Bees are obviously associated with honey but consumers are generally unaware of how crucial bees are to human food production. It is estimated that one third of our plant products depends on the bee pollination. Honeybees and the wild honeybee population are also vitally important in the conservation of floral reserves and in terms of biodiversity.
As has been seen globally, bees are placed under immense stress due to commercial farming practices, pesticides, monoculture crops and the list continues. Thousands of American beekeepers have also reported losing about 42 percent of their colonies in the past year.
The second American Foulbrood (AFB) outbreak in the Western Cape area, the first was in 2009, needs to serve as a wake-up call for the bee industry in South Africa and the manner in which bees are farmed, particularly since the primary role of most honeybees is for commercial pollination.
South African wild bee colonies are more disease resistant than managed colonies. Support for a bee conservation effort, to safeguard the wild bees is crucial for the protection of the gene pool and future pollinators.
It is therefore of great concern that the emergence and growing popularity of Bee Kind has been heralded as a bee sanctuary and a solution for safeguarding our bee population.
Grass advocates for informed consumer choice and since consumers are purchasing the Bee Kind honey with the understanding that they are helping to save the bees I have written a second letter to Bee Kind highlighting these concerns.
An Open Letter to Bee Kind
Greetings again Mr Aberdeen / Bee Kind
Consumer awareness about our bee colonies and their desperate situation certainly needs to be raised. The information and campaigns need to be accurate and the solutions real. Additional damage to an already precarious situation may just push South Africa’s bee population to where the U.S. and China now find themselves – in a hopeless situation.
1) Bee Kind Reference to Sanctuary
From visiting with a bee farmer this week and my research, it is my understanding that an apiary that is producing honey for commercial use is quite a different to a sanctuary for bees. Bee Kind is claiming to be a sanctuary for bees, although you will be harvesting honey and doing splits for commercial farmers. By your own description your aim is to be “bee breeders for beekeepers.”
I ask again, why have you chosen to use the term ‘sanctuary’ because this is not a sanctuary but a bee farm?
Section 1 of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act (NEMBA) as well as Regulation 1 of the Threatened or Protected Species (TOPS) Regulations (GNR.152 of 23 February 2007) define a sanctuary as “a registered facility in which a permanent captive home is provided in a controlled environment for specimens of a listed threatened or protected species that would be unable to sustain themselves if released.” NEMBA and the TOPS Regulation require the compulsory registration of such sanctuaries and the registration certificate must include the condition that no breeding will be allowed in the sanctuary (Reg 37).”
The use of the word sanctuary in its common law sense (as a haven or shelter) See Ex parte Fichardt 1946 OPD 356 where sanctuary was defined as a sacred place, shelter, refuge or haven.
You can therefore see clearly from the above quotes that Bee Kind could not be referred to as a sanctuary and this term is misleading to the people that are purchasing your honey and hives with the understanding that Bee Kind is something other than a bee farm, which it is not.
In the interest of transparency and preventing misleading claims, Bee Kind needs to address this concern by notifying the supporters that Bee Kind is not a sanctuary and to remove all reference to Bee Kind as a sanctuary.
2) Bee Kind Assurances of re-populating commercial apiaries with bees that are AFB-free
“We do not claim that these hives are able to prevent AFB, as there is no known cure. However that being said, we have had this site inspected by Agricultural Research Council, Dept. of Agriculture and Western Cape Bee Industry Association. We were cleared of AFB.”
In media interviews you make a lot of reference to AFB and your composite hives, on your website after a few paragraphs on AFB you talk about a call to action and state “produces specialized composite hives for this project.”
Do you agree that concerned consumers would read these statements and mistakenly believe that your composite hives are the answer to AFB outbreaks in South Africa?
Which hives were inspected on the site as you have said that you re-hived 200 hives?
3) Existing 200 hives – where do these come from?
In my previous letter I asked you about the 200 hives that were re-hived and who they belonged to. I would really like an answer to this question as you only said “These bees are here already”. Where do these bees come from?
4) Bee Kind “Bid to avert a food crisis by saving SA’s dying bees”
Bee Kind also claims that the Gouritzmond area, where the bee farm is located, is a non-agricultural area but it is a sheep and canola farming area. It also already has bee farmers, many of which are involved with the pollination services industry. Which means many of the hives in this area move around the Western Cape during spring and then return to Gouritzmond post pollination. Do you know if these beekeepers are all registered members of any bee association and if they properly adhere to pollination management practices? Are you fully confident that there won’t be any AFB contamination from these bees?
It is also my understanding that since your aim is to re-populate the hives of bee farmers that have lost their colonies to AFB and other diseases that this operation is not about ‘saving SA’s dying bees’ but instead would seem to be a factory farm producing bees that possibly could be the next victims of AFB once handed over to bee farmers of known infected farms. So this in no way addressing the concerns about the bees, it is merely ensuring a supply of more bees for bee farmers.
5) Bee Kind Strict Guidelines
“it aims to see bee sanctuaries established away from the infected Western Cape and farmed in the Southern Cape, with strict guidelines as set out by our group.”
You didn’t respond to this question in my previous letter. Are these guidelines available for consumers to view? Do you have any concerns about moving honey or bees out of or around the Cape region?
6) Bee Kind Badger Control
I would like to know your method of badger control, as looking at the pictures of your stands, they don’t look firmly placed enough to prevent badger damage?
7) Composite Hives
There may be some definite ‘advantages’ for bee farmers to using these hives compared to untreated soft SA pine that might suffer from dry-rot, etc. but many farmers that use wood, for various reasons, claim that they have never had sacbrood, chalkbrood or many of the other pests or diseases because they have healthy bee colonies with strong immune systems and defences.
The question really is, are these composite hives, made of synthetic, possibly estrogenic activity (EA) disruptive plastics1, advantageous for the bees? Bees are up against so many toxic variables, does their ‘home’ need to be another one?
Johnathan Powell, a Natural beekeeper says, “There are many things that have been done for years on bees that ‘work’ – sugar feeding, antibiotics, drone reduction/culling, artificial insemination, miticides, queen wing clipping, swarm control, thin walled hives. These are designed for short term convenience, cost saving and extra honey production. The long term cost of all these practices is bee health. The sky is not falling because beekeepers use plastic, however there is accumulative price to pay for all these conveniences and the true long term cost is rarely accounted.”
Bees also don’t’ really like plastic, ask any organic bee keeper. So are the Bee Kind composite hives really the answer to bee health then?
8) Hive sterilization
You mention sterilizing the hive if needed. How is this achieved and what chemicals would be used?
9) Bee Kind Reference to Organic
In my previous letter to Bee Kind, I asked if you thought that making reference to organic honey may be misleading people into thinking that Bee Kind could be labeled as organic and your response was
“What we do imply and state is that we are as close as it gets and also our honey is pesticide free as we a near no agricultural operations.”
Below is an extract from IFOAM Organic Bee Keeping Standards in which you will note that there are many other reasons that Bee Kind honey could not be certified organic, in particular that your composite hives are not made of natural materials and that they contain polystyrene.
In the interest of transparency and misleading references to the term organic, Bee Kind needs to address this concern by removing all reference to organic in all marketing materials and online sites.
- 9.1 The areas within a 3 km radius of the hives shall consist of organically managed fields, uncultivated land and/or wild natural areas in a way that ensures access to sources of honeydew, nectar and pollen that meets organic crop production requirements sufficient to supply all of the bees’ nutritional needs.
- 9.2 The operator shall not place hives within a foraging distance (5 kms) of fields or other areas with a high contamination risk (e.g. conventional fields, industrial zones and highways).
- 9.3 The hives shall consist primarily of natural materials and present no risk of contamination to the environment or the bee products. Use of construction materials with potentially toxic effects is prohibited.
- 9.4 At the end of the production season, hives shall be left with reserves of honey and pollen sufficient for the colony to survive the dormancy period. Any supplementary feeding in response to unexpected need shall be carried out only between the last honey harvest and the start of the next nectar or honeydew flow period. In such cases, organic honey or organic sugar shall be used.
- 9.5 Bee colonies may be converted to organic production. Introduced bees shall come from organic production units when available. Bee products may be sold as organically produced when the requirements of this standard have been complied with for at least one year.
- 9.6 During the conversion period, the wax shall be replaced by organically produced wax, except where no prohibited products have been previously used in the hive and where is no risk of contamination of wax. In cases where all the wax cannot be replaced during a one-year period, the conversion period shall be extended to cover the full replacement of the wax.
(Please see more here for entire standard)
If you could please respond to these queries under each question and not copy and paste that would be appreciated.
See Comments Below
See the Bee Kind Update here and more comments
Read More here
South African Bee Industry Organisation (SABIO) website has information on the biology of our native bees.