To Bee or Not To Bee?

A dead honey bee.

The vanishing of the bees. That’s not a magic trick. It’s a horror show.

Bees from a single hive can visit more than 100,000 flowers in a day. Nearly all of the fruits and vegetables we eat are dependent on them for pollination. Bees work remarkably hard for our benefit.

In return, we’ve been killing them with pesticides.

The Effect of Pesticides on Bees

A recent documentary, Vanishing of the Bees (Hive Mentality Films, 2010), explores the plight of bees in the US, seeking to explain the reasons behind Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), which has been responsible for the loss of countless bees. CCD began hitting hard in 2006, when a Pennsylvania farmer reported that the bees from his 3,000 hives had disappeared virtually overnight. The same thing began happening across the country.

Bees are an important indicator of environmental health. Scientists could tell that there was a gigantic problem, but tests of the few dead bees they could find were baffling. They seemed to have some kind of immune disorder. And they were loaded with pesticides.

Pesticides had not had a huge effect on bees in the past. But over the past decade or so, a rapidly increasing number of crops have been treated with a newer form known as systemic pesticides. These aren’t sprayed on—they’re built right into the plant, often from seed. You can’t wash it off.

Researchers filmed some bees gathering nectar from plants treated with systemic pesticides. They seemed disoriented and clumsy, often falling off the flowers.

A Global Effort to Save The Bees

It turns out that Europe had gone through a similar die-off of bees in the 1990s, when systemic pesticides began being used there. France banned the pesticides, and the rest of Europe followed suit.

Efforts are under way to stop the use of systemic pesticides in the US, and some progress has been seen. Unfortunately, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does almost no research of its own, relying on data from the chemical manufacturers when deciding whether to approve a pesticide. Guess how well that system works?

This is a sobering but inspiring documentary film, and it does offer hope. The filmmakers visited several holistic, organic beekeepers who still have healthy hives.

The movie makes reference to the words of anthropologist Margaret Mead, who said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”

How You Can Help Save Them

Practicing these steps can make a difference. (Find more at

  1. Vote with your fork. Buy organic produce, which is raised without the use of toxic and persistent pesticides.
  2. Stop home pesticide use.
  3. Plant a garden. It improves your health and provides habitat for bees. Even apartment dwellers can use planters or start a window garden.
  4. Raise awareness. Learn about the bee crisis and the dangers of pesticides, and educate others as well.