Monday, March 14, 2011

New United Nations Report on Honey Bees

The United Nations just put out a news release on the world-wide decline of our honey bees.

On March 10, 2011 the United Nations wrote “The way humanity manages or mismanages its nature-based assets, including pollinators, will in part define our collective future in the 21st century,” UN Environment Program.  Executive Director Achim Steiner said , “The fact is that of the 100 crop species that provide 90 per cent of the world’s food, over 70 are pollinated by bees.”

The report – Global Bee Colony Disorders and other Threats to Insect Pollinators – cites more than a dozen potential factors of the pollinator loss ranging from declines in flowering plants and the use of memory-damaging insecticides to the worldwide spread of pests and air pollution. It encourages countries to offer farmers incentives to restore pollinator-friendly habitats such as flowering plants next to crop-producing fields. 

Some 20,000 flowering plant species upon which many bee species depend for food could be lost over the coming decades without greater conservation efforts. An Anglo-Dutch study has found that since the 1980s, there has been a 70 per cent drop in key wildflowers among them the mint, pea and perennial herb families. We can all help the honey bees and other pollinators by planting their favorite plants in our gardens and on our farms. I will include a list at the end of this blog.

Meanwhile the increasing use of chemicals in agriculture is being found to damage bees, weakening their immune systems, with laboratory studies showing that some insecticides and fungicides can act together to be 1,000 times more toxic to bees. They can also affect the sense of direction, memory and brain metabolism, and herbicides and pesticides may reduce the availability of plants bees need for food and for the larval stages of some pollinators.

Air pollution,  may be interfering with the ability of bees to find flowering plants and thus food, with scents that could travel over 800 meters in the 1800s now reaching less than 200 meters from a plant. Electromagnetic fields from sources such as power lines might also be changing the behavior of bees who are sensitive as they have small abdominal crystals that contain lead.

Another factor concerns parasites and pests, such as the Varroa mite, and tracheal mite that feed on the bees, as well as the small hive beetle, which damages honeycombs, stored honey and pollen.

At Rio+20, the meeting in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, next year marking the 20th anniversary of the Rio Earth Summit, they seek to ramp up international efforts for a green economy and sustainable development, Mr. Steiner called for investment and re-investment in nature-based services, from forests and fresh waters to flower meadows and coral reefs.

Many Bee Keepers Use Chemicals on the Hives
I would add to the UN's list of problems, the fact that bee keepers themselves are using chemicals on their bees to try and keep them alive. In an effort to combat mites and other bee pests, non-organic bee keepers have used a variety of chemicals on hives. Many are starting to realize this is adding to the problem. Organic bee keepers have been using essential oils with good results for many years now. This is also the reason many people will not eat any honey, pollen or other bee products that is from the general market. There is a concern it is laced with chemicals used on the hives. We of course must be concerned about all the pesticides the bees pick up when foraging too. This is something organic bee keepers must deal with unless they are far from non-organic farmers and gardeners.

An Additional Concern About Feeding Bees Sugar Water
I am also concerned about the practice of feeding sugar water to bees. This is done for a variety of reasons and in many cases is not necessary unless they are starving and there is no honey to feed them.  However it is a common practice. Sugar is not the healthiest thing to feed the bees and in my mind it has become even more suspect since GMO sugar has arrived on the scene. The sugar beets are genetically modified so that they are immune to the Roundup herbicide, which is made from glyphosate.  This allows farmers to spray Roundup to their hearts content on their fields. Genetically modified sugar beets accounted for roughly 90% of all sugar beets grown in the United States in 2010.  Sugar beets are the source of fifty-four percent of American produced sugar.  85% of the sugar on the United States market is produced domestically. I am concerned about the bees being fed this sugar that has had a lot of Round Up sprayed on it while it was growing. Since bees are so sensitive to small amounts of pesticides, they may also be sensitive to small amounts of herbicides. Bee Keepers may unknowingly be poisoning their bees themselves by feeding GMO sugar to their bees. (Just an additional thought to consider.)

Original UN Press Release here:

Download report: Colony Disorders and other Threats to Insect Pollinators

List of Plants that honey bees prefer. Plant a variety of these to help the honey bees in your area. I have included Latin names in parenthesis. Use the older heirloom varieties rather than the hybridized varieties.

Borage (Borago officinalis), Blueberries and other Vacciuniums (Vaccium spp.), Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum), Catnep (Nepeta cataria), Dandelions (Yes, they like dandelions so let some grow - especially helpful in the early spring), Echium (Echium vulgare), Goldenrod (Solidago spp.), Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis), Phacelia (Phacelia tanacetifloia), All Asters, All mints (Mentha spp.), Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum),  Barberry/Oregon grape (Berberis spp.), All clovers, Bachelors Button (Centaurea cyanus), Echinacea (echinacea spp.) Elderberry (Sambucus spp.), Fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium), Hawthorne (Crataegus spp.), Hazelnut (Corylus spp.), Heather (Erica spp.), All lavenders (Lavandula spp.), Linden (Tillia spp.), Maple tree (Acer spp), Milkweeds (Asclepias spp.), Motherwort, Leonurus cardiaca), Opium poppy (Papaver somniferum), Wild Roses (Rosa spp.), Sunflowers (Helianthus spp.), Thyme (Thymus spp.), Valerian (Valeriana spp.), Veronica (Veronica officinalis (Willow Salix spp.)