Conspiracy of bees

In Illinois recently, Terrence Ingram, an apiarist who had been working on developing more insecticide-resistant bees, has had almost all of his bees seized by the Illinois Agriculture Department. They’re claiming that most of his hives were infected with American Foulbrood (AFB), a highly infectious bacterial disease which licensed apiarists allow state-directed purges of hives to contain and stop. Ingram makes a few points about why he believes they were wrong in their disgnosis:

In short, his point is that the environmental conditions likely led to at least the initial stages of chilled brood, which the investigators mistook for AFB. In then confirming their suspicions they exposed the bees to even more cold temperatures and otherwise chilled them, which they again read as a sign of infection. It certainly seems as though the agricultural department workers made an error here, and potentially eradicated a key bee population in the struggle against some of the factors that have led to colony collapse disorder.

(Entire bee colonies have mysteriously died in many parts of the United States in recent years, seemingly for various factors including insecticide use. Photo from here.)

The ultimate irony, of course, is that many agricultural departments in the United States have been pushing chemical-intensive methods for dealing with AFB and other diseases. In that environment, it would makes sense to profile Ingram and suspect his hives of having been infected, since he was bucking the chemical methods used to curb that and other infectious diseases. Of course, that misses the point of path dependency  – that their agricultural philosophy makes his hives suspect, which led to their destruction, and which then leads to chemical-intensive apiarist methods as being the only viable alternative.

As in multiple fields, including nutrition and education, the United States seems to be suffering from a singular vision of what obstacles exist and consequently what methods are appropriate in solving them. The hope in this case is that the bees are constantly evolving and even if Ingram’s work has been destroyed, others’ strains they have bred and natural selection generally will fill the newly created gaps. Unfortunately, flawed and inadequate nutrition and education are not such self-solving problems.

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