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12th April 2012

Taggert Siegel and Jon Betz Collective Eye Collection DVD and (eds) Clairview 2011 ISBN 9781905570348 144pages

queen of the sun for sbThe Queen of the Sun documentary film is a  beautifully shot travelogue of the best and the worst habitats for bees survival [1]. The best habitats are the seamless tracts of wildflower meadows and the sanctuary gardens specifically created for bees that provide food all year round. The worst habitats are the endless rows of monocultures that provide food for only three weeks of the year during flowering season.

On this soulful journey we meet the biodynamic, organic, urban garden and rooftop beekeepers intent on pulling the honey bee back from the brink of disaster. We go deep inside the hive and see the wonder of the snow white wax that brings the light of the bee and the sun in the winter. We watch the patient and hopeful beekeepers with their hives reflecting on what was, until 2006 and the emergence of CCD or Colony Collapse Disorder, 10,000 years of productive co-operation between humans and bees.

Its starting point for explaining CCD is the prediction made by Rudolf Steiner in 1923 during a series of lectures to beekeepers in Switzerland, that bees would die out within 80-100 years if they were reproduced by using artificial methods only. Since Steiner’s warning, industrialised and mechanised beekeeping practices have become standard, along with an increase in the use of toxic pesticides, and now genetic engineering. The result is that over the last 15 years 70-90% of bee colonies have been lost worldwide.

Gunter Hawk has set up Spikenard Farm, a biodynamic bee santuary in Virginia. He believes that the loss of our primary food pollinators is an even more pressing concern than climate change. Scott Black of the Xerces Society, an international organization that protects wildlife agrees. He says of bees that, “They are doing all the hard work for us and without them we would be in big trouble.” This film is a gentle, but persuasive reminder of the essential and eternal relationship between pollinators,  plants and people.

In California’s Central Valley, there are 600,000 acres of almond crops that need bees to pollinate them. Every year, three quarters of the USA’s bees are trucked to and stored in holding yards where they are fed high fructose corn syrup to ‘strengthen’ them, before being released into the heavily sprayed orchards doused with synthetic pheromones to increase foraging. So many of these migrant bees have succumbed to CCD that Australian bees are imported to help pollinate. This mix of bees creates a sort of bee bordello, leading to the spread of viruses.

The Queen of the Sun book, which accompanies this film, is a spellbinding anthology comprising the contributions of beekeepers, scientists, artists and activists, all critical of these exploitative processes. The bees have attracted a powerful lyrical advocate in Britain’s Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, whose poem "Virgil's Bees" interweaves with thirteen essays and three interviews lamenting the loss of bees while deeply celebrating their bonds with humanity.

Scientist Vandana Shiva says that in India the toxins in failed GM cotton and sunflower crops have devasted pollinators and farmers alike. Activist Jeffrey Smith warns that the US Government (like the British Government) refuses to act on Bayer’s neonicotinoid pesticides, and unlike the corporations, the bees are not protected by the law.

Two recent studies confirm that neonicotinoid pesticides are harmful to bees. Neonicotinoids are neurotoxins and bumblebees exposed to tiny doses weighed less and produced 85% fewer queens [2]. Foraging honeybees exposed to low doses are 2-3 times more likely to die while away from the hive, and their ability to navigate impaired [3] And, the high fructose corn syrup containing HMF, hydroxymethylfurfural, a chemical that forms when the syrup is heated is known to damage honey bees by causing ulceration of the gut [4].

Worse still is the artificial breeding of queen bees. Queens are the progenitors of the colony, which is suffused with her life affirming signal. Normally, she lives between 4-6 years, but in commercial hives is replaced every six months or so to maximise egg production. However, by introducing artificially inseminated “foreign” queens, the biological integrity of the hive starts breaking down. When coupled with staggering amounts of artificial chemicals, antibiotics and mitocides used by commerical beekeepers against mites, which has bred supermites, it’s no wonder that the bees' immune system is compromised.

In contrast, biodynamic apiculture and agriculture espoused by Rudolf Steiner uses no pesticides. It treats the hive as a superorganism where the trinity of queen, females and drones is honoured in the comb as an organic, collective body. The recognition of "the bien" or the integrity of the hive has led biodynamic beekeepers to campaign for the recent decision by the European Court of Justice to ban imports of GM-contaminated honey into the EU.

However, it’s not just agricultural toxins, it’s what we spray on our gardens that affects bees. Reasurringly, this book and DVD sees the bee crisis as a challenge we can all learn from. But they warn that bringing bees down into a world of toxic crops, mobile phone masts and microwaves, ours is the civilization spelling danger for the 150 million year old bee, which has blessed us with many gifts, including golden honey rich in hexagonal forces, enzymes, trace elements and silica. The message is clear: reconnect and work with nature and nature will reconnect with us.

  1. Queen of the Sun
  2. Goulson D. et al Neonicotinoid Pesticide Reduces Bumble Bee Colony Growth and Queen Production Science, 29 March 2012
  3. Mickaël Henry et al, A Common Pesticide Decreases Foraging Success and Survival in Honey Bees, Science, 29 March 2012
  4. LeBlanc et al. Formation of Hydroxymethylfurfural in Domestic High-Fructose Corn Syrup and Its Toxicity to the Honey Bee (Apis mellifera). Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 2009; 57 (16): 7369