Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Do Creationists Run Bee Keeping Associations?

There is considerable arrogance in the notion that we must know better than the bees do what is best for them, yet the publication of Charles Darwin's pivotal book, On The Origin of Species just seven years after Langstroth's Hive and the Honey Bee in November 1859 , seems to have made but little impact on this general attitude, even 150 years later. It is as if creationists still hold sway over bee keeping associations.

At the heart of modern, 'natural beekeeping' philosophy is the principle, which I hold to be self-evident, that bees know best what is good for them and that our job is to listen, to watch and to follow their lead. Contrast this with the teachings of the disciples of Langstroth, who insist that they know best when a queen should be replaced, which strain of bee she should be replaced with, and what size cells she should be allowed to lay into. And then they wonder why the honeybee appears to suffer from parasites, 'mystery disappearances' and diseases that were almost unknown before the advent of the movable-frame hive and re-cycled wax foundation.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Have we been lied to for 10 years?

Have we been lied to for 10 years? Or has the pesticide industry been lying to the British Bee Keepers Association?


This episode will be of particular interest to British beekeepers - especially those who are - or have been - or may one day be members of the British Bee Keepers Association - the BBKA.

Wherever you are, I think you will find something of interest, as I am interviewing a man who has looked very carefully at the whole issue of pesticides and their potential impact on bees, with particular reference to the BBKA's decade-long policy of taking money from the pesticide industry in return for the use of the BBKA logo on certain products, and the endorsement of such products as being somehow 'bee-friendly'.

Many people - when told that a bee keepers association endorses insecticides at all - are shocked and surprised, as was Dr Bernie Doeser, who has recently produced an independent report that is highly critical of the way the BBKA have managed - or failed to manage - their policy.

Bernie Doeser's report reveals barely believable levels of negligence and incompetence in this whole episode, starting with the fact that the BBKA actually endorsed some of the pesticides that - far from being bee-friendly - are actually among the top five most lethal pesticides in their class.

I had to record the interview with Bernie Doeser in the rather echo-y cafe of the Tate gallery in the seaside town of St Ives in Cornwall, and although we managed to arrange coats and hats to absorb much of the background noise, you can still tell that it is a cafe.

(And for those of you outside the UK, Cornwall is in the bottom left hand corner of England, and England is part of that little island off the coast of Europe called Great Britain, the United Kingdom or just the UK.)

Please spread this link - http://tinyurl.com/35sen6k

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Is the BBKA planning an even cosier relationship with Bayer?

The headlines have been about BBKA ending their pesticide endorsements, but look more closely: they are planning a deeper relationship with the same corporations.

Update re. BBKA endorsement of insecticides

(1) Summary: For the last ten years or so, the British Bee Keepers Association has received sums of money in return for their endorsement of several pyrethroid-based insecticides as 'bee-friendly if used according to the instructions'. This was kept quiet by the BBKA executive for several years, and was widely criticized when it came to light.

This issue was put up for debate by Twickenham BKA at the 2009 and 2010 Annual Delegates Meetings, but the status quo held, largely due to the BBKA's undemocratic voting system (based on regional representatives rather than one person, one vote).

(2) My interest in this is a strong personal belief that a charity constituted to protect the interests of bees should not accept money from corporations whose commercial interests include the sale of extremely toxic insecticides, proven to be lethal to bees, on the grounds that such transactions will inevitably influence BBKA policies and actions.

As evidence for this, at no time since this endorsement began has the BBKA ever spoken out against the use of agricultural insecticides, or warned against the potential dangers of systemic pesticides in GM crops, or allowed any statement critical of the pesticides industry to appear on their web site or in any of their publications. In fact, the one time they invited members to comment on this policy on their web site, they received a series of messages criticizing their policy and responded by censoring the comments and soon afterwards, removing the page. The full story, including the censored comments, can be seen here - http://www.britishbeekeeping.com

Also, I have seen no endorsement of the organic movement in general, nor the Soil Association in particular, for their policy of creating insect-friendly habitat and minimizing the use of chemicals on agricultural land. In fact, I have heard members of the BBKA executive, past and present, including long-term technical advisor Dr Norman Carreck, speak out against orgainc farming (quote: "Crop rotation is old-fashioned - biotechnology is the way forward.").

(3) Dr Bernie Doeser's recent report on the BBKA pesticide endorsement affair reveals serious shortcomings in the way it was handled, as well as underlining the true toxicity of the pesticides endorsed as 'bee friendly' - http://tinyurl.com/37z4z65

This report clearly caused consternation at BBKA HQ, as they immediately went to work to devise a way to prevent the pesticides issue from being aired at the January 2011 Annual Delegates Meeting for the third successive year, as proposed by the Twickenham branch and backed by a number of other BKAs.

(4) BBKA appears to have conducted a 'strategic review', either previously or in response to this report, in which they propose even closer ties with agri-biotech corporations [see http://tinyurl.com/35hzwd5] while taking the emphasis off direct endorsement of insecticides.

The following email was recently sent to all BBKA local associations:

Date: 15 November 2010 16:14
Subject: BBKA Strategic Review

Dear Association Secretary

Attached to this email is a statement about a strategic review that the BBKA Trustees have undertaken.

As part of this review you will see that our policy with regard to our endorsement of specific products has changed. This decision was taken by the Trustees a while ago as part of this wider strategic review, and would have been announced in due course as part of the results of that review. It was however decided in view of the fact that a debate on the narrow issue of endorsement was likely at the forthcoming Annual Delegates Meeting (ADM) it was better to make the decision public at this time.

The statement refers to a wider engagement with the plant protection industry and as a example of the way this can work. There will be a leaflet inserted in the December edition of the BBKA News produced by the Crop Protection Association (CPA). The BBKA was consulted on the production of the leaflet and tried to ensure that best practice in relation to honey (and indeed) other bees was incorporated.

Finally the trustees are putting forward a motion to the Annual Delegates Meeting (ADM) asking for delegates support for this new policy. Details of this motion will be sent to association delegates and secretaries and I would ask that you debate the new policy locally and make your views known to your delegate in good time for the January ADM.

Martin Smith

BBKA Strategic Review http://tinyurl.com/35hzwd5

(5) My comments:

My first reaction is revulsion at the BBKA adopting the NewSpeak phrase 'crop protection industry' as a harmless-sounding label for the 'agricultural poison and pollution industry' it really is.

Far from distancing themselves from these corporations, they appear to be ever more willing to embrace them (and their vocabulary) and thus further compromise their ability to speak freely about the dangers to bees from agricultural pesticides.

For me, the ethical considerations trump everything. For an organisation purporting to be working in the interests of bees to publicly walk hand in hand with the manufacturers of the very substances that are killing bees, other insects, birds and ultimately entire food chains, as well as endangering public health, while failing in any way to support the organic movement, is utterly anathema.

(6) Suggested action:

(a) Request the BBKA sever all financial ties with corporations that have any interest in the manufacture or sale of insecticides or other agricultural chemicals known to be toxic to bees

(b) Request that the BBKA give explicit support for the Soil Association and the organic movement in general for their efforts in creating more habitat for bees and other pollinators.

(c) Request complete electoral reform in the BBKA, requiring all such matters to be openly debated, publicly reported on and voted on by all members.