"Vanishing of the Bees" Reveals an Ongoing Struggle for Pollinator Populations | Civil Eats

“Vanishing of the Bees” Reveals an Ongoing Struggle for Pollinator Populations

Four years ago, the United States government held the first congressional hearing on Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), an as yet unknown affliction responsible for the devastating and sudden losses of native honeybees, which mysteriously disappear and never return to their hives. While the news has been relatively silent on CCD the past couple of years, there’s been a resurgence of other media around this phenomenon, including “Vanishing of the Bees,” a documentary film directed by George Langworthy and Maryam Heinen and narrated by actress Ellen Page (“Inception” and “Juno”).

“Vanishing of the Bees” brings awareness to the ongoing struggle faced by the bees and their keepers, delving deeply into Colony Collapse Disorder, its potential causes and what the bees’ disappearance might be telling us.  The film opens with storybook charm on our beloved protagonist, the bee, as it flies from flower to flower in search of pollen and nectar. The cuteness-factor quickly turns heart-wrenching and real as the film spells out the situation in no uncertain terms. If the bees disappear, much of our food supply goes with them, as does the $15 billion dollar a year industry built up around these industrious pollinators.

But that industry may just be part of the problem. David Hackenberg, a commercial beekeeper, was the first to report large honeybee losses in 2006. The following year, reports flew in from around the country (and world) of beekeepers losing anywhere between 30-90 percent of their hives–billions of bees gone, often in a matter of weeks. While the cause of CCD has yet to be identified, beekeepers and researchers appearing in the documentary have honed in on some likely culprits.  From scrutinizing the agricultural practice of planting monocultures and its ties to harmful commercial beekeeping practices, to uncovering the widespread application of systemic pesticides, made from the same chemicals used for warfare in World War I, “Vanishing of the Bees” paints a grim but clear picture.

“Bees are an indicator of environmental quality. When the bees are dying, something’s wrong, and that’s going to affect all of us,” says David Mendes, a commercial beekeeper and good friend of Hackenberg’s. The film’s take on governmental “protection” is, at best, cynical. While European governments have applied the precautionary principle and banned certain systemic pesticides, like Bayer’s Gaucho, due to their potential threat, the United States utilizes risk assessment, deeming a certain amount of risk to the public and environment acceptable. But as the film makes clear, the very agency that’s charged with protecting us from a harmful pesticide often relies on the data provided by the companies who would most profit from its use.

“Vanishing of the Bees” takes an intense look at a seemingly dire situation, yet the film is punctuated with timely humor to lighten the mood. And despite the many hurdles faced by beekeepers, there may be a glimmer of hope for bees in the telling of their story. Humans have worshiped bees throughout the centuries and looked to them for signals of things to come. If the bees are trying to tell us something, “Vanishing of the Bees” has captured their message, deftly portraying a saga that plays upon human emotion and stirring a deep-seated connection to bees that stands 10,000 years strong.

For upcoming screenings of “Vanishing of the Bees,” visit: http://www.vanishingbees.com/events/.

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The directors are currently working on a 30-minute educational version of the film for high school classrooms, and are working with education experts to develop a curriculum to engage youth.  To donate to the cause, visit: http://www.vanishingbees.com/donate/.

To stay informed of current events affecting our bees–like the EPA’s decision on June 24, 2011, to approve the emergency usage of a systemic pesticide known to be harmful to bees and a potential culprit in CCD, as a way to battle stink bugs on the east coast–visit the “Vanishing of the Bees” Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/vanishingbees.

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A native Kansan with Okie roots, Kate Hoppe's early encounter with worm composting solidified a passion for environmental health work. She has contributed to the efforts of environmental and social organizations for over 15 years - including managing pr for Backpacker magazine's Get Out More tour, leading at-risk youth in service learning programs, and working on farms in the U.S. and abroad. Kate is currently employed in health research and is a part-time Master of Public Health student at the University of Kansas Medical Center. Read more >

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  1. Thanks for this well written and thoughtful piece.

    While Bees and pollinators are critical components to bio diverse and healthy land, we need to make sure that we pay attention to All the little critters that make a healthy living environment.

    Just this weekend, we were celebrating the discovery of Dung Beetles at our ranch...they have been missing for many years...and are a sign that our land is slowly returning to it's natural state.

    Thanks again for keeping the information flowing.
  2. Diane
    I think honey bees are not natives as described in your first paragraph. That may not be material to the problem of CCD but it would be useful to know how actual native bees are effected and to what extent they are responsible for pollination of commercial crops.

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