Bees alert: it’s goodbye honey

August 17, 2013

times of malta

Bees alert: it’s goodbye honey

Alfred E. Baldacchino

I guess that while at breakfast, supper or dinner, few would pause on a bite to ruminate on how the fruits being served managed to reach their plate. So long as the plate is full, why bother!

Fruits start as flowers with different shapes, colours and smells. They often have sugary nectar and nutritious pollen to attract insect to pollinate them. On pollination a cycle of events is initiated leading to the production of seeds often shielded by a fruit, many of which we eat. An EU funded project has estimated that pollinators contribute to over €150 billion per year to the global agriculture economy, two thirds of which is pollinated by bees.

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Bees are amongst the most noted natural pollinators

The Genesis explains how “God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good.” But man thought otherwise, and embarked on measures to correct ‘God’s faults’ found in the ecosystem. He put chemicals on the market to do away with unwanted creatures, so that there will be more foods to ‘feed the people’, or as some may say to ‘fatten bank accounts’. Pesticides come in different forms: there are insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides. All have the same aim: to kill living creatures which are unwanted, which are contributing to a lesser yield and meagre profits.

Sprayed chemical are neither target specific nor area contained and they kill not only unwanted creatures but also beneficial insects including pollinators. They also accumulate inside bodies of those who eat contaminated food. Not even man is spared.

Pollinators, mainly bees, are being decimated at an alarming rate, and in America they are falling like confetti. Fingers are pointed at mites, cell phone towers, diseases and climate change, not excluding pesticides. A Colony Collapse Disorder where entire beehives die at once, has reared its ugly head. In the United States 31.1% of managed honey bee colonies were lost during the 2012/2013 winter. In Maryland alone, close to 60% of the managed hives died during the same period.

A recent scientific study at the University of Maryland in collaboration with the US Department of Agriculture has revealed frightening facts. Pollen gathered by bees, not necessarily from the sprayed crops, has revealed a concoction of pesticides and fungicides, some samples containing more than 21 different chemicals. When eaten by bees or fed to their grubs in the hives, it weakens them against parasites. A Chemical Concoction Drama is unfolding: collapsing bee colonies. The alarming increase of dead bees is sending a clear message to mankind: ‘goodbye honey’.

While the mega pesticide producers continue to spread their chemical concoctions and genetically modified organisms, with the ‘noble’ aim of feeding the people, pollinators continue to pay the price. Most alarming is the fact that these firms have worldwide political backing. In international political fora politicians seem more like charismatic colourful puffins, who, with apologies have been labelled as always sitting in meetings, taking decisions, and doing nothing about them. When economics come in play, controlling chemical spraying is simply impossible. Don’t get in the way, bees or no bees.

This year, following strong lobby from international NGOs, and a handful of socially convinced politicians, the EU will ban for two years the use of three of the world’s most widely used pesticides. Only 15 Member States voted in favour!

Even in tiny Malta one can see workers spraying pesticides, fungicides and herbicides, both in open fields and also along road­side verges. What for?  Some of these are central or local government workers paid from public funds. Surely, there must be at least one politician who has such responsibilities in his portfolio.

China, also has its own problems. In 1980 in parts of Sichuan, the pesticides used in pear orchards wiped out the bees, to the extent that pollination had to be carried out by hand using feather brushes. Imagine a new trade of ‘flower ticklers’, whose main work would be tickling male anthers on stamens of flowers to make them deposit their pollen on a feather brush, and then slowly, gently, transporting it and depositing it to the female stigma, to eventually reach the ovary. The flower is fertilised and your fruit formation starts. How would you liked to be a bee? Beg your pardon; this may sound a bit infra dig. So how would you like to be a flower tickler? You will have the satisfaction of knowing that most of the food on our plates will be at your fingertips. BUT… with one difference. While one bee colony can pollinate up to 300m flowers a day, FOR FREE, flower ticklers have the laborious task to reach such standards for which they have to be paid, at least minimum wages.

flower-tickler

Flower ticklers – a could-be hobson choice approach toward pollination replacing natural pollinators.

Albert Einstein, said that “if the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, man would have only four years to live”. It is not surprising that many adjectives like fundamentalist and scaremonger were and are hurled at him. But this is also in line with another saying that insects have seen man come and they shall see man go.

If you do not want to prove Einstein right, and you do not want to be a bee, for our own sake, let bees be, honey.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

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