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Recycling Beeswax: Part 1

The Way Back to Biological Beekeeping, Part 10

Background – Decontamination . . . is it necessary?

Looking at today’s happenings relative to beekeeping with artificial supplemental treatments for parasitic mites and secondary diseases one could wonder, just how do our present-day honeybees continue to survive? Can all this wondrous stuff (chemicals, essential oils, and artificial drugs) really keep being placed and dumped into our hives, without ill-effects happening, that will take years for both ourselves and future generations to reverse the effects of and clean up?

From time to time short blurbs about the seriousness of the problem are published, but is anyone paying heed? Taken from the Australian Bee Journal and published by Bee Culture, in the USA in June 1996, we learned of: “ORGANIC PROBLEMS – CONTAMINATED WAX IN EUROPE – Scientists at the Specialists meeting of the 34th Apimondia Congress were in general agreement that the use of Apistan over the past 10+ years for the control of Varroasis has brought about a situation in which every kilogram of beeswax in Europe is contaminated with fluvalinate (the active ingredient).

It is most likely that recycling contaminated wax for the manufacture of foundations is largely responsible for the increase in residue levels. Scientists who spoke informally to the session, however, drew back from asserting that if the present usage rates continue the time must come when all beeswax has no value due to unacceptable high residues. However, they did note that importing foundation from countries with no fluvalinate usage could help stabilize the situation and may possibly reduce the problem and if the use of Apistan was also curtailed. A return to non-residue wax was possible after the next 50+ years! Many beekeepers only recycle their combs through a 10 year period and if wax recycling for foundation continues it will take 50+ years to get down to unreadable levels and this still assumes an almost complete lack of chemical usage commencing immediately.

READING THIS, IT IS REALISTIC TO SAY…….IT,S NOT HAPPENING, THIS STOPPAGE OF DEADLY USE, AND THE PROBLEM IS BECOMING WORSE! BEEKEEPERS READING THIS, LOOK HARD NOW AT THE USA AND SAY THE SAME SCENARIO IS NOT HAPPENING HERE, AFTER ALL, WE STARTED USING THE SAME CHEMICAL APPROXIMATELY 2 YEARS LATER!

If Europe is already contaminated, and the situation is becoming comparable in the USA, and many countries in other parts of the world are treating also, JUST WHERE IS ALL THE UNCONTAMINATED BEESWAX GOING TO COME FROM TO DECONTAMINATE FOUNDATION, TO ALLOW BEEKEEPERS THE CHANCE TO RETROGRESS BACK ONTO A CLEAN SUSTAINABLE SYSTEM OF KEEPING HONEYBEES? JUST WHO IS WATCHING THE STORE? QUESTION: How can beekeepers put something into their colonies without knowing HOW TO GET IT OUT? Further, How can governments approve the use of chemicals for active treatments and overlook environmental concerns relative to HEALTH CONCERNS OF CONTAMINATION AND DECONTAMINATION, without asking the question during the approval process – How do you get it out, especially with food products concerned? For what started out to be short-term treatments, until a long-term biological solution can be found for our mite and disease problems, it would appear that not very serious business has been going on, due to the actual detrimental long-term results acquired and verified so far, that will now require years to clean-up.

Look at the question, just where is all the uncontaminated beeswax going to come from to decontaminate wax during recycling, for foundation to get down to unreadable levels? Just what makes beekeepers believe there will be much clean wax available to purchase for decontamination recycling within our beekeeping industry? Ours is an ECONOMICALLY DRIVEN WORLD. When the time comes, what makes beekeepers believe that the pharmaceutical dollar for uncontaminated wax in cosmetics and medicine won’t prevail, and beekeepers will not be left to work the problem out, or go out of business because they won’t legally be allowed to market contaminated hive products? As to what these same beekeepers might do for a living if they can no longer sell relatively-clean hive products?

They might end up becoming mandatory honeybee pollinators for food crops. No longer will they walk the fence reaping rewards from both hive products and crop POLLINATING. When their hives and combs become dirty with CONTAMINATION RESIDUES, their hive products will eventually not be sold, and without sales, can their beekeeping outfits survive? Then, when their MIGRATORY POLLINATION hives and combs become so CONTAMINATED brood will not live and the STERILITY of the hives, breached, WITH SALES OF HIVE PRODUCTS HAVING BEEN PREVIOUSLY LOST DUE TO EXCESSIVE CONTAMINATION AND PREVIOUS DEMONSTRATED INABILITY TO DECONTAMINATE COMBS, NECESSITATING THEIR MIGRATORY TREADMILL; AND DECONTAMINATION NOW CANNOT TAKE PLACE AGAIN DUE TO LACK OF AVAILABILITY FOR NON-CONTAMINATED FOUNDATION, EITHER ACTUAL OR ECONOMICALLY, THE FINAL BECOMES IRREVERSIBLE. WHEN THIS HAPPENS AND IT WILL, THEN MASS FOOD PRODUCTION WILL BE IRREPARABLY HARMED BOTH HERE IN THE USA AND AROUND THE WORLD!

Beekeepers should read the article in the December 1995, American Bee Journal by Klaus Wallner, Titled “The Use of Varroacides and Their Influence on the Quality of Bee Products.” In the article, Wallner goes over the fact that the more frequently pesticides are put into the beehive, the higher becomes the risk that residues can be detected in bee products such as honey, wax, and propolis. Further, that it is obvious that the wrong use of preparations creates residues. In temperate zones, contaminated winter food, is a possible reason for residues. This is because normally pesticides are used during the feeding period, with the consequences that winter food is sometimes contaminated with treatment chemicals. (We all know that the bees restore their food in Springtime to create more cell space for breeding. Thus, the winter food with its residues may penetrate the Spring honey thru bee relocation of honey stores). Also gone over in the article, was the fact that beeswax has an influence on honey quality depending upon the uncapping procedure used during honey extraction. Thus it is always important to skim honey as carefully as possible before it is transferred to end users. With a filter all coarse wax particles can be eliminated. During the honey extraction process, a great many fine wax particles float to the surface and can be skimmed. The remaining floating particles represent a source for residues in honey, if they contain pesticides themselves (Note: from contact strips as an example).

IT WAS NOTED BY HIM THAT THIS RESIDUE TRANSFER REALLY HAPPENS AND CAN BE EASILY DETECTED. THE HIGHER THE CONCENTRATION IN THE WAX, THE MORE RESIDUES CAN BE DETECTED IN THE HONEY. He explained that a thin layer of contaminated wax was put into petri-dishes and a layer with approximately 2.5mm of honey free from residues was put onto the surface. The closed petri-dishes were stored in an incubator with 30,C for 30 days(about 86,F). Then Aqua dest. was added into the honey layer and after 24 hours the honey solution was poured off and analyzed. Among the chemicals very easily detected were coumaphos and fluvalinate. Wallner asked the following question concerning this matter: WHY SHOULD PESTICIDES (WAX-SOLUBLE) LEAVE THEIR FAVORITE FAT MILIEU AND GO TO A WATERY MEDIUM, THE HONEY? He then seemed to give the answer, in that pesticides with a low tendency to migrate, accumulate very easily in the beeswax and particles may lead to residues in honey, and went on the state, In practice this means: The wax quality of the beekeeper also influences the honey quality.

FROM COMBS WITH HIGH CONCENTRATIONS YOU CANNOT GET UNPOLLUTED (uncontaminated) HONEY. Thus, the beekeeper has to prevent the concentration of residues in the comb during the years he uses pesticides. (QUESTION: Knowing many European beekeepers renew their combs, that is, melt down old combs and start new ones with foundation every 3-4 years; few American beekeepers do this, it being common to find combs 50+ years old in everyday use, then how is the industry going to avoid the problem of contaminated honey on the open market?) With the simple test Wallner did, IT IS NOW POSSIBLE FOR THE FIRST TIME TO FIX A LIMIT FOR ALLOWED QUANTITY OF RESIDUES IN WAX WITHOUT HAVING DANGEROUS EFFECTS ON THE HONEY QUALITY. FOR SOME PESTICIDES THIS LIMIT IS A 1mg/kg (1ppm), BASED ON LABORATORY TESTS (fluvalenate). Tests done by Wallner showed that in all countries where varroacides are used, uncontaminated beeswax can hardly be found (Note: Australian Bee Journal article in Bee Culture), and often various pesticides can be detected in one sample. Further, that all fat-soluble pesticides are being preserved in wax for many years. Wallner then noted that this phenomenon does not only appear with varroacides, but has ALSO BEEN PROVED WITH PARADICHLOROBENZENE, which is used against wax moths in some countries.

The following from Wallner, “CAN RESIDUES BE WASHED OUT OF WAX?”, I am going to quote for beekeepers to read and heed, but it also may point to a solution to our problem which I shall write on later in Part #2, Recycling Beeswax. “Fat-soluble pesticides are stored in wax and are conserved. A decrease or a degradation does not occur, as far as we know. Therefore, one important question is whether or not there exists a chemical cleaning process that could solve this problem. Laboratory tests showed that heating wax to over 100′C and high pressure did not solve the problem. The residues in wax were destroyed with this procedure, but also the wax itself had been destroyed. The addition of bleach showed similar effects. The exposure to uv-light showed that only the residues on the wax surface were destroyed by this aggressive radiation. WITH THE SOLAR MELTER THE UV-PART OF THE SUNLIGHT IS NOT ABLE TO PENETRATE THE SHEET OF GLASS. In practice these attempts brought no solution. Many beekeepers have been using steam heated wax melters, but they did not bring remarkable effects either on the residue concentration in beeswax. Experience has shown that an effective residue cleansing of the beeswax is not possible with our state stage of knowledge. THESE PESTICIDES ARE MOVABLE IN WAX. THEY CAN MOVE JUST LIKE IN APISTAN OR BAYVAROL WHICH PERMANENTLY SUPPLY THE PLASTIC STRIP SURFACE WITH RESIDUES FROM THE INSIDE OF THE PLASTIC STRIP. IF THE PESTICIDES THAT STICK ON THE BEES’ LEGS FALL DOWN WHEN THE BEES MOVE IN THE HIVE, NEW PESTICIDES ARE ADDED TO THE WAX LAYERS. IN THE COURSE OF TIME, THE CHEMICAL CONCENTRATION IN THE COMB WAX OF A COLONY THUS IS ELEVATED AND ALSO THE FOUNDATION IN THE NEW FRAMES AND THE UNCAPPING WAX ARE CONTAMINATED. A REAL SEPARATION BETWEEN THE BREEDING PLACE, WHERE PESTICIDES ARE USED, AND THE HONEYCOMB DOES NOT EXIST. THE BEES DISTRIBUTE THESE PESTICIDES EVEN THROUGH QUEEN EXCLUDERS. NATURALLY, THE WALLS OF THE HIVE AND THE FRAMES ARE NOT EXCLUDED. TOGETHER WITH THE HONEYCOMB WAX, THEY PROVIDE A LONG-LASTING SOURCE FOR RESIDUES THAT ALSO INFLUENCE THE PROPOLIS QUALITY. PROPOLIS ANALYSIS SHOWED THAT EVEN THERE RESIDUES OF VARROACIDES ARE TO BE EXPECTED, POSSIBLY IN HIGHER CONCENTRATIONS THAT THOSE IN THE BEESWAX.”

Just as pesticides have created problems for beekeepers and necessitate caution, so should beekeepers be careful when using essential oils. While generally less toxic than conventional pesticides, caution and care should always be a consideration. Essential oils are also commonly known as “volatile oils,” especially since they can be heated and distilled with little decomposition. Because of this, once in honey it’s almost impossible to get out, especially as relates to taste and smell. That’s why many individual components of essential oils, including thymol and menthol are produced synthetically in the laboratory for use in the perfume, pharmaceutical, and flavor industries. Concerning safety? Just because a compound is a “Natural Product” does not mean it is entirely safe. While the large majority of essential oils are reasonably safe in small amounts, some contain compounds that are not particularly safe. For instance, the compound thujone, a component of many essential oils, is quite toxic. Likewise, methyl salicylate, a component of wintergreen oil and teaberry oil can be dangerous. The Merck Index states that “ingestion of relatively small amounts of methyl salicylate may cause severe poisoning and death with average lethal dose 10 ml in children and 30 ml in adults”

Some industry beekeepers see essential oils as a “magic bullet” because of their reputation for controlling mites and their relatively low toxicity to the user (MAN). But this does not mean its technically good for the bees, nor natural to a beehive. If we as an industry are to overcome our problems, we must go back to a system of beekeeping paralleling the natural environment of feral honeybees as much as possible. Further, it must be simple (though labor intensive) and capable of being applied universally. While certain plants may be used by honeybees in localized areas, that used as essential oils may give limited control, if they were intended for use across the full spectrum of honeybees throughout our world, they would already be in place naturally controlling our parasitic mite problems, which they are not. If beekeepers are to travel the long way back to biological beekeeping without the use of chemicals, antibiotics, and essential oils, to a clean sustainable system not unnatural to Nature, i.e. technically organic beekeeping, then all that is not paralleling the natural environment of feral honeybees needs to be eliminated as management control tools. For over 2000 years going back to before the time of Hippocrates, beekeepers have kept honeybees without overwhelming problems of parasitic mites and secondary diseases. Chemicals, antibiotics, and essential oils have not been necessary all that time until recent history. The only change with recent history is the fact that man decided he could change what was natural and breed everything bigger and better. With the conception of this idea began many of todays woes as the eternal environment tries to correct itself and cleanse itself of that which does not belong naturally in Nature. Only wax, pollen, honey, and propolis come from a hive and are used by the hive workers to build their fabulous city naturally free of disease, and harmonious with our environment. Beekeepers should traditionally go back and keep it that way to solve today’s problems.

Concerning antibiotics, of which we have only one approved in the USA, it is known in our industry to store Terramycin Soluble Powder (oxytetracycline) in a dry and cool place and to protect it from sunlight, for to do otherwise would break it down chemically, but does our industry really know how long it would take. It is universally used and assimilated in many hives throughout the off-seasons of beekeeping for medication purposes for diseases of foulbroods. Yet, because of contamination residues terramycin too, must have usage stopped a minimum of 30 days prior to a honeyflow. But how many beekeepers would use it so lavishly, if they knew that it’s been documented and scientifically proven by Villeneuve in 1980 concerning treatment for American Foulbrood, that when terramycin is used, the life expectancy of the bees is reduced by 50%. Further, terramycin kills its beneficial bacterial flora, enhancing the growth of yeasts and molds, particularly Ascosphaera apis which causes chalk brood. Because of this beekeepers should ask, besides the possibility of contaminating hive products, how safe to honeybees are the use of antibiotics?

Basically, all that this boils down to is that chemicals, antibiotics, and essential oils all have detrimental effects. Beekeepers should be asking what they are before they are used inside of a colony of bees because they bear the burden of correcting any detrimental effects, be it within the hives treated or the market the hives’ products have been sold to. The hardest detrimental effects to correct being within the hive, because field management must change to correct the underlying causative effects, once they have been identified, that compromise the hives’ well-being. The easiest being correcting the marketplace, for you merely stop selling contaminated hive products. In actuality, better said then done, for to correct todays’ problems of parasitic mites and secondary brood diseases, many beekeepers will not survive the long way back to biological beekeeping without the use of chemicals, drugs, and essential oils, without the back-up of a stable marketplace in which to support their families on their long-road back to traditional beekeeping.


Signed: Dee A. Lusby, Amado, Arizona, USA