The Pollinators composed by Douglas
J. Cuomo. I'm Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: We end today's show with a stinging new
documentary that's already generating a lot of buzz.
The film is
called The Pollinators and features swarms of yellow-black
jacketed honey bees, whose existence may determine the future of
The insects pollinate nearly all the fruit,
vegetables and nuts we consume. Some experts estimate one out of
every three bites of food we eat depends on the work of honey
But the future of the insects is now in peril, with widespread
reports of bee colony collapses.
In the last decade and a half,
the nation's beekeepers have reported
staggering declines in
their bee populations due to pesticides, parasites and loss of
Scientists warn climate change is also threatening the
insect's survival, noting that bees could die off at faster
rates as the Earth 'warms'...
This is the trailer
(below video) for the new documentary The Pollinators:
Bees are so fascinating. When you first go into a beehive,
you're like worried about getting stung.
And then, as soon
as you start watching them and seeing them on the combs
communicating with each other, it's just so fascinating, so
complex. And it mostly works, until we get in the way of it.
SAMUEL RAMSEY: Populations of honey bees are dying at levels
that are unprecedented and very concerning.
Close to half of
the colonies in the U.S. are dying every single year.
DAVE HACKENBERG: Native pollinators have disappeared, and
farming has become a lot bigger.
And so, due to all this,
you know, now we need beekeepers that can move bees from one
place to the other.
BILL McKIBBEN: We can learn a good deal from bees about the
health of the landscapes that we inhabit, and we can learn a
good deal about the folly of setting up our agriculture in
quite the way that we have.
DAN BARBER: Agriculture is an interruption of a natural
system, but it can be done thoughtfully as an interruption
of a natural system with great benefits.
DAVEY HACKENBERG: It's going to take 20, 30 years for that
ground to get back in the shape it was to sustain life for
all these wild insects, birds and fowl and everything else.
LUCAS CRISWELL: Protecting the land around us, protecting
the soil under us is really our obligation. And from that,
we get delicious, nourishing products.
DAVEY HACKENBERG: We've been pollinating fruits and
vegetables and nuts for - since the '70s, '60s, '50s, and we
haven't had these kind of losses.
We're not bad beekeepers;
we're just trying to hang onto our business.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, for more, we're joined now by Peter Nelson,
director of The Pollinators, also a beekeeper himself.
Welcome to Democracy Now! It's great to have you with us. A mass
extinction of bees? Explain.
PETER NELSON: Yeah, it's just the losses that beekeepers have
been facing has been, in the last - since 2005, 2006, has really
been somewhere between 30 and up to 50%, depending on where they
are in the country. And it's a little alarming.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And is that true just in the United States, or
are bees all over the world experiencing this? Or is it because
here in the U.S. they use more pesticides?
PETER NELSON: The bees - there's a worldwide loss of insects,
and I think that's been documented. But here in the United
States, because of their exposure to
pesticides in agriculture,
it's particularly pronounced.
AMY GOODMAN: Let's turn to an excerpt from the film The
Pollinators, beginning with Susan Kegley of the Pesticide
Many crops require pollination by insects.
And because the
native pollinators who used to be here are no longer in
large enough quantities to do that pollination, the managed
honey bees have stepped in to take the role of pollinator.
UNIDENTIFIED: Well, pollination is a basic natural function.
A lot of plants in nature need insects to transfer pollen,
and one of the most efficient is the honey bee.
DAVE HACKENBERG: So, basically, you know, all the good stuff
we eat, the vegetables and the fruits and so on, most of
that needs honey bee pollination or pollination by native
DAVEY HACKENBERG: The chemical companies, they figure we
should eat corn, soybeans and rice, and that don't need to
And that's what they think we ought to live
But if you like your fruits and vegetables and your
nuts, a lot of that stuff need pollinated.
A lot of wild
insects can do the job, but not as well as bringing in a
commercial beekeeper to put down a thousand colonies in one
area and give a good blast to the pollination.
DAVE HACKENBERG: Our business has got two different ends to
it. One of them is producing
But, of course, the
reason honey bees are here in the first place is to
pollinate our crops, you know, because one out of every
three bits of food we put in our mouths comes from honey bee
SUSAN KEGLEY: I think the general public should know that
our food system is threatened by the fact that the bees are
And they should care about that because they eat
AMY GOODMAN: And this
is another clip from The Pollinators featuring beekeeper Dave Hackenberg, who was among the first beekeepers to sound the
alarm about bee colony collapse disorder in 2006.
So, the problem is that native pollinators have disappeared,
and farming has become a lot bigger.
And so, due to all
this, you know, now we need beekeepers that can move bees
from one place to the other.
And, of course, the only bees
that are really movable, that you could put on the back of a
truck and truck them all over the place, is honey bees.
AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt of The Pollinators. Peter Nelson, how
does Europe deal with bees differently than the United States?
PETER NELSON: Well, the European Union has placed a ban on
neonicotinoid pesticides, which is huge.
In fact, they just
recently strengthened it, because they didn't have - the science
was showing that it wasn't working. And here, we have a
The precautionary principle that the European
Union uses says that we really need to test these pesticides or
fungicides or herbicides, whatever, before they go into the
environment, to make sure they're entirely safe.
And here, we
have kind of a different approach, where we have... oftentimes
the chemical companies are doing the testing themselves and
doing their... getting their own results, and they get a
conditional registration, which allows them to use the
pesticides without being fully tested in the field, which... and
that's a law that's been bound by the EPA.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And in the film, Peter, many people, including
Bill McKibben, talk about the fact that bees - that the collapse
of the bee population is just one instance of what is to come.
Why is what's going on now with bees a harbinger of what might
PETER NELSON: Well, honey bees are studied more than a lot of
other insects and bees, and so we have data on them.
they're so well studied and documented, if the losses are like
that on honey bees, it brings up the question: What's else is
going on in nature with other species, with other insects?
it's important to know that honey bees are only one of 4,000
species of bees in North America.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to Bill McKibben, co-founder of
350.org, who you interview in The Pollinators.
BILL McKIBBEN: We
can learn a good deal from bees about the health of the
landscapes that we inhabit, and, sort of secondarily, we can
learn a good deal about the folly of setting up our
agriculture in quite the way that we have.
It looked so
efficient and - concentrate everything in the ways that
we've done it.
But that turns out to be a false efficiency.
It is the cheapest way to produce pork or corn or whatever
else, but that cheapness comes at a high price.
price is the loss of the agricultural diversity, redundancy,
resiliency, that is really beyond price. You know, it's the
thing that we've built up over 10,000 years of agriculture.
And now, in a kind of hundred years of industrialization,
we've managed to get rid of most of it.
AMY GOODMAN: That's Bill McKibben in The Pollinators. Peter
Nelson, you, too, are a beekeeper. Talk about - you're talking
about pesticides and how they're used in this country, also the
whole issue of the climate crisis.
PETER NELSON: Yeah, totally.
Bees are an indicator species, so
we really need to pay attention to what's going on, because our
agricultural system is really dependent upon these commercial
You know, agriculture has gotten much more simplified,
more monocultures, more chemically dependent.
And so it's
required to bring these bees in, because so many of the native
bees that would traditionally have done pollination are not able
to live there anymore.
So, it's become essential to bring these
bees in, almost as an insurance policy for much of agriculture.
AMY GOODMAN: And the agriculture that uses bees?
PETER NELSON: Oh, it's 400 crops that we eat.
It's the most
nutritious and nourishing things that we eat. It's the fruits
and nuts and vegetables that we eat. Things like wheat and corn
are wind-pollinated. Rice is wind-pollinated.
But the nutritious
foods that we have are mostly pollinated by bees.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you so much for being with us,
Peter Nelson, director of the new documentary The Pollinators.
And that does it for today's show. On Friday, Democracy Now!
will be broadcasting and live-streaming the first-ever
Presidential Forum on Environmental Justice at South Carolina
State University in Orangeburg.
Candidates taking part so far
Senators Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker, businessman
Tom Steyer, as well as Marianne Williamson and others.
moderating with former EPA official Mustafa Ali. You can watch
it as we live-stream at democracynow.org beginning Friday
evening at 6 p.m. Eastern. Also, television stations and radio
stations will be running it across the country.
We'll also be
broadcasting from Orangeburg, from South Carolina State,
tomorrow morning, Democracy Now!