By Troy Bridgeman, GuelphMercury
In 2008, I did a story for Rogers TV about a honeybee queen breeding business near Arkell south of Guelph operated by Tibor Szabo Jr. and Tibor Szabo Sr. a world-renowned honeybee researcher and Order of Canada recipient.
It was the first time I’d seen the complex interworking of a hive and what apiculturists do to keep the bees healthy. It was also the first time I heard the term Colony Collapse Disorder, a mysterious condition that is killing honeybees around the world.
The extinction of honeybees would not only mean the end of honey and other products produced by bees but the potential collapse of all forms of agriculture that rely on pollination. That means all fruits and most vegetables as well as the feed crops used to feed the animals we eat.
Apiaries are our last hope because pesticides, parasites and disease have wiped out the wild population of honeybees in North America and the rest of the industrialized world.
At the time there were many theories about what was causing CCD – cell phones, pesticides, parasites, global warming – and governments were committing hundreds of millions of dollars to research.
Tibor Szabo Sr. was among the first researchers to identify a parasite called the varroa mite as one of the culprits contributing to CCD and developed successful processes and hive designs to prevent infestation.
He has been breeding bees since he was a child in Hungary and began his research in 1957 at the University of Budapest. He has authored dozens of academic papers over his long career as a bee researcher for Agriculture Canada and as an adjunct professor at the University of Guelph.
He has continued his research since retiring and keeps meticulous records of everything that goes on with his hives.
About two years ago I did a follow up story for My Guelph magazine and was happy to discover the Szabos were fairing well against CCD so, I was surprised by the urgency in Tibor Szabo Jr.’s voice when he called me near the end of May this year.
He told me 49 of 50 hives he had on a site inside Guelph city limits were wiped out over a couple of days after an adjacent field of soybeans was planted using seed coated in a neonicotinoid pesticide.
I did some research and discovered theories about the alleged effects of neonicotinoid on honeybees are highly controversial and disputed by the seed and pesticide companies marketing the pesticide as well as a number of researchers.
Tibor Szabo Sr. told me he has published dozens of articles in the American Bee Journal and the only article editors have rejected is one he recently submitted linking bee deaths to the use of neonicotinoid coated seeds.
He said he has been maintaining the apiary behind the family home for 22 years and for the first 18 years there was no problem.
Apart from problems with his bees over the last four years he has also seen a sharp decline in birds and other pollinator insects such as leafcutter bees and bumblebees.
While I was at the apiary this weekend shooting video of dying bees, Paul Kozak, the provincial apiarist for OMAFRA arrived with Jim Coneybeare, a third generation beekeeper from Fergus. Coneybeare told me he manages more than 850 hives and believes neonicotinoid pesticides are to blame for unprecedented declines in his colonies.
Kozak wasn’t prepared to make an official statement about what was killing the bees but acknowledged it was not typical. He inspected the hives and took his own video. He also collected around 200 of the dying bees for analysis.
We exchanged contact information and I told him I am working on a story and will be following up to learn the result of the tests.
I too will wait until the test results come back and I have done more research before I comment further.