Around the world, honey bees have been vanishing at an alarming rate. Since bees not only provide honey, but are also vital for pollinating crops, this is not only distressing, it also puts agriculture at risk. The reasons for this decline are still unknown, but a Florida-based company claims to have found a solution in the form of a concentrated organic feed supplement. BeesVita is purported to not only protect bee colonies in danger of collapsing, but actually causes them to grow and thrive.
The mysterious, wholesale vanishing of bee colonies leaving behind deserted hives is called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). It affects the common European honey bee (but not the Mason bee) and was named in 2006, though reports of CCD go back to at least 1900. Its main symptom is striking - the sudden, uncharacteristic disappearance of bees from the colony as if the population is collapsing. Colonies can lose as many as 50 percent of its worker bees at one time, often leaving behind only young workers or even a lone queen bee or, eventually, no bees at all. Though the main concern has been about the fate of domestic bees, feral colonies are hit hardest.
CCD costs billions of dollars worldwide because of its impact on honey harvesting and on the role of the domestic bee in pollinating crops and wild plants. The cause remains unknown, though there are many theories about why CCD occurs. Possible causes include things like mites and other parasites, viruses, fungi, immune deficiencies, climate change, malnutrition, pesticides, migratory beekeeping and even speculation that the culprit is mobile phones or genetically modified (GM) crops.
BeesFree’s BeesVita is a honey bee feeding formulation that claims to arrest CCD. According to the company’s press release, "BeesVita Plus is a concentrated solution that is introduced to the honeybees' water supplies," says David Todhunter, BeesFree's chief executive officer. "Studies show when honeybees drink BeesVita Plus they become healthier, stronger and more resistant to various illnesses and CCD."
Del Vecchio is described as “an internationally-recognized biochemist specializing in DNA sequencing techniques used in genetic therapy and molecular biology.” with a PhD from Cambridge. She says that tests of the product in Tuscany, Italy saw treated colonies enjoy a 50 percent increase in population while control colonies lost 40 percent.
Details of exactly what is in BeesVita or how exactly it works are unclear. It appears to be an “animal food product” that contains “known components.” BeesFree says that it is going to commission university studies of BeesVita in the United States, though it says they do not require USFDA approval because the ingredients are recognized as safe.
BeesFree's chief scientist and BeesVita Plus inventor Dr. Francesca del Vecchio claims, "BeesVita Plus is composed of scientifically-engineered, natural components proven to contrast (sic) neonicotinoids' side effects on honeybees," says "The solution also contains antimicrobial agents and compounds to fight viruses and its interaction with Nosema parasite. Plus, it has powerful nutrients and antioxidants."
With a retail price of US$70 per liter, BeesVita will be marketed in the U.S. autumn of 2012 and the company is also pursuing sales in Argentina, Italy, Slovakia and South Africa. BeesFree also sells an electrically-powered dispenser for the concentrate.
The claims made by BeesFree are sweeping and the company says that it not only has the research to back them up, it pledges to replace any bees lost to CCD if the product is used properly. However, since the cause and much else about CCD remains unknown, this may be an instance where wait and see is the best policy.