Honeybee Colony Collapse Disorder – Our Planet’s Canary in the Coal Mine?

Since 2006 a disturbing phenomenon has appeared across North America and Europe – the mysterious disappearance of 40 – 90% of the population of honeybees. Dubbed honeybee Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), scientists, beekeepers and farmers alike are attempting to find the cause of this baffling disorder which could very well be an indicator of the health of our planet in general.

CCD occurs when in a very short time (within about three weeks), a previously healthy colony of bees suddenly appears vacated by the adult bees, leaving behind the capped brood, bee bread and honey. Mysteriously, no dead adult bees are found around the hive and the food stores typically raided by other colonies or pests remain untouched.

Now, this does not just mean that consumers can expect to see much higher prices for honey. It is estimated that approximately 1/3 of the world’s food is dependent on honeybee pollination. Many beekeepers load their bees on trucks and travel across North America, charging farmers to pollinate their crops. As the bees disappear, the farmers will have to pay more for the service, passing the increase on to consumers. Eventually, the inevitable decrease in food production could mean less variety and availability of the world’s food supply.

There is an array of suspected causes of CCD:

*pesticide use

*genetically-altered species of food

*chemical use in bee colonies

*a lack of genetic diversity in breeding queens

*varroa mites (and the viruses they carry)

*electromagnetic radiation from cell phone towers

*feeding practises of wintering adult bees (high fructose corn syrup)

*toxins from pollution

many more. The general consensus seems to be that a combination of environmental factors including stress on the colony from being moved around the country has over-exposed the bees to an overwhelming number of negative factors.

As researchers, beekeepers, government and environmental agencies increasingly turn their attention to CCD, proponents of organic beekeeping are adding their voices to the conversation. Together, their best advice at this time is for increased awareness and best practises when it comes to colony management; such as limiting the geographical area of travel for the colony, quarantining any collapsing hives, advocating for less pesticide use, avoiding genetically-modified crops, and careful management of antibiotics. The world community cannot afford to ignore CCD – like the proverbial canary in the coal-mine, the disappearance of the tiny honeybee is the harbinger of greater biological problems in our environment.