By Ariel Schwartz
Just a few weeks ago, I lamented the lack of awareness around colony collapse disorder, a phenomenon where honey bees disappear from their colonies, leaving a shortage of bees to pollinate the crops we rely on for food. Lo and behold, the new quarterly magazine Modern Farmer has declared this week as Bee Week--a time to reflect on the fate of bees in cities, on farms, and elsewhere.
So far, Modern Farmer has discussed honey laundering, shipping interstate apiaries, and the factual inaccuracies in the 2007 film Bee Movie. Honey laundering is, for the uninitiated, the practice of doctoring up honey with all sorts of unpleasant substances, including corn syrup, pesticides, and antibiotics. As Modern Farmer explains, regulations today are disturbingly unhelpful:
Vaughn Bryant, a researcher at Texas A&M, is one of the world's foremost experts on honey analysis. Bryant thinks the current system is extremely lax, and the consumer pays the price. "If you buy a box of raisins, you can be pretty sure there's raisins inside," he said. "That's not true with honey."
In the apiary shipping piece, Modern Farmer interviews migratory beekeeper John Kraus. Here's his take on the particulars of shipping bees:
You can't stop in the middle of the day when it's warm out. The bees will fly and get all confused. So you try to load them up at dusk and then get them off the truck the next morning. If you're doing interstate travel they need to be netted, because you can't go from Washingon to California overnight. So we'll load them up at night and try to get the truckers drive a little ways and get some sleep, and then drive all day the next day.
It's a tricky business, and one that's underappreciated. Beekeepers like Kraus are the reason that you get to enjoy your almonds, strawberries, peaches, onions, eggplant, and all the other food items that rely on interstate bee shippers.
As for Jerry Seinfeld's Bee Movie? There are plenty of factual inaccuracies about bee biology, which is to be expected from an animated film that follows a bee who falls in love with a human florist.
Bee Week is just beginning. Follow Modern Farmer's stories as they emerge here.
Copyright 2013 by Fast Company. Reprinted with permission.