New Bee Bacteria Casts Doubt on Conventional Beekeeping Practice

Each month, new research finds another component to bee health which conventional beekeeping has ignorantly trampled on for many years. In this case, the routine application of antibiotics in sugar feeds by commercial beekeeping is likely to be making bee hives weaker.

Recently reported  studies carried out by USDA-ARS, describe a newly discovered bacteria Parasaccharibacter apium, so far found only in honey bees and their hives, that appears to give honey bee larvae a significantly better chance of surviving to become pupae. In laboratory experiments designed by Corby-Harris, bee larvae were fed either P. apium-spiked jelly or a sterile control jelly. The group fed P. apium had a 20-percent better survival rate in the first trial and a 40-percent better survival rate in the second trial.

Kirk E. Anderson at the USDA-ARS commented:

"we advise against unnecessary use of antibiotics by beekeepers, as it likely disrupts the variety and balance of microbial functions occurring throughout the hive, including the antiseptic properties of honey, pollen storage, larval health, and pathogen protection.”

In other recent research 1 it has been shown that each component ( bees, comb, propolis, honey, and stored pollen) of the hive has its own unique microbiome. The P. apium is one such example of the complex bacterial communities that work in balance to create  healthy hive. When a hive is stressed or pushed outside its natural state, the microbiome becomes unbalanced and the hive weakens.

When I think of the use of plastic combs, I wonder how the cell microbiome is affected by having the complex substrate of wax, made from over 300 different components, changed to polypropylene. Apart from plastic being a sterile substrate for bacteria, many plastics (even food grade) contain Bisphenol A (BPA) which is known to be hazardous to humans. The alternatives to BPA plastics appear to be not much better. A 2011 study 2 noted:  

"Almost all commercially available plastic products we sampled, independent of the type of resin, product, or retail source, leached chemicals having reliably-detectable EA [endocrine activity], including those advertised as BPA-free. In some cases, BPA-free products released chemicals having more EA than BPA-containing products."

Advocates of plastic foundation comb, used for its convenience, argue it has been used for years and works. 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.

Wax is free, sustainable, biodegradable and supports the microbiome of the cell and the hive. The production of wax by bees is one of the few industries that enhances the environment the more it is produced. Bees love to make it if given the chance ... it's what they do. Let them make wax.

1: Grubbs KJ, Scott JJ, Budsberg KJ, Read H, Balser TC, Currie CR (2015) Unique Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) Hive Component-Based Communities as Detected by a Hybrid of Phospholipid Fatty-Acid and Fatty-Acid Methyl Ester Analyses. PLoS ONE 10(4): e0121697. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0121697

2 - Walsh, Bryan (2011-03-08). "Study: Even 'BPA-Free' Plastics Leach Endrocrine-Disrupting Chemicals"


Pat R. said...

I've wondered about plastic combs ever since I heard that people used them. They just don't seem like they belong in a hive, yet people use them so frequently. Do you think the chemicals that are leached could be harmful to people who consume the honey from plastic combs? That would be big news.
When I first started beekeeping, it was for the purpose of having something to barter if things got really bad, but as I found out more and more about the abuses that were going on, I sort of gave up on the honey part of it, and opted for being more of a bee guardian. Attending bee clubs has been a real disappointment because they seem to be caught up in the maximum honey production mentality, which includes medicating, mite poisoning, and in general, many other interventions.

Jonathan said...

Nearly all our food is wrapped in plastic nowadays, so it's a much smaller story than that. Most endocrinologist would say they we seeing more problems as our world becomes more toxic and stressful. As just about every function we have is connected to the endocrine, it is an important issue. I would not be surprised if it becomes a more common public topic in the next 20 years.

This seems like a reasonable view:

I don't know of studies on bees with these toxins, but it seems wise to avoid when there is such a wonderful free alternative.

With regards to bee clubs, you hold a common view. Time to start your own club :)

Unknown said...

I wanted to post a comment with regards to the flow hive system you mentioned. Thank you for writing a post about the toxic BPA-free plastic they are using. I have emailed them my concerns about the PLASTIC they use and they simply state its BPA safe. 2 weeks later, they did a mass email saying their product is now being produced. (they were not concerned or cared to research about the BPA-free scam). Scientists are NOW finding out that "BPA safe" is a scam. Bees are very delicate, and susceptible to even the minimal of toxins. If i'm correct, the estrogen in the plastic causes problems with the bees. That's why they are dying off. And this company wants to introduce bees to this toxic plastic? They don't care about the bees, they just want to mass produce this product and make money. ask yourself this: in 5 years when it becomes "main stream" and you KNOW that the plastic is toxic. What rights do you have, what compensation will you have, what damage have you done to your body with this toxic honey you have been ingesting for years? All I ask is to please educate yourself on the fraudulent lies that are being spread on BPA-FREE plastics! I am writing this comment because of my great concern for the bees, and the health of the people who will use this product, and the utter lack of concern from the makers of the flow hive system. These guys deliberately IGNORED the warnings, and the scientific evidence shown to them about the harm these plastics will do to the bees and to humans. Their customers will buy the product, and they will think they are making organic honey! If anyone wants the email i sent to the flow hive people, I'll gladly email it to you (including the time stamp).

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