Worker Bees and organic cotton
Max McLaughlin is a slave owner.
He is the proud owner of hundreds of thousands of tiny slaves that work themselves to death each summer.
“Don’t get me wrong, I love my girls,” said the Orangeville, Ontario resident. “I talk to them every day just like I would talk to my dog or cats.”
His “girls,” as it turns out, are the hundreds of thousands of bees that he depends on to produce honey. McLaughlin is a beekeeper.
Bees are vital to the production of both conventional and organic cotton because of their role as a pollinator. Studies have shown that there are many benefits to cotton growth derived from insect pollination. They are linked to increases in cotton production, seed production and fibre quality. For example, the presence of only half a colony of honeybees increases cotton production by 19.5% per acre of field cultivated. In cage-grown cotton, production was increased 43% compared with cotton fields grown without the use of pollinators. In addition, there were fewer motes (cotton ovules that fail to develop into seeds with well-developed ginnable fibers) on cotton pollinated with bees; the presence of motes decreases efficiency of mechanical harvesting.
But something is killing our bees: Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Beekeepers have been reporting slow declines of stocks for many years, but have been unable to pinpoint any specific causes as to why bee colonies are dying. At the same time, McLaughlin said the number of small-scale beekeepers is in decline. “The idea of the small holder beekeeper is becoming less and less attractive.” Instead, what has replaced the traditional model of beekeeping is that larger, industrial beekeepers have come to dominate the trade. “It’s like factory farming, but with bees,” said McLaughlin.
One of the ways the industrial beekeepers make their money is not through the production of honey, but through the use of bees for pollination. Typically, it would involve carting around hundreds of boxes of bee colonies around the country, going wherever a farm field needs pollinating. “This causes all kinds of problems for the bees, because of the stress of travel and the fact that for each period of time, they’re only getting one kind of food, which reduces their immune system’s effectiveness,” he said.
It’s one of the things McLaughlin believes is leading to CCD.
Another major threat to bees is herbicides and pesticides. “There are some types of herbicides which are deadly to bees but are still used by farmers, and long-term exposure to these can also lead to colony collapse.”
in April 2013, after a report was released by the European Food Safety Authority identifying significant risks of a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids, the European Union called for a two-year restriction on neonicotinoid pesticides. In 2015, an 11-year British study showed a definitive relationship between increasing agricultural use of neonicotinoid and escalating honey bee colony losses.
Up until now, no effective preventative measures against CCD have been suggested.