The footage shows hundreds of bees twitching and writhing as they die by their hive. This video has been viewed more than two million times since it was posted on May 5 by French beekeeper Christophe Nedelec. He blames his bees’ deaths on insecticides that were used on a nearby rape field and is calling for a halt in the use of agrochemicals.


"Voilà... This is how it looks when bees die from pesticides. ... When they return from the killing fields, they suffer in agony and throw themselves out of their hives before dying. Is this chemical-based agriculture or is a war against nature?” our Observer wrote on his Facebook page

For the past two years, this beekeeper has been distressed to see large numbers of his bees dying. This spring, it got even worse. When he discovered hundreds of dying bees on May 5, he decided to film the scene and post it on Facebook. Since then, his video has been viewed more than two million times and was even reposted by the popular Belgian blogger Mr. Mondialisation.

"They are collecting nectar in a place that is killing them"

Christophe Nedelec is a beekeeper who lives and works near the town of Chelles, not far from Paris, the French capital. During the day, Nedelec works as an IT specialist. However, once he shuts down his computer, the real work begins: Nedelec is responsible for about 40 hives in Villevaudé and in the Montguichet natural area, a large green space in Chelles.

Usually, bee colonies are at their strongest in the spring — there are always lots of them, and they are very active. However, this year, I’ve seen large numbers of worker bees dying [worker bees' jobs are to gather pollen and nectar]. It’s not normal.

I was so worried that I got a veterinarian to come in. He said that they had been poisoned by something. He took samples and sent them to a lab for analysis so we can figure out what caused this. It's almost certain that the bees went to gather pollen in a place that ended up killing them. The only problem is that new types of pesticides, such as neonicotinoids, are very hard to detect because they work at much lower levels of concentration — even 100 times lower than other insecticides.

Dead bees lie scattered at the foot of a hive in Villeparisis. A beekeeping friend of Nedelec’s took this picture on May 10, 2017.

I suspect that this has something to do with the rape fields that are about 300 metres as the bee flies from the hives. The owners of those fields drench them in insecticides. Some of my fellow beekeepers in Villevaudé and Villeparisis have had the same problem of bees dying. When you see bees dying like that, you know immediately that it is because of chemical products. If you see them return from collecting nectar only to die, it usually means they’ve ingested something toxic.


"We try and be as far from farmers as possible"

Without bees, there is no harvest. In fact, we offer farmers a free pollination service. So we should be partners in this endeavour. But, in reality, our relationship is unequal. Beekeepers like me end up having to move our hives when we end up too close to fields that use strong pesticides.That's what I'm planning to do for my ten hives in Villevaudé.

"I sell my honey in a store in Chelles. It’s not organic because, as I am in a peri-urban area [the area just outside of a town or city], I can’t meet the strict criteria. I sell between 250 and 600 kilos of honey per year at about 20 euros a kilo,” our Observer said. 

We try to be as far from farmers as possible. That’s obvious. We tend to like peri-urban areas or those that are mountainous or protected in some way. That’s because we can’t force farmers with a lot of land to do anything. They run businesses and, more than often, they have the support of mayors and the local police. It’s a bit like David against Goliath.

However, pesticides aren’t the only thing endangering bees. There is a whole myriad of factors. They are affected by diseases, parasites, and the deterioration of their natural habitat. All of that together can result in shockingly high mortality rates in the winter — sometimes up to 70%.

The mass death of bees is an environmental catastrophe because bees play a huge role in pollinisation. Without them, an estimated 70% of crops would die.
 
"Apiculture is an act of resistance"

Our Observer makes hives from chestnut trunks and stones. He wants his structures to be as close as possible to the natural habitats of bees.
He published this video on his
Facebook page.

That said, I’m not resigned to this situation. I was especially heartened by the success of my video. I was really surprised by the huge response that I got. I definitely wasn’t expecting it. I think that people have heard that bees are dying, but they’ve never actually seen footage showing the horror of it — they can’t visualise the catastrophe. Since posting the video, a lot of people have reached out to encourage me or to offer me help. Three people even reached out to me to offer up a new place for my hives, in order to get them away from the rape fields. All of this has encouraged me to continue. I believe that apiculture [beekeeping] is an act of resistance.

Since 1995, when neonicotinoids were created, an estimated 300,000 colonies of bees die every year, according to the National Union of French Apiculture (UNAF). The union also said that the mortality rate of bees has risen from 5% to 30% in France. The link between the use of agrochemicals and the collapse of populations of pollinators is well-documented in numerous scientific studies, including one conducted by the University of Maryland whose findings were published in the journal Nature in September 2016.

The principal producer of these agrochemicals, Bayer, purchased the Monsanto group in 2016.

“Neonicotinoids pose no threat if they are used correctly,” said a spokesman of the German company in response to a moratorium handed down by the European Union, which restricted the use of several products, including two Bayer insecticides.

The European Commission proposed, in March 2017, to transform this moratorium into an outright ban (though the agrochemicals could still be used in greenhouse cultivation.) The representatives of EU member states are set to vote on this regulation sometime this month.

Article written with
Liselotte Mas

Liselotte Mas