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Bee Death Mystery
Aired March 12, 2015 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not only a mystery that has rocked the world of honey bees. Million of bees simply dying or just disappearing, living no empty (inaudible), no honey.
MORGAN SPURLOCK, CNN HOST: Something is killing the bees in an increasingly alarming rate.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Since first reported in 2006, the United States has lost over one-third of its bee colonies every year.
SPURLOCK: Given all that bees do in the natural world, this could be catastrophic. According to USDA, bees responsible for one out of three bites of food we eat and they help pollinate crops globally that are worth over $200 billion. So why are the bees dying? I'm going to find out.
America is steadily losing some of its busiest and most productive laborers with potentially dire consequences for you and me. In order to understand this issue, I first need to understand the bees themselves. So my first stop is the Hudson valley bee supply.
Hey, how are you?
MEGAN DENVER, HUDSON VALLEY BEE SUPPLY: Hey, how are you?
SPURLOCK: I'm good. I'm Morgan.
DENVER: Hi, I'm Megan.
SPURLOCK: Nice to meet you.
DENVER: Nice to meet you too.
SPURLOCK: Cool. This is a great shop. I love it.
DENVER: Are you a beekeeper?
SPURLOCK: I am not.
DENVER: You're interested in bee keeping though?
SPURLOCK: I am very interested on it.
DENVER: Cool. So this is a place to get started.
SPURLOCK: OK, great.
DENVER: (inaudible) over here.
SPURLOCK: Can you keep bees in New York City? Is that allowed?
DENVERL You can. Yup, you can. They just passed a law a couple years ago.
DENVER: There's -- you just need some good forge. So you don't want to be in there (inaudible) some flowers, some community garden, somewhere they're going to forge.
DENVER: You're not allergic to bees...
SPURLOCK: I don't think so.
DENVER: ... right? Because that's -- obviously don't want to be allergic and blow up.
DENVER: And you need -- kind of be strong, you know, good back, that kind of thing. But yeah, you can keep bees in the city.
SPURLOCK: Because how heavy is something like this?
DENVER: So this is standard (inaudible) but you're not going to usually lift too much of this. This could be up to 100 pounds.
SPURLOCK: Like once the bees are in, it will weigh 100 pounds.
DENVER: Yup, these are some examples of frames.
DENVER: So these are removable frames. This is called the length strap hives. This the kind of hives we run. There's a lots of different hives. But for beginners we suggest, just kind of keeping it standard.
SPURLOCK: So just like something like this.
DENVER: Something like this. Just a kit. This is called a landing board. This is bottom board. This is (inaudible) chambers or deep hide bodies and you need two of these. Because this is what the bees are going to live in the first year. And usually don't get honey the first year, because they're building this all out. It takes a lot of work for them to do that. And have to make comb out of this. You probably see bees wax comb.
DENVER: And they have to make 20 frames of this.
SPURLOCK: Wow. Cool. So what's this right here?
DENVER: This is observation hive. It is such a good teaching tool for us.
DENVER: Isn't that amazing?
SPURLOCK: It's amazing. I've never been so happy to have a sheet of Plexiglass in front of me. The hive is the home for a colony of bees, which could have up to 60,000 members. There are three different types of bees. The Queen, the workers and the drones, the only males in the colony.
DENVER: So the drone has a single purpose of mating with the virgin queen. They don't bring in pollen, they don't bring in nectar. They just hang out. They don't touch stingers, defend, they don't feed themselves most of the time.
DENVER: And then in the fall, once they decided they're going into winter, they starve their drones to death. So they go into the winter only with female bees.
SPURLOCK: It's like a bee cult. It's like a bee cult.
DENVER: It is. But it's a girl bee cult.
SPURLOCK: It's a girl bee cult.
SPURLOCK: Who runs the colony? That's right, the ladies. Starting with the one and only queen, who lays eggs, while the worker bees, also female are busy building the hive, collecting honey, feeding the queen and doing pollination work. What can I say? A woman bee's work is never done.
So what now?
DENVER: I think we get you suited up, hot and sweaty and out in the bees.
SPURLOCK: I'm ready. I'm ready for the next thing.
DENVER: Okay. Great.
SPURLOCK: I outfitted like a ghost buster. I'm prepared to do my first bit of bee keeping here. I really don't want to get stung. That's my goal today, is to not get stung and I just jinxed myself by saying that.
So my first lesson, is how not get stung. So this is my smoker. DENVER: That's your smoker.
SPURLOCK: What's the purpose of this?
DENVER: In the hive, when you first use smoke in the hive, bees communicate using a pheromone, so they send off an alarm pheromone. And what that does is then get all the bees ready to guard the hive. With the smoke it masks the pheromone and also, they can think there's a fire nearby and gorge themselves on honey. So their tummies are full like, you know, thanksgiving, like we're kind of logy.
DENVER: If you did too much smoke, you can actually get them all to leave. Creates this havoc in the hive. So just enough smoke, that they're calm and their not buzzing out too much.
DENVER: Just that landing board where they're coming and going, and we're going to want to little put a -- a little puff of smoke there, just like a breath of smoke. All the way across.
SPURLOCK: Just like that?
DENVER: Yup. And now we're going to examine this hive.
DENVER: The way this works, as the colony, it's like a ball. It's a three dimensional ball in this hive. So we want to look through here and see what's going on.
SPURLOCK: How about I pull it out?
DENVER: Yup. So this is called a hook end tie tool...
DENVER: And you can leverage it using this hood end, like this. Right? And then like that.
SPURLOCK: Oh, I see.
DENVER: Everything gentle and slow. And you know, if you have kind of one of those racy minds, it's a great thing to do because it kind of slows (ph) you right down.
SPURLOCK: So now slowly pull this out?
DENVER: Yep. Everybody has a different way of looking at a frame, but first thing I do is look for that queen.
DENVER: Generally I do is Z. I go back here and back. First thing, when I could pull it out, so I can see like, is there a queen? And then I can look for disease or what's going on.
SPURLOCK: I'm doing the Z.
DENVER: Yup. She's right there.
SPURLOCK: Oh, wow. Yeah. Look, there she is. Look at how big she is.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She walks around like she owns the place.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She does.
SPURLOCK: And so what's she looking for?
DENVER: A place to lay.
SPURLOCK: And they just follow her around, waiting for her to lay, is that what's...
DENVER: Yup. And they're constant like this, like feeding her and...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And grooming her.
DENVER: ... and grooming her and that's one (ph). See, she's laying.
DENVER: There she goes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There you go. A bee is born.
SPURLOCK: Wow. How much honey will come out of this one hive?
DENVER: It has the potential of, I would say between 40 and 80 pounds a honey. And the other side just kept honey.
SPURLOCK: Is that honey you could eat?
DENVER: You could eat it right now. Just like, watch this. Right?
DENVER: That's honey. And they'll come back.
SPURLOCK: They'll come back and (inaudible) that.
DENVER: Yup. But that's just as fresh as honey you can get.
SPURLOCK: That's incredible.
So how does honey get made? Well I think it's about time you and I had a little talk about the birds and the bees. That's right. We're going to talk about pollination, baby. So all bees travel from plant to plant collecting nectar, an essential
part of their diet and hive insulation. And all the while, those fuzzy little bee legs collect and transfer pollen between plants and this, in a nutshell, is how bees inadvertently pollinate plants. While the miracle of plant life happens in the field, make their way back to the hive to store nectar and turn into honey, which we Americans consume at rate of about 450 million pounds a year.
DENVER: One done.
SPURLOCK: One done.
DENVER: One and done.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 50 more to go.
50 hives later, I feel like I'm beginning to understand what bees do and why they do it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, let's move it on down.
SPURLOCK: I've managed to emerge from my bee keeping tutorial unstung but sadly, I won't be able to take my good luck charms Megan and (inaudible) with me on the rest of my journey.
Now, give me some advice. I'm going out into my bee keeping world.
DENVER: It will be interesting for you to see the difference between what we do and what a commercial beekeeper does. We're more (inaudible) genetics of what our bees are doing and keeping them local and healthy. When you move up into the big commercial beekeepers, you see some of the CCD losses and you'll hear about that mysterious loss and what it's causing for us because we keep local and healthy in small yards. And we don't see that as much as those big guys are seeing it.
SPURLOCK: What percentage (inaudible) you see versus somebody like that?
DENVER: We don't see any.
SPURLOCK: You don't see any.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Most beekeepers do not deal with honey. You know, we think of honey bees and honey, (inaudible). You know, the money is in pollination
DENVER: The money is in pollination. Yeah.
SPURLOCK: So they make money by actually having the bee show of pollinate crops.
DENVER: Yup. We've hooked our food chain, our fruits and vegetables so close with the honey bee...
DENVER: ... that without the honey bee, they wouldn't have fruits and vegetables.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a mighty bland plate within them.
SPURLOCK: So if bees linked closely to the food system, what happens if they continue to disappear? To find out, I'm going straight to the front lines of the problem. The world of commercial bee keeping.
SPURLOCK: Bees, they buzz, they sting, they swarm. Who needs them? Well we do. And it's not just for the honey. It's also for our food. According to the USDA, bee pollination is responsible directly or indirectly for 30 percent of the food we eat and plays a vital role in the U.S. agricultural economy. But pollination on this scale doesn't just happen on its own and that's where the commercial beekeeper comes in.
A commercial beekeeper works with thousands of bee colonies and contracts with fruit and vegetable growers to provide pollination services by releasing the bees into their fields. I'm outside of Portland, Oregon, to meet commercial beekeeper George Hansen, and witness the bee crisis firsthand.
How many hives do you have out right now that are pollinating crops?
GEORGE HANSEN, BEEKEEPER: Well, we run 5,000 hives of bees.
HANSEN: An, you know, there are 24 in the field right now.
SPURLOCK: 24 hives.
HANSEN: Yeah, 24 hives right now. So everything else is out hopefully creating revenue and make a crop.
SPURLOCK: You run bees to obviously in Oregon, Washington and California?
HANSEN: Yup. And right now we have bees in Idaho and in North Dakota as well.
George is one of the hundreds of commercial beekeepers who truck their migratory bee colonies up to 11,000 miles in a year crisscrossing the map. A typical itinerary for a bee could be almonds, apples, plums in the winter, blueberries and cranberries in spring, pumpkins or watermelon in the summer and peppers in the fall. In America bees help pollinate crops that are worth more than $15 billion a year. So these little bees are big business.
Who's ready to rock? This guy.
We caught up with George's bees in a nearby onion seed farm where a few hundred of his colonies are already on sight. What we need to do is check all of the hives and remove the excess honey in them, so the bees don't get crowded and leave the field.
These are the most bees I've ever seen in my life. It's so freaky having a fly right around your ears this is very distracting and borderline disturbing.
HANSEN: If you want us to, we could probably get a lot more exciting.
SPURLOCK: I don't know if I want it to be that much more exciting.
This is a very different experience than working in Hudson valley bee supply. Instead of carefully dealing with one colony at a time, we have to deal with hundreds of hives at once.
So just take it over and put the lid and put it over on it?
HANSEN: Yup. Six total stacks...
SPURLOCK: Like this?
HANSEN: Like that, right on the edge.
SPURLOCK: Couple of (inaudible) on there, it's all right.
SPURLOCK: Oh, that's heavy. There's a lot of honey in that one.
In just a short while working with George, I'm experiencing for the first time dead bees. Tons of them. But there's no time to dwell because we have to travel to a location 40 miles away to pull more of George's bees off of the radish seed farm, where they've been working for the past few weeks.
What is the most losses you've ever had over a winter?
HANSEN: You know, a couple of years ago, we had 17 percent. And we were really wondering what the heck was going on because we've done an awful lot of work to fix and repair and rebuild and so forth. So we just don't, the way I always put it, we don't allow our colonies to fail.
HANSEN: It's very expensive. SPURLOCK: Is it getting worse?
HANSEN: It's kind of scary. I'm always amazed that we made it. It feels like we're this close to just losing it.
SPURLOCK: And every year?
HANSEN: It seems like it, every year. We need beekeepers because we need the bees to pollinate our crops in this country.
HANSEN: So most people simply don't really realize the scope and breadth of what is going on.
SPURLOCK: When we get to the radish seed farm, George is concerned because after four weeks of pollinating the hives are lighter and there are visibly fewer bees.
HANSEN: These ones over here, they were exceptionally light. The question is, why is that? What, you know, is there a reason for it? Could it be pests of the bee?
HANSEN: It could be nutrition. Or it could be pesticides. Or it could be combinations of all of those things.
SPURLOCK: And this is why nobody can pinpoint exactly why the bees are dying but most researchers can agree there are four main contributing factors. Pathogens and parasites, especially the Varroa mite, malnutrition, physical stress of life on the road and pesticides or the interaction of all of them. George is taking matters into his own hands to figure out what's killing his bees. He routinely tests for parasites.
HANSEN: We're going to sacrifice some bees to see if they have Varroa mites in levels that are enough to worry about. We're going to take isopropyl, rubbing alcohol. OK, so you can go ahead and you can just slide those bees in there.
SPURLOCK: How many?
HANSEN: That's probably good right there. Pour it through this screen and then the alcohol goes through the filter paper. I don't see any mites. Doesn't mean we don't have mites at all but certainly they're not in heavy infestations. So that's good to know.
SPURLOCK: But if it's not the mites killing George's bees, what is? For centuries, farmers relied on wild pollinators that could feed off of the weeds in various plants that were abundant in their fields, getting a good berry diet while also pollinating the farmer's crop.
It was a win-win situation, but as agriculture has grown into in a big business, corporate farmers sought out new ways to further engineer their crops to yield higher returns. Chemical companies responded by creating herbicides and insecticides which fortified the crop by killing off any other floor or insect life on the land.
And if a farm is made of just one plant, a mono culture, then for bees, it's like eating one food over and over, which deprives them of nutrients and essentially starves them to death. All George can do is try to minimize the damage by providing supplemental nutrition and splitting hives to make new colonies.
HANSEN: So this is empty.
HANSEN: All right. We don't wait for a swarm to be hanging in a bush some place. We actually create these colonies.
SPURLOCK: And when do we put the queen in this one?
HANSEN: Right now.
SPURLOCK: It's incredible how they will accept a new queen.
These days, it's a constant struggle for beekeepers to do what nature should be doing on its own.
HANSEN: Bees used to take care of themselves and had some work to do, and worked hard and all that, but to the point now where the inputs are just incredible, and the risk is great because you could put all that money into the hive and then it dies.
For George and the hundreds of commercial beekeepers in the U.S., what was once a thriving business has become hard to sustain. And if they go, what does that mean for us?
SPURLOCK: After spending a day with commercial beekeeper George Hansen, it's apparent he has a real fight against the mysterious and deadly effect of colony collapse disorder, but as it turns out, he's one of the lucky ones. Many other beekeepers had far greater losses. Like Randy Verhoek, whose company in Danbury, Texas has over 70 employees. And if Randy has another year like last year, he might have to go out of business.
How many hives do you usually keep? How many hives?
RANDY VERHOEK, BEEKEEPER: Basically, I've been keeping anywhere between 20,000 to 22,000 hives.
SPURLOCK: And last year, how many hives did you lose?
VERHOEK: By the time first of January came around we're out about 8,500. And...
SPURLOCK: You lost about 12 -- almost 12 -- like more than 12,000?
SPURLOCK: Why is that?
VERHOEK: That's the mystery. We've got them back here to Texas and they just began to dwindle. There would be a few dead bees inside the hive down on the bottom boards, but typically, these bees, when they dwindle, there's something wrong with them and when they're out flying, they die. And then they just don't make it back to the hive.
SPURLOCK: If beekeepers like Randy go out of business, the economic impacts go far beyond his employees and straight to your wallet. As the number of beekeepers decreases along with the bees, the price for pollination goes up and the consumer bears the brunt.
Was that the worst year you've had?
VERHOEK: That was the worst year. Absolutely.
VERHOEK: It's like, man, you know, what are we going to do now? We've already done everything that we can do. We've fed them all the best feeds that we can give them and any mite treatments. We have cleaned all that up. It's a helpless feeling. It really is. It gets to your gut and makes you sick because this is your livelihood. You put all this effort into it. You get to a point where you're feeling really good about things and just watch it just vaporize before your eyes. It's just really a sickening feeling.
SPURLOCK: What would happen if you had another one of those years?
VERHOEK: I just don't want to think about it. I don't want to think about it. So I just play real conservative and not give up my honey crop here in Texas. I'd rather go with a bird in a hand rather than two in the bush.
SPURLOCK: Since Randy feels that sending his bees away for pollination could be killing them, he's focusing more on honey production, which is a far less lucrative use of his bees but much safer.
VERHOEK: The honey from the uncapping process and the extractor gets pulled together in a sump.
VERHOEK: Goes through the heat exchanger.
SPURLOCK: So then basically pushed up into this center centrifuge?
SPURLOCK: And then this spins off the wax from the honey.
VERHOEK: Yup. SPURLOCK: But as it turns out, Randy's new conservative approach has its own set of problems. Instead of battling unknown enemy, he's up against a very specific threat. A legally imported honey which is flooding the U.S. market.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thousands of (inaudible) uncovered a scheme to illegally import Chinese honey.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A massive global honey laundering scheme.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's right, honey laundering, where honey from countries with trade embargoes is shipped to approved countries and then sent to the United States. And worse, it may contain contaminants, like heavy metals and antibiotics.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And with U.S. bee colonies dying of at an alarming rate, that makes the U.S. an even bigger importer every year.
SPURLOCK: Largely because of the decline of honey bees, U.S. suppliers of honey cannot keep up with the demand. As a result, we rely heavily on imported honey from all over the world, including the largest honey producer, China.
In order to protect from price dumping, the U.S. imposed as high as 221 tariff on Chinese honey. But china has found a work around by smuggling honey through other countries. And this is not bold wall for us because it turns out, pesticides and other contaminants including antibiotics, which are banned in the United States for their acute toxicity, have been found in the Chinese honey.
The good news is, you can find out where honey comes from by testing pollen. The bad news, large scale honey packers often remove pollen from the honey. They say it's to reduce granulation to make it more palatable for U.S. consumers, but also any trace of where the honey comes from. It's estimated of the over 40 million pounds of honey shipped to America, less than 5 percent is checked by the FDA, which makes me wonder, how well do we know where our food is coming from?
So I'm going to do a little experiment on supermarket honey. Burleson's pure honey. The source certified. It's got a little D on it, the source certified. It's a product of the USA, Argentina, Canada, Brazil and Mexico. Doesn't know where it's from. We're going to find out though. This is in like every house in America, Suvi Honey. If you're an American, odds are you've got this in your cabinet. So I'm going to take this too, get this tested.
Oh, see, yeah, and this is like the fancy honey rack. Look at this. This one is U.S. fancy grade, 100 percent raw certified Manuka honey from New Zealand. $36.59. Pixies and like rainbows and unicorn should shoot out of that jar when I open it for $37. I should open that and win the lottery.
Well there we go. That's a good one. This is, here's what it says this is. This is 100% Texas honey produced by Texas honey bees. Go Texan. But that's a good logo one.
Now that I have my honey, let's see what's in it.
SPURLOCK: Colony collapse disorder were or the vanishing of the honey bees has been plaguing people globally since it was first reported in 2006. As time passes, we've seen the devastation that CCD can cause to bees and the beekeepers. But there's a less obvious fallout which is affecting the food we eat and more specifically our honey.
Our demand for honey is far greater than we can produce, so it's made us look to different countries to get our fix, but different countries means different food and safety regulations. Who's to say what's even in our honey? So I'm going to do a little experiment on supermarket honey. I'm meeting Dr. Vaughn Bryant, an anthropologist and pollen specialist at Texas A&M University. He specializes in identifying if honey has pollen. And if so, tracing it back to region of origin.
When you test honey, what are the things that you look for?
VAUGHN BRYANT, PROFESSOR UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS: Well the main thing we're trying to figure out is where the honey comes from.
BRYANT: The country of origin. And then of course, the other thing we would like to know is what were the nectar sources that they used. You know, that's clover. It should have come from clover, right? This says it's manuca, so it should have come from the manuca plant.
SPURLOCK: So how often them people buy honey? Are they being cheated?
BRYANT: Well let's put it this way. We sample honey from all over the United States and we found that 80 percent or more of the honey we tested was not what it said on the label. The other pollen with some of the honey from other countries could have harmful pesticides in them. By removing all the pollen, you have no idea where it comes from.
BRYANT: It's sort of like taking your fingerprints and sanding them off, you see?
BRYANT: There's no trace.
SPURLOCK: Say I import honey from China, once I mix it with a certain amount of American honey, then I can call it a product of the USA?
BRYANT: Not really, but, you know, but again, the problem is very few people are checking. Nobody is checking this stuff. I'm the only person in the United States that does this. There's no one else in the United States who...
SPURLOCK: You're the only one.
BRYANT: I'm the only one.
BRYANT: We can process in a couple of hours, be able to tell you whether or not this stuff is really what it is. OK.
BRYANT: Let's go.
SPURLOCK: Thank you. All right.
Time for CSI: honey.
BRYANT: We need one of those in each one.
The first thing we do is add tracers spores to honey.
BRYANT: We can then get the ratio of these tablets spores to the pollen that's in the honey. All right.
BRYANT: Showtime. Let's see what we got here. So what I want to do here is take number one and we're going to put a drop or two of this stuff on here, on it. This is in the manuca honey, OK? This right here, that is some Leptos Chromium right here. That's some manuca pollen right here. There does look like there's a lot of manuca pollen in here. This is number two. Remember number two? Isn't that our buddy Suvi? I have bad news for you guys. I don't think there's any pollen in here.
SPURLOCK: There's no pollen in the Suvi?
BRYANT: No pollen in Mr. Suvi. I'm going to show you.
BRYANT: Those are our tracer spores. That's what we added, remember?
BRYANT: OK, now there's other stuffs, not pollen. Right, now watch what happens when I scan. Just scanning across the slide. Guess what? I can tell you from experience, this dog AIN'T going to hunt. This baby doesn't have any pollen in it.
SPURLOCK: Let's check out our third one.
BRYANT: All right.
SPURLOCK: So our third one is the one that was from the USA, Argentina...
BRYANT: That was the potpourri.
BRYANT: This does not look good. No pollen in it.
SPURLOCK: No pollen.
BRYANT: So there's another one. So Both Suvi and Burleson's, neither one have any pollen in it. All right, so let's see what we got here.
SPURLOCK: There's the last one. There's the spore.
BRYANT: No, no. That's good. That's Chinese (inaudible). Real good East Texas stuff.
Good news, Texans. The 100 percent Texas honey is in fact from Texas but unfortunately, two of four of our honeys have no trace of pollen.
Once that pollen is out you have no idea where it comes from.
BRYANT: We have no idea where it come from or anything else. So...
BRYANT: ... you know, it's a crap shoot.
Here's the question. If you can't trace where your food comes from, how can you know what's in it and what's actually going into your body? I am totally blind. And sometimes I struggle to sleep at night, and stay awake during the day.
SPURLOCK: This week I've seen just how detrimental the dying of the bees is to agriculture, and diet. But worst still, there's reason to believe that the same thing that's killing the bees could be harming us. A landmark four year study conducted by Harvard University has drawn a direct link between colony collapse disorder and a certain class of widely used pesticides called neonicotinoids.
The research was lead by Dr. Chensheng Alex Lu and coauthored by two local beekeepers, Ken Warchol and Dick Callahan. In the experiment, the team replicated the perfect environment for honey bees to thrive with proper nutrition and free uncontaminated space to roam and forage. In the summer, they introduced very low doses of the neonicotinoid pesticide into the hives.
And by winter, they found that they have created colony collapse within the hives with the pesticides alone. Lu and his teams specifically used sub-lethal levels of pesticides or an amount deemed by the EPA, too low to kill a honey bee right away.
CHENSHENG ALEX LU: Basing on the data that we have on the previous two study. We are almost 100 percent sure that sub-lethal neonicotinnoid exposures. It's is responsible to honey bee colony collapse disorder.
SPURLOCK: Neonicotinnoids are one of the most commonly and widely used class of pesticide in the world. They can be sprayed on crops or the seeds can be pretreated and kill pests from the inside out. As the crop grows, the pesticide courses through the roots and works its way through the tissues of the plant.
LU: On the perspective of pest control, this is wonderful because once a plant was bitten by an insect, the insect will be killed because of residue. But for the public health perspective, this is also a very risky approach, because in other words, if you take a -- if you bite on a tomato and has been treated with neonicotinnoid, then the tomato itself would be residue of neonicotinnoid.
So humans in this manner function the same as insect and then we also got poison. That should serve a wake-up call to human health.
SPURLOCK: Well it did serve up as a wake-up call for Europeans. The European Union has banned three types of neonicotinnoid for two years. And the preliminary findings are showing that after banning the neonicotinnoid, honey bee losses in Europe with a record low, at only at 9 percent from 16 percent the year before.
LU: That's a huge improvement. However, unfortunately, our government decided to do nothing until further notice. It is a mystery to me why there is no human study linking neonicotinnoid to any type of adverse health outcome.
SPURLOCK: Dr. Lu hopes that studies will be funded to show how sub- lethal levels of pesticides might be affecting humans. What's most shocking about the lack of research is what we don't know. And in this case, what we don't know might be hurting us.
So who's keeping tabs on the pesticides we put in our food? Well the EPA is in charge of making sure the pesticides meet certain standards to protect us and the environment. But here's the catch. The EPA can green light pesticides like neonicotinnoids, through what's known as conditional registration, which is basically a loophole that allows the product to go to market first and have it tested later.
And guess who tests it? The chemical companies themselves. That's right. At this point, any government regulation based primarily on self-reported data and analysis from the major pesticides companies or facilities, either by or funded by the majoring Agri Chemical companies themselves. So when is an unbiased voice going to step up and take charge? Diana Sammataro, a former researcher for the USDA is wondering the same thing.
So tell me what you used to do for the USDA.
DIANA SAMMATARO, FORMER RESEARCH ENTOMOLOGY AT USDA: I was a research biologist and entomologist, studying mostly about the varroa mite, which is the parasitic mite that kills honey bees.
SPURLOCK: I've heard much about the varroa mite.
SAMMATARO: Yes, I'm sure you have.
SPURLOCK: Seems like varroa mite is sort of things that everybody brings up, like this is one of the things that's causing colony collapse disorders. It's one of the...
SAMMATARO: It's one of the factors.
SPURLOCK: One of the factors.
SPURLOCK: So then how do you deal with that and how do you deal with the other factors?
SAMMATARO: Well, you know, that's the million dollar question.
SAMMATARO: If it were just the mites, then it would be really easy to deal with. But with all these other problems that we're seeing now...
SAMMATARO: ... with nutrition, with the pesticides, with, you know, the environment, with bees being moved from crop to crop...
SAMMATARO: ... all those things are contributing to it and how do you sort them out? And everybody is looking at a piece at a time.
SAMMATARO: But to try and put it together is really difficult, especially in the lab situation. The thing that really irritates me is, you know, if beekeepers have 20, 30, maybe 40 percent loss on average...
SAMMATARO: ... if that were the cattle industry, they would not tolerate a 40 percent loss in their herd every year.
SAMMATARO: If that were the chicken people. Without anybody else except bee keeping.
SPURLOCK: Is that just because people still look at it as, "They're just bugs."
SAMMATARO: Yeah, well it's a hobby, you know.
SAMMATARO: Beekeeping is a hobby.
SAMMATARO: But as you've seen and as we know, beekeeping is not just a hobby.
SPURLOCK: Tell that to all the farmers all across America who need the bees, that it's just a hobby.
SAMMATARO: Exactly right. I mean, now we see the awareness of pesticides in the environment that are not going away.
SAMMATARO: They're in the water supply. They're in, you know, everywhere and we don't really understand what they're doing.
SAMMATARO: And the interactions. And I think that is probably the most important message right now, besides all the other things going on with bees. Bees are the canary (inaudible), they're telling us something is going on. And we have to pay attention. And I think that's a good thing.
SAMMATARO: But I think it's kind of scary as well.
SPURLOCK: I feel like we are a country that on a whole never does anything until it's too late.
SAMMATARO: Yup. Well or until there's a crisis.
SPURLOCK: Until there's a crisis. I had a heart attack, now I'll go to the doctor. You know, are we having a heart attack right now?
SAMMATARO: Maybe signs of a heart attack.
SPURLOCK: Yeah, like my arm is numb.
SAMMATARO: Yeah, yeah.
SPURLOCK: I should probably -- Right now, America's arm is numb. We should probably do something.
SAMMATARO: I think it's time to pay attention.
SPURLOCK: Yeah, yeah.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) SPURLOCK: It's been enlightening to see first hand how honeybee decline is affecting the bee keepers, our food stability and potentially our own health. So what is the solution?
There are researchers who are work tirelessly to find solutions for commercial beekeepers. But I can't help but think of what Megan and (inaudible) are doing back in the Hudson valley is what we could all do in some small parts to make a difference. So I'm headed back to where I started.
DENVER: Welcome back.
SPURLOCK: Good to see you. Thank you so much.
DENVER: How was it?
SPURLOCK: It was great.
DENVER: Did you get stung?
SPURLOCK: I did not get stung. Not once.
DENVER: No, still. You are still holding out for us.
SPURLOCK: I know, so I'm saving it for you guys.
DENVER: OK, very good. So what was it like to see how we are run bees and how like really someone that's doing it commercially?
SPURLOCK: It is interesting because and it's just nonstop...
SPURLOCK: ... and it is scary that they're just -- they're gone. And if we don't take the trucks out there, if we're not manually delivering bees in one, we won't eat. Which is scary. And one, we won't eat, and two, there won't be bees.
DENVER: Right, yeah. For us, we are smaller, and we are supporting the beekeepers in this area, you know, up to a couple of thousand in this area, and that's the awareness if they can make those choices to eat organic or eat local and try to drive some of the big agriculture, kind of maybe chopping up a little bit and get it...
DENVER: ... a little healthier.
SPURLOCK: That's right. And I guess the question becomes like if you live in Kansas or Nebraska, is what you do possible there, feasible there or is it not just because the bees are surrounded by monoculture, they're surrounded by pesticides. You know, we're here, it's a very different thing.
SPURLOCK: It is good country you live in out here.
DENVER: It is. And I think that it is obviously, it's not one or the other, and it's tougher that way. You know, we are almost to the point with 200 hives and we can take some pollination contracts and maybe dividing that up. I kind of think that's what makes America so strong.
DENVER: It is not the big corporations, I'm much more into the smaller patch work of, you know, small farms and the small beekeepers, and kind of growing that way. When things get so big and so inflated, you know, the economics and really take over. And I think that that's hard to break.
As dire of a situation as there is for commercial operations, local beekeepers like Megan and (inaudible) show us that there is hope to reverse the trend.
So where are we headed to?
DENVER: So I'm going to show you how to hunt wild bees.
DENVER: The idea of hunting is kind of an old school one, but -- because what we want to do is get the genetics into our hives. We breed bees, and we think those are important genetics to get from the wild. So we're going to find -- I'm going to show you how you find wild bees.
DENVER: And then...
SPURLOCK: We are going to actually tracking down wild bees?
DENVER: I will show you the technique.
Hudson Valley bee supply is very involved in breading bees to grow a health bee population. They discovered that some wild bees are more resistant to parasites and disease, and by introducing their genes into beekeepers' hives, the colonies become more robust.
DENVER: This is what the equipment you're going to need. This is a bee lining box, there's a bunch of different ones. This is the one I like.
DENVER: So you're going to need that.
DENVER: You're going to need all old piece of comb, darker comb the better.
SPURLOCK: So this is a bee box this is.
DENVER: It's a bee box, it's a bee lining box. You're going to catch the bees in here. We're going to drive the bees to the light by opening that up. And then we're going to open this up and we're going to feed them in here.
DENVER: Okay. So let's try to see how you are at capturing bees. You see it right there?
SPURLOCK: Oh. It was hard, he is on the other side of the plant. I'm going to make this happen.
DENVER: OK, look, that one.
DENVER: There's one right there.
SPURLOCK: Oh, yeah.
DENVER: There you go. Now.
DENVER: Don't let her out. Perfect. There you go. One.
SPURLOCK: I caught a bee. That is one. Ok.
SPURLOCK: There's one.
SPURLOCK: So now I have got my guys?
DENVER: So now we're going to convince them, this is a really great nectar source.
SPURLOCK: I'm going to put that in the box.
DENVER: Yup. And we're going to close the box.
SPURLOCK: So pull this up.
DENVER: Yup. So they can get across to the comb.
DENVER: And then we're going to set it down. So we're going to leave them for five minutes, so they have nothing else to do, except feed on the nectar source that we made for them.
DENVERL And then they'll orient to this box, because it's such a great nectar source. Nothing else to do but feed orient to this box and we let them out. These bees have gone back, recruited the ones that are originally there. Recruited and now all these bees are here. We don't know if the hive is far away, so that's what we're trying to figure now.
DENVER: And what we're going to do is mark them and time them, and begin to try to follow them as they fly away.
Okay. Catching wild bees might be one small way to save our colonies, but it makes me think, we have made the growing of the food too complicated.
We don't make the connection to win the importance of bees to agriculture, our economy and even our daily lives. You know, bees teach us that we need to not only understand the food on our plate but appreciate where it comes from. And that in nature, every action has a very serious and definitive reaction.
It's time to stop bending nature to our needs. Colony collapse disorder has proven that it's having disastrous effects on the bees. And we still don't know exactly what's it's doing to the planet or to our bodies. Collectively, we need to engage with this issue and start working towards solutions. Some of which could be a simple as looking at our own backyard. Nature, it turns out does pretty well on its own.
Now it's turning like my washing machine. Look at that.