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Why Industrial Agriculture Puts Honey Bees in Peril

By Maggie Shanahan

Maggie Shanahan

Maggie Shanahan

Industrial agriculture is at the root of many honey bee health problems, but the research community seldom calls attention to this fact. Honey bee researchers often discuss the stressors that contribute to colony loss, but we rarely talk about where those stressors come from. This is a problem because we cannot resolve honey bee health issues unless we confront the systems that cause them harm.

In the video above, I provide an audio-visual adaptation of an article I published in the open-access Journal of Insect Science this week that unpacks the relationship between honey bee health and industrial agriculture. The article is part of a special collection featuring research in the United States on fundamental and applied aspects of honey bee biology, published in collaboration with the American Association of Professional Apiculturists.

In the article, I explore steps that researchers can take to account for the harms of industrial agriculture and discuss the uncomfortable questions that surface when we confront this toxic system. The goal of this article and accompanying video is to encourage conversation within the honey bee research community around the impacts of industrial agriculture, so that we can fully engage in the transformative change needed to support honey bee health.

If you’d like to participate further in this discussion, please fill out this brief form to share your thoughts and be informed of future opportunities to engage in this conversation either virtually or in person.

Maggie Shanahan is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Entomology at the University of Minnesota in St. Paul, Minnesota. Twitter: @m_xenen. Email: mshanaha@umn.edu.

4 Comments »

  1. Excellent presentation Maggie! I am hopeful some of the solutions you brought up are already starting to happen in industrial agriculture. I can think of a couple of examples here in Canada.

  2. Hi Maggie, I am a master’s student in the Nino lab at UC Davis, and I really relate to all the points you made. I am really happy that this whole thing is summarized and articulated so well. I really appreciate this perspective! Thanks again!

  3. Your presentation is very artistic and idealistic, but very low on science and common sense. You over-simplify bee health situation. You start out fine taking about the the various factors impacting bees, but then focus only on “industrial” agriculture. I am glad that you at least recognized “industrial” beekeeping exits.

    Commercial ag has prospered because it allows farmers to make a living. I hope you realize organic/alternative agriculture is a very small portion of ag production. Overall, this presentation is extremely childish and unscientific. I suggest you take a couple ag economics/finance classes so you sound less ignorant. Your negative comment about capitalism make your lack of practical knowledge of food production clear.

    So what is your solution? Appoint a group of university professors and grad students to control all food production and land? That will lead to mass starvation!!!

  4. Excellent Job Maggie,

    Firstly, I wouldn’t worry about commercial beekeepers, we have been around a long time and back in the day we used to be honey producers and made a decent living at it and pollination services will always be needed if we are to meet the demand for food. We have also survived alongside Industrial AG for a long time and if we rid ourselves of abusive industrial AG practices we can both continue to survive. It is similar to the transition from fossil fuels to renewables, it will not happen overnight, it will take decades but it still can be done. The question is, how do we get pollinators to survive the transition, if it ever happens? There are a huge amount of variables when it comes to bees, the environment etc. Neonics are a huge mistake, have been forced on farmers by Industrial AG companies, and neonic seed coatings are an abusive AG practice for little to no benefit to the farmer. We need to start by getting rid of such variables. We really need to get rid of systemic pesticides. I approach this problem by trying to rid the most abusive and unnecessary variables one at a time. There is a point where AG practices become detrimental to Agriculture as a whole and, unfortunately, we are beyond that point. You are correct, our industry needs to stop focusing on symptoms and focus on the cause. I personally think that there are practical solutions that are in the best interest of everyone, including commercial AG. We are all equally reliant on pollinators, insects, birds, fish, clean water and healthy soil. Those of us who know honeybees and were around beyond the last 20 years, understand that bees fix themselves. Bees evolve out of their problems but that evolution has been almost halted because of abusive and unnecessary AG chemical exposure. Honeybee supersedure, has all but disappeared making it impossible for them to survive on their own and beekeepers have become bee-replacers. We have to understand that finding mite feces in a dead hive, does not mean that the colony died from mites. Keep up the good work!

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