We have, as the saying goes, spent a lot of ink here discussing Colony Collapse Disorder. So have many others. If you put out a google alert for Colony Collapse Disorder searching both news and blogs, you will get 3, 4, sometimes 20 alerts a day. Somebody, somewhere is writing something about this malady. And in three years it hasnt let up one bit. It has, as some say ... legs.
Books have been written. Maybe you've read one on the subject ... or rather, one of those that has the answers, or thought they did.
Michael Schacker's A Spring Without Bees does a good study of the history of bees, beekeeping and the business of pollination. He outlines the initial discovery and trauma of Colony Collapse Disorder, looks at what the causes aren't cell phones (remember that silliness?), mites, viruses. Then, finally, a pesticide the pesticide, imidacloprid.
He focuses in on this family of chemicals and the effects of sublethal doses on bees and other organisms, and offers a host of changes that need to be made so these chemicals are either banned altogether, or are rendered useless. He also offers a long list of alternative behaviors so that these chemicals arent needed or allowed, and we can continue to have safe food. And he really has a thing for the chemical companies that make the stuff, the government agencies that allow it to be used without testing, and the politicians that continue to obstruct safe changes.
Rowan Jacobsen's Fruitless Fall takes a much more in-depth look at actual honey bee biology, beekeeping practices, viruses, mites, diseases ... and a mix of several pesticides, imidacloprid included, and kind of takes the stand that it's more or less all or some of these things ... and the only, or maybe the best way to deal with the situation is to raise bees that are resistant, tolerant or immune to these forces of evil. So he teams up with Kirk Webster, a commercial beekeeper and queen breeder and producer from Vermont. Kirk produces what we call Survivor queens, using genetic stock that has been challenged again and again by all manner of beasties, and ... well, survived. That's where he started, and then he brought in some of the USDA Russian stock which handles varroa and tracheal mites with a smile and a wave, and today, Kirk's bees are pretty good bees ... they dont laugh at mites, but theres always a smile. And these bees, according to Jacobsen, are the answer to Colony Collapse Disorder. Maybe. I know Ive been impressed with them, as have hundreds of other beekeepers. But, Kirk says, its the Russian influence that really made the difference.
I like the argument because thats the banner I wave here at the magazine and have been for some time. Last summer Bee Culture sponsored an Eastern Apicultural Society meeting that looked long and hard at the Russian Bee Breeding organization, and it is by far the most promising of the resistant bee programs that exists.
In any agricultural or for that matter, in any medical situation, it's always better to not be bothered by something and thus not have to deal with it than to have to take medication to remove it, reduce it, block its effects, kill it before it becomes a problem, or argue with it. That's because if you depend on one thing to solve the problem, when the disease whether a virus, bacteria, parasite, pest or predator becomes resistant to the technique or drug then it can, and will move in again and attack. To counter that you need another technique and suddenly all you are doing is fighting with weapons that quickly become useless.
Bees naturally resistant to varroa mites don't need chemicals to fight the mites, so that takes care of that. But so far, it seems anyway, bees aren't resistant to the chemicals beekeepers use, or farmers use ... that still has to be resolved. Interestingly, Rowan became a beekeeper so now has an even more profound perspective of bees, beekeeping and the causes of Colony Collapse Disorder.
Both books, which came out last year, enlightened readers, and both offered better ways to do things, things to get rid of, things to do over, and things to do different. And, had we immediately moved to follow their suggestions some things may have changed ... but for the most part, not much. I very much believe that the chemicals both authors discuss are intimately involved with colony collapse disorder, and that getting them out of the system would help. Too many beekeepers who have moved away from corn and other crops using these chemicals have better bees today than before they moved. But some havent moved and still havent had serious problems and some have moved and still are having them. So it's something else, too.
But if you havent read these books yet, now is a good time to do so. 20:20 hindsight is always perfect, and together, both of these are close. And even if they arent the perfect answer for colony collapse disorder, they go a long way in helping all of us clean up our act.
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