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Honeybees

Beekeeping Practices are Killing Honeybees, Part II

Saturday, January 30, 2010 by: Laura Weldon
Tags: honeybees, colony collapse disorder, health news

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(NewsTarget) It`s a troubling and little-known fact. Today`s beekeepers use herbicides, fungicides and insecticides in and around beehives. They say they have no choice. Honeybees increasingly suffer from disease and parasites, forcing their keepers to fight back with powerful chemicals. But modern beekeeping practices put severe stress on honeybees, possibly causing this weakened resistance to diseases and parasites in the first place. These practices include unnatural feed, migratory beekeeping, artificial insemination, and chemical treatments. In part two of this series we`ll look at the second two practices.

Artificial Insemination.
The life of a queen bee sounds like the stuff of legend. A virgin queen flies free of the hive, mating in the air with drone bees. Studies have found that the more drone bees inseminate her, the better the subsequent health of the hive. After the queen's mating flight she returns to the hive where she spends the rest of her life in darkness laying hundreds of eggs a day. She can live for several years, but when her production slows a new virgin queen will emerge to replace her.

Today's beekeepers typically don't permit the colony to produce a queen on its own. Instead, every year or two they crush the reigning queen and introduce a queen they have purchased. The new queen has often been shipped across the country, arriving stressed and weakened. More and more, these new queens have been artificially inseminated (using sperm from decapitated drones) in an effort to build certain desirable traits. Sometimes frozen sperm is used, which studies have shown can be damaged by freezing and thawing.

What is little understood, aside from the cruelty of the practice itself, is the biological deficits inherent in the process. Colonies producing their own queens respond to local conditions, build natural resilience and benefit from reduced stress.

Chemical Treatments.
In the last decade or two the honeybee population has grown substantially weaker. Diseases and parasites are common. A French study conducted through the University of Montpellier found a high prevalence of these conditions in thriving, producing colonies. The researchers concluded that multiple infections are not a danger sign, but such infections overwhelm the bees when they are weakened by external factors.

Most beekeepers fight back with chemicals. Bigger weapons keep rolling out for use on our tiny allies, including approval of organophosphates banned in other countries. The herbicides, fungicides and insecticides used by today's beekeepers have been tested on adult bees. But University of Florida bee specialist Jamie Ellis is currently conducting research to determine how newly hatched honeybee larvae are affected by chemical residue in beeswax, honey and pollen. He is paying close attention to the synergistic effect of these chemicals. Unusual results have already been noted with two commonly used pesticides.

However organic beekeepers (and anyone with a basic grasp of biology) can explain why pesticides are counterproductive. The compounds work for several years before gradually losing effectiveness. Heavier doses are required to kill increasingly resistant pests and ever stronger diseases while the bees are not any hardier. In the last thirty years thousands of beekeepers have gone out of business as these diseases and pests have wiped out bee colonies.

Building natural resistance means emphasizing the nutrition, immunity and overall health of honey bees while reducing stress. According to Ross Conrad, author of Natural Beekeeping: Organic Approaches to Modern Apiculture, careful hive management and selective breeding can boost the health and immunity of bees without chemical intervention.

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Natural Beekeeping: Organic Approaches to Modern Apiculture by Ross Conrad


About the author

Laura Weldon lives on an organic farm and believes in bliss. Learn more about her book "Free Range Learning" by visiting at www.lauragraceweldon.com


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