More Than Honey is a film dedicated to bees and their unique place in the ecosystem. The purpose of this documentary is not to find a single cause to blame for the colony collapse disorder.
The makers argue there is no single unifying explanation for the widespread death of bees, which has so frightened the agricultural industry and puzzled policy makers. Rather, they try to show how a wide range of industrial bee keeping practices are contributing to a poor state of health in bees and, furthermore, that most apiarists know deep-down what is causing the problems.
The narrator, John Hurt, takes the viewer through a series of examples which go some way to explaining how apiculture used to function in the past and how modern industrial processes, breeding and honey production are stressing the delicate social operation of European honey bees and leading to disease and death.
Without comment or judgement, the film shows an Alpen beekeeper high up in the cool clear climate of Central Europe explaining how his small, half-wild beekeeping operation works. He works with black bees which are acclimatised to the mountain area. He visits a neighbouring beekeeper who has brought in an outside breed of bees which are now mating with the black bees and feeding in the same areas.
In the same part of the world, a pair of apiarists breed Queen bees for mail order clients. They mark the Queen bee with Nitro car paint and mail the bees off around the world – the camera showing the rough treatment of the boxes on the logistics conveyor belt.
Over in the United States, a bee supplier to an enormous almond tree plantation explains how he runs thousands of hives, which are sometimes exposed to pesticides on the plantation, and how he transports these bees around the whole continental USA pollinating crops.
Some of the bees suffer in the heat and confinement on the lorries along the way and, in addition, the exposure to thousands of other hives at the crop sites leads to the spread of disease. Not only this, but the bees are so weakened they must be fed sugar water and antibiotics. The final wound of the season is when the honey is extracted from their combs and the hives are chaotically re-boxed – leading the bees to be poured in with other colonies.
In parts of China, the bees have completely disappeared and the pollinating works of the bees has been replaced by people. However, all the research on the difference between human and bee pollination suggests that bees are by far the superior pollinators.
So what hope is there for the sophisticated and fragile European honey bee?
The final part of More Than Honey explores the rise of so-called “Killer Bees” – a cross breed between European honey bees and African bees. Escaped from a research lab in South America, these bees have a powerful sting and are far more aggressive than European honey bees. In the eyes of one apiarist on the Mexican border, this holds two benefits for their survival – they are less likely to be industrially farmed and their resistance to boxing and breeding maintains their healthy wild habits.
A strain of these bees is being investigated by researchers in Australia and has been housed on an uninhabited island to preserve their genetic inheritance, should their success become a desirable and necessary breeding trait.
The main lessons behind the film are that apiarists know very well how they could best treat their bees and that in spite of the modern threats to bees, nature has a rich store of the genetic material necessary to face up to these threats. A thoroughly enjoyable documentary.
More Than Honey is released on DVD & Blu-ray in the UK on 21st October 2013.