Honeybees are disappearing, bee colonies worldwide are collapsing, and there’s very good reason to be concerned.

‘This is a bee, this is a bee on drugs’ could easily be the tagline of The Vanishing of the Bees (2009), a documentary that traces the emergence of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). In the United States the phenomenon was first publicized in 2006 by a Florida beekeeper when he found his normally busy hives eerily empty. In 2013, CCD is widespread with half of American commercial hives lost.

CCD is characterized by mass hive evacuations; the winged tenants appear to flee over night. Young bees are abandoned, common pathogens are absent, and no dead bees are found. As a result industrial-scale beekeepers who raise bees to pollinate farmers’ fields are going out of business. Australian bees are being air-shipped to pollinate American crops.

Narrated by Nova Scotia’s Ellen Page, The Vanishing of the Bees explores possible explanations for CCD, from the factory farming of bees to the use of systemic pesticides in large-scale monocultures. In contrast to old-fashioned topical pesticides that kill insects, new pesticides – neonicotinoids – impair neurological functioning. This is illustrated in two video clips: one shows a bee methodically and steadily collecting pollen from a sunflower, the other shows a bee clumsily stumbling over a flower as if intoxicated. The difference? One sunflower is organic, the other treated with neonicotinoids.

The film exposes the permissive and incautious approach to pesticide regulation practiced by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Disturbingly, the agency relies on corporations such as Bayer and Monsanto to assess the environmental impacts of their products. The film contrasts the American experience with that of French beekeepers who hit the streets when they experienced similar die-offs in the 1990s, spurring regulatory changes. Here in Canada, the Sierra Club is currently engaged in a legal battle with Health Canada in an effort to reverse the approval of neonicotinoids.

Cinema Politica St. John’s is screening ‘The Vanishing of the Bees’ on Tuesday, Oct. 15, 7 p.m. at Memorial University, Arts and Administration Building, Room 1046.

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