Home » Food Files

Bees and Colony Collapse Disorder

Submitted by Susan Tomlinson on April 11, 2012 – 7:12 am 4 Comments

bees on honey comb thanks to david.nikonvscanon on flickr

One in every three mouthfuls we eat is pollinated by bees – in the UK alone we’d need a workforce of 30 million people to take on their work!

Bees pollinate up to 90 crops worldwide: most fruit and vegetables, including carrots, onions, apples and oranges would not exist if it wasn’t for the humble honeybee. They’re also essential for coffee, soya, oil-seed rape and many crops used to feed cattle and pigs such as alfalfa. And on an economic tip, pollination is estimated to be worth around £200 million in the UK alone.

Without bees, we’d be forced to chow down a diet of cereals and grains, and with no cotton or linen, our wardrobe would need a serious makeover!

Yep. Without honeybees our world would be unrecognisable.

Yet across the world, bees are dying from an unexplained disease called Colony Collapse Disorder, and experts are warning we could be on the brink of a biological disaster.

So what is it and what are we doing about it?

What is Colony Collapse Disorder?

Colony Collapse Disorder, (CCD) is when the worker bees abruptly abandon their hive, queen, eggs and babies – with absolutely no warning.

Those bees are never found – and thought to die on their own. But the rather peculiar fact about CCD is, that wasps, parasites and other bees, (who you might think would be delighted to find a vacant hive full of honey), refuse to go anywhere near the abandoned hive.

The name was first coined in America in 2006, today more than three million colonies in the US and billions of honeybees worldwide have died. Scientists are no closer to knowing what is causing this catastrophic fall in numbers.

The collapse in the global honeybee population is a major threat to crops and global food security.

Find out more


For a fantastic read that gives a great overview of the situation, try A World Without Bees, by Alison Benjamin and Brian McCallum, both beekeepers who have travelled the world to piece together the story of CCD.

Why is it happening?

From scientists to environmentalists CCD has everyone really puzzled, and not one expert can say they know for sure what is causing this. Many feel the honeybee is a barometer of our disregard for the environment -  likening them to the canary in the world’s coalmine.

Potential causes range from pesticides, to viral and bacterial infections, poor nutrition stemming from intensive farming such as mono-cropping and parasites, such as the bloodsucking Varroa Mite. CCD has even been linked to mobile phone use and GM.

The bee keeping community is divided over the cause…

Find out more


About the mobile phone interference connection.

the GM connection.

the climate change connection in the Ecologist and the full study in the Royal Society of Biological Sciences.

Are pesticides are to blame?

In the US scientists tested samples of bees, wax and pollen and found 121 different pesticides.

A recent report from the World Organisation for Animal Health (the OIE), also points the finger at pesticides, but they add pesticides cannot be the only factor affecting bee health.

The OIE writes…

A world review of honey bee health confirmed CCD occurs in bee populations of North America, Europe and Japan. Experts agreed that the irresponsible use of pesticides might have an impact on bee health in particular by weakening bees and increasing their susceptibility to different diseases. However pesticides can not be considered as the only factor affecting bee health. Biological factors, lack of biosecurity measures to be implemented by beekeepers and climate change might also have detrimental effects on bee health.

In France and Germany a family of pesticides known as Clothianiden, a pesticide used to treat rapeseed oil and sweetcorn, have been banned after bee keepers took to the streets in protest.

They believe, as do the UK’s  Soil Association, that it’s this particular kind of pesticides, known as neonicotinoids, that are responsible for CCD.

Neonicotinoids are designed to attack the central nervous systems of insects. Bees are an insect.

The chemical is produced by Bayer CropScience, a subsidary of German chemical giant Bayer.

Bayer CropScience insist they are not to blame and are even funding research into other possibilities for the disease.

The Vanishing of the Bees, a film funded by the Coop (who, have banned the use of these pesticides on their farms), also points the finger at the chemicals.

Find out more


Check out Bayer’s website and read what the pesticide manufacturer, has to say about the French ban.

Read what the World Organisation for Animal Health have to say.

What is Clothianiden?

What are Neonicotinoids?

Are those pesticides banned in the UK too?

No. The main beekeeping association, the British Bee Keeping Association (BBKA) doesn’t agree with their fellow beekeeping Frenchmen.

What are natural bee keepers?

“We are treating bees like battery hens…Why is anyone asking why they are dying?”

Heidi Herrmann, natural bee keeper

Natural bee keepers claim that by forcing the bees to work so hard puts undue pressure on their immune system.

bee on a marigold cygnus921They also believe bees should be allowed to get on with their work with as little interference as possible.

According to them, we have been interfering for far too long. This, they say, places undue pressure on the bees in all sorts of ways.

Natural bee keepers see the bees as a family who need to be close to their queen. And yet in mainstream hives, bees are separated from the queen, who is killed off by the bee keeper every few years, as her egg laying powers reduce.

This, coupled with the fact that the majority of bee keepers take all of the honey (made by bees to keep themselves going through the winter months), and replace it with a far less nutritional sugar syrup means the bees’ fragile immune system is damaged, making them more susceptible to disease.

In America, bees are worked all year round. Trucked from one side of the States to the other, they’re forced to pollinate Almond trees in California, heading south for Florida’s citrus plantations, north for apples and cherries, and then back east to pollinate Maine’s blueberries.

Find out more


The Natural Bee Keeping Trust



Choose Organics

I’ve heard Einstein said if all the bees died, humans would have four years of life left – is that true?


We’ve heard that quote so often – we’re beginning to believe it.

But whether or not Einstein actually said it is questionable.

For an amusing look at how this quote has become so oft used, check out Gelf magazine.


Photo credit: Thanks to Blatantnews.com on Flickr.

Find out more


Join the Women’s Institute campaign to save the bee, including becoming a “bee ambassador”, representing the needs of bees in your community.

Sign the Soil Association’s petition banning neonicotinoids from our farms

Become a bee keeper and provide a home for wild bees.

Or why not just scatter some wild flower seeds to attract the bees to your garden.

Photo credit: Thanks to david.nikonvscanon on Flickr

Sign up for the Debate Your Plate newsletter.

Join us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Add your favourite local food producer/shop to our directory.