Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Disappearing Bees: The Wireless Culprit

On September 18, 2011, Italy’s largest agricultural cooperative donated eight beehives containing 500,000 honeybees to Pope Benedict XVI. Given in honor of the Italian Catholic Church’s Day for the Protection of Creation, the bees from Coldiretti currently reside on the pontifical farm at Castel Gandolfo. Farmers around the world are concerned about the honeybee, whose global population has declined sharply and mysteriously in the last ten or so years. As Coldiretti president Sergio Marini observed, bees "play a vital role in the planet's ecosystem and their disappearance would have disastrous consequences for health and the environment; a third of human food production depends on crops pollinated by insects, 80 percent of which are bees." In recent years, beekeepers across North America and Europe have reported devastating losses of anywhere from 25 to 100 percent of their colonies.

The official term for this massive worldwide disappearance of honeybees is Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). It’s a bizarre and unprecedented phenomenon characterized by worker bees deserting their hives nearly en masse, leaving only the queen and her capped brood behind. Without its worker bees and their vital honey production, a bee colony cannot survive. Scientists all over the world are researching a variety of potential causes of CCD including pests (such as the Varroa mite), disease, viruses, pesticides, genetically modified crops, stress, poor nutrition, and climate change. However, none of these factors can adequately explain the unique characteristics of CCD, such as its rapid spread and simultaneous appearance on multiple continents. Attacks by pesticides, viruses or parasites would result in piles of dead bees in the hives, whereas the hives are simply left vacant in the case of CCD. Climate change has been much too gradual to account for the disorder, and harsh winters can explain only part of the bee die-off. The other possible causes (GM crops, stress, poor nutrition) are not factors in every area affected by CCD.

In fact, two pioneering research scientists—Dr. George Carlo and Milt Bowling—may have already identified the main cause of CCD. Dr. Carlo is an award-winning American public health expert who ran the wireless industry’s six-year, $28.5 million study on the health effects of cellular phones back in the 1990s. Milt Bowling of Canada has been involved with the cell phone safety issue since 1997 and has been working with Dr. Carlo on the issue since 2005. According to these two researchers, the culprit in the world’s current honeybee decline is the enormous and continuing proliferation of information-carrying radio waves (ICRW) in the global environment due to the massive 21st-century shift to wireless technology. As a result of their research carried out both independently and in concert, Dr. Carlo and Bowling are convinced that man-made wireless signals—particularly from cell phones and their transmitters—interfere with the bees’ natural navigation and communication capabilities.

A honeybee’s navigational system is comprised of small magnetite crystals in its abdomen, which allow it to tune like a radio into the earth’s electromagnetic field. When a worker bee leaves the hive to gather pollen, it senses this field and uses it to calculate its position relative to the hive much as a GPS system works. This enables it to return to the colony with its precious load, even from more than a mile away. But various independent studies show that the bees lose this crucial ability to navigate when artificial electromagnetic fields are introduced into their environment.

In one study conducted in 2006 at Landau University in Germany, two beehives were exposed to radiation from a cordless phone and two were left unexposed. Twenty-five bees were then taken from each hive and released about 2500 feet away. Within 32 minutes, 16 bees returned to one of the unexposed hives and 17 to the other, while only six bees returned to one of the exposed hives after 38 minutes and none at all made it back to the other. Moreover, after nine days the bees in the exposed hives had constructed 21 percent fewer cells in the hive frame than the bees in the unexposed hives.

Another study was carried out in 2009 by Dr. Daniel Favre, a retired biologist of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, Switzerland. He placed mobile phone handsets near beehives, activated them for specific periods of time, and analyzed the bees’ resulting behavior. Favre found that activation of the phones triggered the worker piping signal, which is a sign of distress, and that the colony’s activities did not return to normal until some time after the phone activation had ceased.

In a third study conducted in 2010, researchers at Panjab University in Chandigarh, India fitted cell phones to a beehive and activated them twice a day for 15 minutes each. Within three months, honey production had ceased, the queen laid half as many eggs, and the hive population had fallen significantly.

While this research provides strong support for a link between wireless transmissions and CCD, a definitive study is still needed to conclusively prove the theory (and convince skeptics). Dr. Carlo and Bowling have designed a comprehensive research program to do just that, but it remains on hold due to lack of funding from North American and European governments. Furthermore, the highly successful mobile phone industry is in denial that the widespread global use of their product could be placing bees at risk—even though the spread pattern of CCD is remarkably consistent with trends in cell phone use during the last ten years.

Meanwhile, the number of honeybees worldwide continues to decline drastically, presenting an urgent environmental challenge. As Marini noted above, honeybees are one of the major insect pollinators essential to human food production, so their disappearance would be a disaster for the world’s food supply. Without pollination by bees, many fruits, vegetables, nuts and herbs simply could not be produced.

What can—and should—we do about this? If information-carrying radio waves are indeed disrupting honeybee colonies around the globe, the obvious solution would be a planet-wide reduction in wireless transmissions, particularly from mobile phones and their supporting infrastructure. By virtue of their sheer numbers (well over five billion worldwide), cell phones generate far more ICRW than all other wireless sources put together. Thus, cutting back global cell phone transmissions along with careful regulation of other wireless technology would allow the world’s honeybee population to stabilize and begin recovering. Individuals, communities, governments and non-government organizations should work together to address this issue and take up the challenge of saving the bees before it’s too late. The future of life on earth depends on it.

Copyright © 2012 Justin D. Soutar. All rights reserved.


1. “Benedict XVI Receives Half Million Bees,” ZENIT, Sep. 21, 2011. Oct. 24, 2011

2. “Pope: Christians Should Unite to Care for Creation, Poor,” Worldwatch Institute. Oct. 28, 2011

3. Milt Bowling, “Bees and the Future of Food,” Health Action Magazine, Fall 2007. Oct. 21, 2011

4. Ibid; Milt Bowling, “Where are the Birds and Bees?”, Health Action, 2007. Oct. 21, 2011

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid. (Original source: Hermann Stever et al, “Verhaltensanderung der Honigbiene Apis mellifera unter elektromagnetischer Exposition” [Electromagnetic Radiation: Influences on Honeybees (Apis mellifera)], University of Landau, Feb. 2006. Nov. 7, 2011 <>)

7. Daniel Favre, “Mobile phone-induced honeybee worker piping,” Kokopelli Association,
April 13, 2011. Oct. 21, 2011

8. Sasha Herriman, “Study links bee decline to cell phones,” CNN World, June 30, 2010. Oct. 24, 2011

9. Wikipedia contributors, “List of countries by number of cell phones in use,” Wikipedia, Oct. 21, 2011. Oct. 24, 2011

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