Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Honey Bee vaccination: good, ugly or bad?

The less than saintly honey bee (copyright 2023 Emerald Biology)

For years I've been a distant proponent of the honey bee, thinking it a much beloved native species that was essential to plants and putting the natural healthy sweetner on my table. The delightful glow of going to the farmers market and picking up local honey.

A few months ago, I read that actually honey bees are not native to the United States but are in fact a European import (1). Not only that but they compete with native species for food, spread disease, and because beehives are moved around, the honey bees get an advantage over native species. This article in the Scientific American (2) explains the complexity of the situation admirably.

I'm all for the elimination of the use of pesticides and antibiotics; a reduction in the addition of chemicals to the environment can only help all species but the introduction of a vaccine (3) to deal with foulbrood in honey bees seems to be a step that helps commercial interests much more than keeping the native ecosystem in balance. I feel righteous indignation in my pure minded eco warrior stance. BUT I also read that honey bees are essential for agriculture to achieve the level of production need to feed the population at reasonable cost. I've already seen my grocery bill increase. Can I afford my righteous indignation? What would be the consequences of not using the vaccine and looking at ways to promote native pollinators? Can we do without honey?

It turns out that there are 4000 species of bees (4) and there are plants they prefer. npr (5) suggests a number of ways to support native species. Can agriculture do the same and still be commercially viable?