Honeybee, Won’t You Please Come Home

“An agricultural crisis has been looming for the past five years.

The honeybees are disappearing. You may be wondering what this has to do with agriculture and why you should care. Honeybees don’t just make honey—they pollinate one third of all the food you eat. And without pollination, plants can’t produce all the nourishing fruits, vegetables and nuts that keep us healthy. No one is certain what’s causing the bees’ demise, but leading experts and preliminary evidence suggests human abuse of the environment is the chief factor. Let’s take a closer look and find out what needs to be done to reverse the disturbing scenario.

The term “Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD)” was first applied in 2006. That was the year of a drastic rise in the number of honeybee colonies that disappeared in North America. Authorities scrambled to find a single cause for CCD but could not pinpoint an exclusive factor—and still can’t. Bob Liptrot, co-owner of Tugwell Creek Honey Farm and Meadery in Sooke, isn’t surprised. According to Liptrot, who holds a master’s degree in apiculture from Simon Fraser University, the cause was, and remains, multi-factorial. “It isn’t just one thing,” he states, “there are a number of factors, both biotic and environmental, that are creating the perfect storm—pesticides, global warming, industrial-farming practices, genetically modified crops—all these things weaken the bee’s immune system, leaving them more susceptible to disease.” Initial analysis of bees from collapsed colonies indicates their bodies contain more pesticides than non-CCD bees.

Until the spring of this year, Liptrot and his beekeeping brethren on Vancouver Island had a valuable weapon in their fight to keep their colonies healthy. A quarantine issued by the Ministry of Agriculture kept bees from being imported onto the island, effectively creating an isolated zone that allowed island beekeepers to maintain a relatively disease-free stock. In a questionable move that left many beekeepers angry, the Ministry lifted the quarantine on May 1st. “They simply caved in to some heavy lobbying by a few large commercial operations, and by one in particular that was teetering on financial ruin and wanted to import bees from the mainland to keep the operation viable,” explains Liptrot. “That business threatened to sue and the quarantine was lifted.”

The frustration with the provincial government continues. Liptrot is currently working with UBC, the University of Manitoba and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency on a genetics program with the aim of breeding heartier stock that are less susceptible to disease. Donations from the participants and from private donors are providing funding for this project and others like it—the provincial government has thus far refused to offer financial support for bee research. “It’s frustrating,” sighs Liptrot, “The Ontario government is providing funding for bee research; they recognize how crucial the work is, but so far our provincial government has refused to support us financially.”

So what can you do to help the honeybee and ensure the sustainability of our food supply? Plenty—consider doing just two of the following and you’ll make a substantial impact. Here’s how you can help.

  1. Write or email Don McRae, Minister of Agriculture (don.mcrae.mla@leg.bc.ca; Room 301, Parliament Buildings, Victoria, BC V8V 1X4)
  2. Ask the Minister to start funding bee research and let him know you think the plight of the honeybee is a crucial environmental issue. (As this story went to print, the government announced some initial funding for research into the honeybee crisis.)
  3. Stop using commercial pesticides. Explore other ways to keep your lawn and garden weed free (actually bees love flowering weeds so consider letting them flower first before pulling).
  4. Grow some bee friendly plants in your garden such as daisies, sunflowers and clover. (This will provide nutrients for bees and other natural pollinators.) Lists are readily available on the Internet or ask about bee-friendly plants at your local nursery.
  5. Keep bees—help with pollination! Royal Roads University offers a course in beekeeping each spring.
  6. Support your local beekeeper and buy local honey. The tastes of your region are literally in every jar.
 – By Pam Durkin
For Nathan Fong’s Honey-Roasted Duck Legs recipe visit here. And for the Honey Orange Ice Cream recipe click here.

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