UPDATE: Bee Against Monsanto celebrates National Honeybee Day

In celebration of National Honeybee Day, the Tampa born activist group Bee Against Monsanto gathered for a protest at the Stained Marketplace in Ybor City on Saturday. Before they set out on a march through downtown Ybor, they hosted a family friendly education and awareness meet-up with merchandise, literature, signs, toys and fresh ice water. A local beekeeper was also on hand to explain his practice and answer questions about bees.

After the Tampa March Against Monsanto last October, the group held a fundraiser. They were able to raise a couple of  thousand dollars, which afforded them the ability to create and ship silk screened shirts, bumper stickers, and information to other activists all over the world. Logo creator Kriz Partridge joined up with Tami Monroe Canal, the founder of March Against Monsanto last year. Together they decided to do a Honeybee Day event in an effort to save the bees.

Partridge says that there were 86 events planned on Saturday across the globe to celebrate honeybee day, including in Australia, the Philippines, Taiwan, South Africa, and all over Europe and the U.S. When people ask him why they decided to call the movement Bee Against Monsanto, he tells them, “It’s a spinoff of the March Against Monsanto, but really come to find that Bayer and Monsanto seem to have an unwritten contract” in which their brands, advertising and shared use of pesticides and neonicotinoid seed treatments are so deeply interwoven.

Furthermore, as long as the relationship that some members of Congress share with giant international corporations such as Monsanto continues, activists believe that government agencies will continue to subsidize harmful environmental activities, while blocking the implementation of more sustainable practices.

The honeybee industry in the U.S. is worth an estimated $30 billion. Nowadays beekeepers make their money by renting out their bee colonies and not from the honey they produce. Bees have been useful to humans since ancient times. In ancient Greece bees were considered a blessing, and their honey was used for all kinds of medicinal cures.

Since the advent of industrialized farming, the industrial agriculture model is based on the constant need to increase crop yields and thereby profit. In order to accommodate this monster of a machine, industrial and commercial farmers have no choice but to farm in a monoculture fashion, use fossil fuel based fertilizers, genetically modified organisms, and harmful pesticides. This has become no different for commercial beekeepers.

In November of 2006, the topic of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) was brought into light when bees were disappearing by the tens of thousands overnight all over the U.S. and across 35 other countries. Beekeepers have since reported up to a forty percent decline in their hives yearly. Suspected reasons for this include the general environment we have created for ourselves is not very friendly to bees, as well as the connection of neonicotinoid seeds treatment and the over use of pesticides in the dying off of bees. The leading cause of death for bees is the Varrao mite. It is a tick that attaches itself to the bee and uses the bee as the larvae for which it breeds.

The living conditions of mass commercially produced bee apiaries are a lot like the cramped, uncomfortable conditions that animals experience in factory farms. In order to meet the pollination needs of crops all over the country, bees are transported for thousands of miles by trucks and airplanes. They are then placed in a monoculture farm setting, in which there is only one crop being grown. The bees must then travel much greater and exhausting distances to attain the proper resources to remain well nourished.

A bee’s primary role is not to pollinate, but in fact to forage for resources for their colonies. Their pollinating of flowers along the way is not a conscious effort, they just happen to do it along the way. If they are exhausted and malnourished, they cannot provide for their offspring. Malnourished offspring means weaker genes for future generations of bees. As a result, scientists are being forced to produce bees in a laboratory. According to the USDA’s Colony Collapse Steering Committee, scientists must “preserve the top-tier domestic honeybee genes for breeding. Genetic variation improves bee thermoregulation, disease prevention and work production.” To fulfill the need for honey as an ingredient in their products, companies like General Mills, Pillsbury and Kelloggs use artificial honey made in China.                     

Unlike the tragic collapses of colonies experienced by so many commercial bee keepers, Local Pinellas County beekeeper of Johnson Family Apiaries, Jim Johnson’s bees have done well. This is in part because his small family business does not do commercial breeding, and as a result they can use more holistic practices and don’t have to use pesticides. He simply treats his bees for Varroa mites by giving them a powdered sugar bath. When the bees are forced to stop everything they are doing and carefully groom themselves, the Varroa mites cannot attach themselves to the bees. He says you cannot keep the Varroa mites out, but you can reduce their numbers, and that unfortunately,

“Most large scale industrial beekeepers with industrial contracts have to use chemicals to treat their bees because of sure numbers," Johnson says. "They are running thousands of hives. It would be physically impossible for them to do what I do with my bees. It’s a necessary evil.”

He proposes that more efforts and investments need to be made in finding cures for the dozens of diseases that bees contract from the Varroa mite. He thinks we need to do a lot better job testing and finding out how pesticides affect bees and insects in general, and that if we don’t come up with these solutions we are definitely going to experience food shortages.

Nathan Schwartz, another founding member of the group, believes that the movement is “a winning battle and a hot topic.” With between three and seven hundred people attending their marches against Monsanto last year, people really care about their food and what they are feeding their families.

Also in attendance was Pat Kemp, a Democrat running for the Hillsborough County Commission's District 7 seat in the upcoming election. In her view, “I think it is important to have people out here, to educate themselves about this issue, and I am always inspired when I see citizens standing up in the interest of protecting their food. We seem to have in the U.S., nationwide, the poorest standards, the least protections for us and our food. I think this form of protest and bringing attention to the issue is done really well too.”

The Bee Against Monsanto logo and the entire movement came out of Tampa, and it is now global.

UPDATE: Monsanto Spokesperson Charla Lord responded to Creative Loafing on Monday. She said,

" As a company focused solely on agriculture, we recognize the importance of bees to our business, our growers and the environment. We know that people have different points of view on these topics, and it’s important that they’re able to express and share them. We believe that industry and stakeholder collaboration is vital to gain a greater understanding of bees and the associated challenges."

"In 2013, Monsanto announced its Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) Commitment to Action on Honey Bee Health at the CGI Annual Meeting. As part of this announcement, the company committed its support to a coalition convened by The Keystone Center. Using a diverse group of stakeholders, the Coalition will work to:
1) improve honey bee nutrition;
2) provide research investment in novel technology for varroa and virus control;
3) understand science-based approaches to studying pesticide impacts on honey bees and increasing awareness of pesticide best management practices among growers and beekeepers; and
4) enable economic empowerment of beekeepers."

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