Taggart Siegel’s 2010 film “Queen of the Sun” about honeybees has been getting a lot of play lately by green, crunchy groups where facts are of little concern. It appears to be a film about how important bees are to our lives, and is made with endless close-ups of bees and honey. Oh, and bees crawling over some naked German hippies.
To some extent, the film is about bee colony collapse, but Siegel never interviews any scientists about the problem, relying instead on beekeepers, farmers and various activist alarmists with little scientific background.
In fact, many of the beekeepers and farms shown in the film practice biodynamics, a kind of farming mysticism based on anthroposophy, which believes in an “objective, intellectually comprehensible spiritual world” as advocated by German pseudo-mystic Rudolph Steiner. This is the sort of practice that advocates farming by astrological positions and burying skulls in your fields. It might be better to have consulted with some entomologists and agronomists.
One of the practitioners of this mystical approach to beekeeping is Gunther Hauk, who appears frequently throughout the film. He is the proprietor of the Spikenard Farm Honeybee sanctuary. While preserving honeybees is important and Hauk cares deeply about it, there does not seem to be a single scientist on his staff or board of directors.
The premise of the film is that Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is the “bill we are getting” (for the way we farm?). They clearly seem to believe that modern farming practices are somehow to blame, ignoring that fact the bee colonies have been collapsing intermittently for over 1000 years. This is not a new problem, and at this time we do not actually know if there are new contributing causes but just recurrence of the same events as before. As we noted in a recent article, it does not seem the bee colonies are “newly endangered.”
You know the film has dipped deeply into mystic pseudo-science when we are told that honey contains “forces of the hexagonal” and that honey contains silica, which has “beneficial influences on our evolution.” We also learn that “pollen is materialized light.”
The film also features celebrity non-experts popping up from time to time. Journalist Michael Pollan comments on feeding HFCS to bees in new colonies as “viscerally offensive,” when even he has admitted any number of times that HFCS is just sugar, which is what bees feed on in any case.
We also get Cassandra-like appearances by Vandana Shiva, whose degrees are in the philosophy of science rather than in actual science, where she makes incomprehensible pronouncements about seeds worthy of Peter Sellers’ character Chauncey Gardiner in “Being There.”
One of Shiva’s points is based on her irrational opposition to transgenic crops (“GMOs”) which thus must somehow be the cause of CCD, even though careful research has shown this not to be true. And Bt corn is wind-pollinated in any case.
And of course anti-GMO activist Jeffrey Smith pops up making some of his trademarked dire but completely unscientific pronouncements. Smith has no scientific training but hopes to scare us with preposterous lines about “experimenting with the soul and body of human beings.”
There are some actual issues discussed in this film which are worth understanding, however. It shows us vast California almond orchards which are pollinated each February by imported hives of honeybees, since there is no other plant nearby that could feed the bees the rest of the year. The film suggests that interplanting some rows of flowers would provide the almond growers with their own bees, although of course the cost of giving up tree space versus the cost of renting hives has to be considered.
However, the film does suggest that trucking hives all across the country can hardly be good for the health of the bees in the hive, and this may well be true. It does not note that honeybees are not native to the Americas and that in their absence there are local bees that would also do the job.
One serious problem for honeybees is the varroa destructor mite, a tiny mite that lives on the bee’s body. The pesticides used to keep these mites at bay have become ineffective and it is difficult to find newer insecticides that are safe for the bees but toxic for the mites. One farmer suggested that we should just let the bees and mites evolve together and began such an experiment, although he did not report any results in the film, nor does it seem likely that this would work. There are no published papers on this approach.
While the newer neonicotinoid insecticides are being blamed for CCD, the evidence is not clear that they are to blame. For example, even the film notes that organic beekeepers also suffer from CCD.
Overall, the film wants us to appreciate the beauty and majesty of bees, and this is easy to do, but as a documentary on the problems of honeybees, it is not particularly accurate or successful.
We watched “Queen of the Sun” for free, streaming on Netflix, where it is available through September 24 (at least), but if you watch the trailer on the film’s web site, you’ll have had enough.