Are we listening to the honey bee’s message?
I’m frequently asked if I support a ban on all pesticides. The truth is, my answer is no. I’m not against all pesticides. What’s more, I am actually for some of them.
For example, I’m not against most antibiotics used in medicine. Penicillin, for example, has saved my hide more than once, for which I am eternally grateful. But that’s not really a pesticide you say? Of course it is. A pesticide is a preparation designed to kill some form of life—even if it’s a bacterium.
I am also happy that millions of human lives have been saved from the ravages of things like malaria and plague. By having the tools to kill the vectors of these diseases—mosquitoes and fleas—we have made our world a better place.
What I am against is the wanton and reckless use of these preparations. Pesticides should be saved for the big threats. Instead we use them everywhere on everything. In fact, it has been the unbridled use of things like antibiotics that has rendered them useless against many organisms and given us scary diseases like MRSA. Similarly we have super weeds spreading across our farmlands and cockroaches that party on pesticides (cockroach cocktails).
In fact, we have gone completely berserk using poisons on food crops. Once upon a time, pesticides were used on crops to save them from total destruction. Then they were used to increase yields. But then something else happened—consumers began demanding “perfect” produce. They wanted corn with no ear worms, carrots all to themselves, potatoes without scab, and apples all of a piece. Right then–at the moment when consumers started demanding perfection—is when pesticide use really ran amok.
It’s the same “perfection” addiction that gave us weed-free lawns, perfectly manicured roadsides, playgrounds, park lands, and golf courses devoid of life. It was our demand for perfection that poisoned our water, air, and food supply—not a need to feed the world or stave off pestilence.
But the situation was destined to get worse. In the “old” days pesticides stayed on the outside of food crops. They could be washed off. Systemic pesticides—those that are taken into the vascular system of a plant and flow throughout the entire organism—were reserved for ornamental plants, plants that people and livestock didn’t actually eat.
But all that has changed. Now we eat them. No amount of washing in the world will remove the clothianidin from your corn or the imidacloprid from your grapes. We just lap it up. The honey bees have the same problem. In days gone by, you could remove beehives from the field during spraying and return them later without too many problems. But with pesticides that incorporate themselves into the plant, you can’t separate the two. When the bee drinks the nectar or eats the pollen, she gets a dose of poison as well.
The day I learned systemic insecticides were used on food was the day I began eating organic. But this, too, is troublesome. In a world where so many cannot afford the luxury of organically grown food we are creating a two-tiered class structure where folks in the military, the prisons, the public schools, and the lower income ranges are eating the poisons and the rest of us are letting it happen.
In the last few years honey bees have forced us to look seriously at the chemical soup we call “our environment.” I cherish her for that reason beyond all others. I only hope her message hasn’t come too late for us to do something about it.