge money grants. This is also good for beekeeping because I am sure that most of them will discover remedies to the ailments that may be affecting honey bees. Some of them already have. For instance Mariano Higes, a Spanish scientist, isolated a Nosema variant that has been found in a great number of colonies seemingly affected by CCD. I live near Mr. Higes place of work and I have known him for over ten years. He is a talented and dedicated researcher who may have found another contributing factor to CCD. However, We should take into consideration that pathogens can inflict severe damage to their hosts when the host’s strength is weakened as happens when the bees are stressed. Spain had a severe drought two years ago which I am sure was responsible for a great number of honey bee colonies collapsing, and perhaps the newly discovered Nosema strain contributed to their losses but it is doubtful that it was the sole responsible factor. I keep my bee colonies in the area, Guadalajara Province, and my bees are not disappearing. I have fabulous bee populations in my colonies (See attached photograph). This statement is not meant to take credit away from my friend’s work, but to indicate that investigators must look further to other causes if we expect to arrive at a definite solution to CCD.