Interview: The Incomparable Honey Bee

  • A Honey Bee. (Photo source: Erik Hooymans at Wikimedia Commons)

You could thank a honeybee for the last meal you ate. Bees help produce about one out of every three bites we eat. But worldwide bees are dying at a rate never seen in history. Lester Graham talked with Reese Halter about the decline of the honeybee.
Doctor Halter is a biologist and the author of the book The Incomparable Honeybee and the Economics of Pollination:

Transcript

You could thank a honeybee for the last meal you ate. Bees help produce about one out of every three bites we eat. But worldwide bees are dying at a rate never seen in history. Lester Graham talked with Reese Halter about the decline of the honeybee.
Doctor Halter is a biologist and the author of the book The Incomparable Honeybee and the Economics of Pollination:

Doctor Reese Halter: We do know that we have a problem. 50 billion bees are missing.

Lester Graham: What kind of economic benefit is the bee to food production in, let’s just say, the US?

Halter: Enormous. I’ve given conservative numbers for food, for medicine, for clothing. Directly, the honeybee accounts for, at least, 44 billion per anom. Now, if you go to the cotton growers’ main site, they’ll tell you that, in cotton alone, America does well over 100 billion in commerce. The cotton plant cannot exist without the bee.

Graham: Now, bees have been hurt in the last few decades. We’ve seen a couple of different invasive mites really decimate the bee population, and now we’re seeing this colony collapse disorder. Can you tell us what you think some of the causes might be?

Halter: There’s no one smoking gun. We’ve got a collision of events that have happened. We have insecticided, fumigated, miticided, pesticided ourselves almost right through oblivion. We’ve got electromagnetic radiation coming at them. We truck bees on semi-tractor trailers around our nation – they’re on, like, a Nascar circuit – where we don’t even allow them, for goodness sakes, to eat honey, we stoke them up with high-fructose and corn syrup, because it costs too much to feed them honey, for goodness sakes. And they’re sick. We’re overworking them. We’re losing billions of them. And we’ve reached a point now where there are mites, where there are bacterias and viruses, and, at the end of the day, not dissimilarly to human-beings, the bees’ auto-immune systems are shutting down.

Graham: What can we do about that?

Halter: In a nutshell, I think we need to step back here, and we need to look at all the different problems. And I think where I get really excited, Lester, is corporate America – corporate America – gets this. And they get it with Sam’s Club, they get it with Safeway, because organics – organics – you know, we can grow stuff. We can grow anything without having to nuke the Earth with petro-chemical-derived fertilizers and insecticides. When we ramp the scale of economy up, as we’ve done throughout America, in our supermarkets, and, incidentally, organic foods and organic products are the fastest growing in the United States of America. 24 billion last year. So when it ramps up the price per unit goes down. And there are all these organic bays in almost every food store now. So, please, consider supporting it. Certainly buy organics in season. And, it is very affordable.

Graham: Reese Halter is the author of ‘The Incomparable Honeybee’ published by Rocky Mountain Press. Thanks for talking with us.

Halter: Thank you, Lester.

Related Links

Using Honey for Healing

  • Stores in Alandejani's hometown of Ottawa have had an increase in sales of manuka honey after the study was reported (Photo by Karen Kelly)

According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 90,000 Americans are diagnosed with an antibiotic-resistant infection each year. Doctors and patients are desperate to find an alternative treatment for these infections. Karen Kelly reports on the possibility of a new approach using a common household ingredient:

Transcript

According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 90,000 Americans are diagnosed with an antibiotic-resistant infection each year. Doctors and patients are desperate to find an alternative treatment for these infections. Karen Kelly reports on the possibility of a new approach using a common household ingredient:

(sound of teapot and pouring)

A lot of us like to pour a cup of tea with honey when we’re feeling achy and stuffed up.

But researcher Talal Alandejani wondered if honey might be good for more than just soothing a sore throat.

He’s an ear, nose and throat doctor at the University of Ottawa in Canada.
He knew honey had been used on the skin for centuries to kill bacteria in wounds.
And he wondered if there might be a way to use it with his patients.

He treats people with chronic sinus infections that are resistant to antibiotics.

“I thought, what if I could use it in the sinus where we use antibiotics, but we still can’t get rid of the infection. It’s a natural product, it has less side effects and it’s less expensive.”

So, Alandejani chose four different types of honey:
clover and buckwheat honeys, which are common in North America,
Manuka honey, which is grown in New Zealand and sold mostly in health food stores,
and sidr honey from Yemen, which is hard for Americans to find.

He then grew bacteria in petri dishes.
Some were free-floating – the kind killed by antibiotics.
The others are called biofilms – they have a coating that resists medications, and they’re the cause of chronic sinus infections and other diseases.

Alandejani squirted the bacteria with antibiotics in one dish, and honey in the other.

The manuka and sidr honey -along with the medications – killed the free-floating bacteria.
The biofilms, though, were a different story.
The antibiotics didn’t kill them, but the honey did.

In fact, the two foreign honeys killed about 90% of the pseudomonas and 60 to 70% of MRSA bacteria. Both can cause deadly infections.

Alandejani presented his findings at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Oto-laryn-gology, Head and Neck Surgery.

And he was swamped with questions from doctors and sinus patients eager to try it.

“Even the patients in our clinics want us to treat them right now, before even doing the trials or the animal studies. And they’re willing to take the harm of it, if there is any, because their disease is not treated until now.”

Alandejani says the challenge is that the honey has to come in contact with the bacteria – so it would have to be diluted and injected into the sinuses.

Dr. Murray Grossan is an ear, nose, and throat doctor in Santa Monica.
He says the treatment looks promising.

“They do use honey for stomach problems, stomach ulcers and so on, so it probably would be pretty safe to put into the sinus. But unfortunately, we have to go through all sorts of protocol there.”


In the meantime, stores in Alandejani’s hometown of Ottawa have had an increase in sales of manuka honey after the study was reported.

It’s not cheap – manuka honey can cost as much as $50 a jar.

Alandejani says he used the regular manuka honey, nothing especially strong.
And he can’t vouch for it’s effectiveness if you just eat it.

But he’s now trying it on sinuses in animal studies.

And soon, his patients with chronic sinusitus will have their chance to try it as well.

For The Environment Report, I’m Karen Kelly.

Related Links

Hard Times for Honeybees

  • (Photo by Scott Bauer, courtesy of the USDA)

Beekeepers are continuing to lose their honeybees. About a third of many beekeepers’ colonies have been dying mysteriously each year for the past several years. Rebecca Williams reports researchers think they’re getting closer to an answer:

Transcript

Beekeepers are continuing to lose their honeybees. About a third of many beekeepers’ colonies have been dying mysteriously each year for the past several years. Rebecca Williams reports researchers think they’re getting closer to an answer:

Honeybees have had some bad luck.

Researchers think there are a couple of things hurting the bees all at once.

They think bees’ immune systems are being weakened.

Maybe because of pesticides. And maybe because bees aren’t getting the variety of food sources they need.

Bees normally collect pollen and nectar from many different plants. But when they’re used on farms, they’re just visiting one kind of plant.

And then on top of that, bees appear to be getting hit by a virus.

Maryann Frazier is a honeybee expert at Penn State University.

She says, until researchers can figure out exactly what’s going on, she expects beekeepers to keep losing a lot of their bees.

“I think what we’re at risk of, more so than the bees dying out, is the beekeepers giving up and not continuing to truck their bees all over the country.”

Beekeepers use honeybees to pollinate about a third of our food supply.

For The Environment Report, I’m Rebecca Williams.

Related Links

Beekeeper Points Finger at Pesticides

  • One theory behind the bee loss is pesticides (Photo by Robert Flynn, courtesy of the USDA)

Honeybees are dying at an alarming rate.
Some beekeepers have lost their entire hives.
It’s been tough for food growers too. That’s
because honeybees pollinate up to a third of
the foods we eat. Mark Brush checked in with
a commercial beekeeper to see how pollinating
is going this year:

Transcript

Honeybees are dying at an alarming rate.
Some beekeepers have lost their entire hives.
It’s been tough for food growers too. That’s
because honeybees pollinate up to a third of
the foods we eat. Mark Brush checked in with
a commercial beekeeper to see how pollinating
is going this year:

“Well, there’s twelve months on the calendar and I think we’re busy for thirteen of ’em.”

That’s Dave Hackenburg. He trucks his bees year-round all over the country to pollinate
crops. He says, so far, there have been enough bees to cover most of the crops. But with
bees continuing to die – he’s not sure how much longer beekeepers can keep up.

Hackenburg is convinced that pesticides – known as nicotinoids – are behind the loss in
honeybees.

“I can lay down a road map where bees have been – that have been on these crops where
these products are used – within two to three months afterwards – we start to see the
colonies collapse. Bees that didn’t go to these crops, set out in the woods, away from pesticides, are doing fine.”

Researchers are investigating pesticides as one possible cause. They’re also looking at
viruses, stress, and a lack of genetic diversity as other possibilities.

For The Environment Report, I’m Mark Brush.

Related Links

Urban Beekeepers Creating a Buzz

  • Beekeeper Rich Wieske started with two hives in downtown Detroit. Now he manages more than one hundred throughout the city and its suburbs. (Photo courtesy of Rich Wieske, by Rebecca Cook)

Honeybees are dying. Sometimes entire hives
are dying and scientists can’t figure out exactly why.
Some people are trying to help, and one of the ways
they’re helping is by becoming beekeepers. Rebecca
Williams reports there are some beekeepers who actually
raise bees in big cities:

Transcript

Honeybees are dying. Sometimes entire hives
are dying and scientists can’t figure out exactly why.
Some people are trying to help, and one of the ways
they’re helping is by becoming beekeepers. Rebecca
Williams reports there are some beekeepers who actually
raise bees in big cities:

Some people call them guerrilla beekeepers. They like to keep their hive locations a secret. That’s
so the neighbors won’t get worried about 60,000 bees living next door.

There are white beehive boxes on rooftops in Paris, Chicago, Manhattan. And there are beehives
tucked into open lots in the middle of downtown Detroit.

(traffic and other neighborhood sounds)

Rich Wieske has been raising bees here for eight years.

“You think of cities as buildings. Detroit’s a little different because there’s been a lot of homes
bulldozed and torn down so there’s a lot of open fields – great for bees!”

Bees have a lot to eat in the city. They love the pollen and nectar from backyard gardens.

Rich Wieske’s just gotten a shipment of bees from California. Today he’s installing new worker
bees and queens into his hives in the corner of an empty lot. He’s one of the people trying to
replace the bees that are mysteriously dying.

This shipment of bees comes packed in wooden boxes – sort of like big shoeboxes – and there are
about 9,000 bees to a box.

(Buzzing)

“Don’t move fast but be warned okay?”

Wieske gives the box a big shake. No kidding – he’s shaking the box of 9,000 bees. They pour
into the hive in a bright orange stream. The bees buzz by our heads, and land in my hair, and fly
up my sleeves.

(buzzing)

But Rich Wieske promises the honeybees are not out to get us. They’d actually rather not sting,
because then they die.

Wieske has a hive he suspects is a little worked up. So he gets out the smoker. It looks like the
love child of a watering can and a miniature accordion. It sends out little puffs of white smoke.

(puffing noises)

“I use lavender, sage, any dried herbs. Also those
chips you find in the bottom of a gerbil cage.”

He waves the smoker around the hive before he lifts the cover off. He says the puffs of smoke
calm the bees down. It covers up the alarm pheromone bees give off, which apparently smells like
bananas if you’re unlucky enough to smell it.

Wieske got into beekeeping with two hives, and now he’s got more than a hundred.

“You’ve got to watch beekeepers. A lot of them become missionaries. You can tell a beekeeper because they love talking about bees, and they’ll talk to anybody about bees
and try to get them to become beekeepers.”

Wieske has a lot of apprentices.

(goose honking)

The next stop on our bee tour is a working farm – right in the middle of downtown Detroit.

Rich Wieske is helping his understudies install new bees in the hives. He’s giving Adam Verville
the same lesson he gave me earlier.

“This is the sort-of scary part.”

(shaking box and buzzing)

Verville says a lot of his friends keep bees in the city.

“People don’t have much money. These projects supplement our incomes essentially by giving us
food and honey.”

There is a lot of honey in beekeeping. Not a whole lot of money though. But the beekeepers say
they feel like they’re part of something bigger.

Stephen Buchmann is a bee expert. He coordinates the group Pollinator Partnership. He says
honeybees pollinate a third of the food grown in the United States. So every beekeeper replacing
disappearing bees helps.

“By having
thousands of people all over the country doing this they have a significant impact on pollinator
declines.”

Buchmann says you don’t have to raise bees in your backyard to help out. He says you can plant
flowers that bees like – like sunflowers and lavender. You can cut down on pesticides in your
yard or use none at all. And you can support your own urban beekeepers by buying local honey.

For The Environment Report, I’m Rebecca Williams.

Related Links

Life Not So Sweet for Honeybees

  • Honeybees have been dying at a rapid pace for the second year in a row. (Photo by Rob Flynn, courtesy of the USDA)

For the second year in a row, honeybees
are dying at a startling rate. Mark Brush reports
beekeepers are asking the public for help:

Transcript

For the second year in a row, honeybees are dying at a startling rate. Mark Brush reports
beekeepers are asking the public for help:

Farmers rely on honeybees to pollinate a lot of the food we eat – apples, blueberries,
almonds, soybeans – the list goes on and on.

Beekeepers are losing about a third of their hives each year. The sudden die-off is
known as Colony Collapse Disorder. Researchers are still trying to figure out what’s
making the bees sick.

Dennis vanEngelsdorp is the President of the Apiary Inspectors of America. He says
when the bees get sick, they fly away from the hive to die because they’re social
creatures.

“If you belong to a social group, you don’t want to infect your sisters. And so what we
think is happening. Is these bees somehow are aware that they’re ill, and so they’re flying
away from the colony to die away from the colony.”

vanEngelsdorp says you can help the honeybees by growing plants that bees like in your
backyard, by supporting local beekeepers by buying their honey, or by becoming a
beekeeper yourself.

For the Environment Report, I’m Mark Brush.

Related Links

Bee Keepers Struggle With Declining Markets

Its estimated that the U.S. honeybee industry generates about $8
million in annual revenue. But the industry has taken a serious
financial hit from a mite infestation. Honey bees are being killed and
honey production is down. You might think that would mean higher
prices for honey. But as the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester
Graham reports, the price of honey has actually gone down: