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Italian Honey associations(AsproMiele, mieliditalia.it, AgripiemonteMiele)
Compendio della Normativa Apistica di interesse sanitario (Regione Lazio)
FAO/Italy History in the making
BOECKING O., RITTER W. (1993) - Grooming and removal behaviour of Apis mellifera intermissa in Tunisia against Varroa jacobsoni. J. Apic. Res., 32: 127-134.
Historical evolution of beehives and beekeeping, in synthesis:.
Bees have been companions of humans for millennia. The first beehives were located in tree logs; Egyptians and Greeks began exploiting beeswax, and then mead, ointments and pomades were obtained from honey. The Sumerians utilized honey in creams along with clay, water and cedar oil, while Babylonians used it to cook: scones made with flour, sesame, dates and honey were widespread. The Hammurabi Code contains laws which protect beekeepers from thefts of honey from their hives. The Ayurvedic medicine, three thousand years ago, believed honey to have purifying, aphrodisiac, refreshing, deworming, antitoxic, regulatory, cooling and healing properties.
The invention of the movable frame hive marked the evolution of beekeeping. The Greeks were the first to introduce wooden sticks in beehives. Aristotle was the first to observe the behaviour of foraging bees, which do not fly from a flower species to another. Instead, a foraging bee “flies, as it were, from violet to violet, and touches no other species till it returns to the hive.”
This behaviour is at the basis of cross-pollination, a job that bees do extraordinarily, favouring agricultural production and varietal production (biodiversity). Later, horizontal or vertical hives with movable honeycombs became common, making it possible to extract honey without destroying the bee colonies, leading to more harvests per year.
Since the Middle Ages, with monks, and then along the course of history until today, bees never suffered the organizational systems of humans. In the last two centuries two main hive design standards have emerged. They are still used by most beekeepers, except for some amateur beekeepers who use warre hives, Japanese hives, and so on.
The real change came in the ’70s, with the introduction of honey characterization. Before then, the commercialization of unifloral honey had been mostly based on empirical knowledge.
The evolution of research about apiculture and the scientific progresses in the field have been useful, but less significant than medical and military research. We know almost everything about bees, but since the Industrial age the technologies that support mass production of fruit and vegetables have made tremendous strides, culminating in the synthesis of genetically modified species. These two systems run parallel, from the point of view of research and dissemination of findings. As a consequence of this lack of controls, in the third millennium we face collapses and unstoppable regressive processes in the beekeeping sector, almost everywhere in the world. This is not a pessimistic outlook, quite the opposite: in a few years, from the ‘90s to these days (2014), almost all the developed countries reported a decline of the number of bees.
How did we get here? When a new phenomenon occurs, whether it happens naturally or because of men, there is obviously a gap between the estimation of damages and the organization which attempts to fix the situation. The bees die, or do not go back to the hive. We are dealing with two separate problems: the first is mainly related to parasites – especially Varroa Destructor – which feed on the hemolymph of bees and/or larvae, until they multiply and cause the extinction of the bee family.
The second problem is caused by neonicotinoids and new generation seed treatments, used to potentiate intensive wheat and cereal fields. It is a product of modern science, which is able to paralyse parasites and insects, thereby improving production. It has the same effect on the nervous system of bees, which die because they are unable to survive or to get back to the family. The extent of the damage, in 2014, is so great that in the first half of the year the mantra was: let’s save bees, let’s adopt a bee… and so on. Even Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth offered grants up to £1000 to beekeepers who planned to keep hives in her tiny 46,000 acres in Lancashire, Cheshire, Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Lincolnshire (source Dalymail.co.uk)
"Wild bees, bumblebees and honeybees have experienced a worrying decline over the past few years, with scientists planting much blame on the widespread use of agricultural chemicals, in particular neonicotinoid pesticides" says Lancaster Duchy and "As custodian of the land with significant interest in the long-term viability of the countryside, we are seeking means to help promote bees and beekeeping within our surveys"..
First problem: varroa
The introduction of the Western honey bee in Southeast Asia for productive purposes caused the Verroa Destructor (the most harmful and widespread species of the Varroa genus) to be transmitted to that new host. The parasite proved to be very harmful to Western honey bees. Around 1960 the first documented cases of bee colonies dying because of varroa infestation were reported (LI TZIUN, 1960; DELFINADO, 1963). Later, the parasite spread quickly to almost all continents. In some species of Asiatic honey bee grooming behaviours are more frequent: they rub against each other, leading to the mechanical detachment of varroa mites. This happens in few species, though; also, it is not enough to ensure disinfestation. Formic acid is the only substance which is known to kill the parasite. It is an easy solution, but in its natural state formic acid is very unstable, highly volatile and caustic. Besides being difficult to apply, it is also very dangerous for the bees and for those who administer the doses. After a decade of delusions, it appears that the use of specific formic acid preparations is authorised in Europe. At the moment, the available acaricides are: Apiguard, ApiLife Var, Thymovar, Apivar, Apistan and Api Bioxal. Their efficacy can be complemented with conduction methods such as brood blocking, addition of supplements (apiherb), and hives with movable bottom boards. In any case fighting varroa with chemical substances cannot be the definitive solution to the problem. The varroa parasite could build resistance and tolerance to these products, becoming immune to them. On this issue the world is currently divided between genetic experimentation and combined use of traditional and non-aggressive methods.
Second Problem: neonicotinoid
It is known, and it has been proved, that pesticides and new generation seed treatments contain neonicotinoids. They are responsible for disorientation and death in bees. We can explain the issue in brief. Some countries banned neonicotinoids, others tolerate them, others yet, like Italy, suspend their usage with every law without ever actually banning them. The reason is the economic power of lobbies and corporations protecting their own interests, especially Bayer, which is the biggest producer of these pesticides. The effects of neonicotinoids have been known for at least ten years, yet there is no joint regulation decreeing a total ban of the substance.
In 2013 the European Commission ruled that from December 2013 onwards, for two years, neonicotinoid pesticides would not be used anymore in Europe, since they are considered to blame for the decline in the population of bees in the continent, and since they are also harmful to other small animals, such as some species of birds. At the end of 2013 EFSA proposed to lower the acceptable exposure levels of two neonicotinoid insecticides, acetamiprid and imidacloprid, since they might have negative effects on the nervous system of children. These substances affect neuronal development and brain functions like memory and learning.
Gaucho and chloronicotinyls
In France the 1995 Barnier law establishes, for matters related to environmental protection, the precautionary principle. The Minister of Agriculture and Fishery, J. Glavany, decided to temporarily suspend the marketing authorization of Gaucho as sunflower seed treatment, pending the results of additional scientific studies (14/02/99 Journal Officiel). Imidacloprid, the active ingredient in Gaucho, belongs to the chloronicotinyl family of insecticides. It was first synthesised in 1985.
Examining the quite complex Italian and European Regulatory Framework, excluding the sections related to marketing of food and labelling regulations, it emerges that Europe has not been protecting bees long enough, both as insects and as a valuable product. The consequence is not only a product of worse quality, but also a decline of bees in areas usually destined to intensive cultivations which provide flour to all the member states.
We are left with the annihilation of the TRUE beekeeping production system, which luckily makes up almost the absolute majority (in numeric terms, thus also from a territorial point of view). True beekeepers, then, CAN choose whether to:
- use the beekeeping methods which are more compliant with the procedural guidelines
- place their bees as far as possible from sources of pollution and mass cultivations
- apply the anti-varroa treatments ALL AT THE SAME TIME
- improve their technical knowledge and skills