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The Vanishing of the Bees

This Saturday, September 17 at noon, there will be ascreening of The Vanishing of the Bees, a 90-minute documentary about colony collapse disorder, a disease affecting commercial honeybees. CCD, as it is known, has swept across the planet and has resulted in the death and destruction of up to 80 percent of commercial honeybee colonies. According to the USDA, the US has been hard hit. These pollinators service 90 percent of our plant-based food crops, and the services are worth approximately $15 billion annually.

Sponsored by the New York Sustainable Agriculture Working Group, the farm at the Community Action Organization of Erie County, and Learning Sustainability Campaign, the screening takes place at CAO headquarters at 70 Harvard Street and is free and open to the public.

In August 2010, NYSAWG partnered with Alfred College, the Penn State University Center for Pollinator Research, and the USDA Agricultural Research Services Honey Bee Pollination Lab in Tucson to host a seminar focused on CCD. Western New York beekeepeers, honeymakers, and others were invited.

Judy Einach, executive director of NYSAWG, said that Western New York agriculture reflects the national statistics. Agriculture is still one of the most significant areas of regional wealth and the impact of honeybees and pollinator services is an issue here as it is elsewhere. In 2007, New York’s 36,350 farms had combined sales of $4.4 billion.

The conference focused on updating attendees on current scientific knowledge about CCD. The main message is that widespread manmade toxins are underlying the decline in health and ultimate disappearance of domesticated bee colonies. This is controversial because the creation and use of these toxins have become the backbone of agriculture worldwide.

Penn State researcher Mary Anne Frasier and her team has scrutinized of the impact of these toxins on honeybees. “These bees are testing for multiple chemicals, and we are just learning that the many and often complicated biological interactions that are stimulated by these toxins are seriously impacting the health of individual bees and colonies,” she said. “For instance, we are finding that it is not just the active ingredients that cause damage.”

The other ingredients, or “inerts,” are not as well studied. Inerts can include solvents, preservatives, and other substances and can be highly toxic.

“The inerts and the combinations of the ingredients, and in combination with other toxins pose significant dangers,” said Frasier. “Multiple exposures to combinations of both active and inactive ingredients and other chemicals that bees are exposed to may be a central reason behind CCD.”

I asked about other sources of these chemicals. “They are everywhere,” she said.

Indeed they are. We live in a world saturated with manmade toxins. Water, soils, cultivated plants and wild plants, even the air is full of toxins. These manmade toxins affect the biology of all living things, including beneficial insects and other pollinators, birds, fish, plants and on up the food chain to humans. The honeybees are but a shocking harbinger of the kind of biological effects that life on the planet is experiencing.

Saturday’s screening is free, as are snacks from CAO’s organic farm, but an RSVP is appreciated:

Jay Burney is founder of the Learning Sustainability Campaign and Greenwatch, a project dedicated to cultivating environmental literacy in the public and the media. You can follow Greenwatch on Facebook.

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