Trick or Treating Bees in France

Oct 2012
Have you heard about the blue honey in France? With Halloween right around the corner, I thought this story about bees producing unusual shades was timely.

Since August, bees in the French town of Ribeauville in Alsace have been returning to their hives with “strange products colored blue and green and sometimes brown chocolate” and producing blue and green honey. At first, the beekeepers were baffled as to the cause.
The bees were not feasting on blue flowers or dark grapes as many originally assumed. Apparently the culprit was a biogas plant about 2.5 miles away that processes waste from a factory making M & M’s. Harsh weather conditions have affected the crops in the area and made it difficult for the insects to forage. However, the term busy as a bee was assigned to the critters for a reason, and being resourceful, they found the sugary waste in containers used in manufacturing M & M’s from a Mars plant about 62 miles away in Strasbourg.

Agrivalor, the company operating the biogas plant, converts organic waste from kitchens and agribusinesses into energy. A spokesperson for the company, Philippe Meinrad, has assured the beekeepers that procedures have been put in place to insure that the bees are no longer able to forage on the sugary residue. Mars, on the other hand, issued “no comment” says Reuters.
Unfortunately, the damage has already been done to the thousands of beekeepers in Alsace, who are usually producing about 1,000 TONS of honey. France is one of the largest producers of honey in the EU, and the over 2,400 beekeepers of this region are left with a flawed product.
Bees turning to M & M’s waste is just one example of the challenges they face. It has been well-documented that the number of bees around the world has been declining, sometimes dramatically, in recent years. The French government has singled out the pesticide Cruiser OSR as a factor; three studies have linked the decline in the number of bees to common pesticides called neonicotinoids.
The French beekeepers’ union is analyzing the blue honey to see if the bees have been in any way affected. While beekeepers are not planning to sell the unnaturally colored honey, the bees’ larvae have ingested it. It seems unlikely but if blue bees are sighted flying around in northeastern France in the spring of 2013, Mars will need to provide some comment and, even more, an extensive explanation.
France itself has not seen such drastic declines in its bee population. But the blue honey is simply freakish. It’s a scary harbinger of the fate of bees in a world challenged by climate change, extreme weather and the inevitable presence of industry. At the least, the curious case of the blue honey in France should be a warning about the need for companies to dispose of waste sustain-ably and safely, for the sake of all.

I wouldn’t eat blue honey, and as your kids are saying trick or treat, if you wouldn’t eat blue honey either, think about the candy in those sacks and keep the bees in mind!
Photo credit: All photos except top are by Vincent Kessler via Reuters.