Today: how honeybee chop shops are just the beginning of a much stranger story about the food we eat.
Why would anyone want to steal bees? Like, that sounds like a really painful idea.
GWIN: Yes, seriously. Rene Ebersole is a science writer. She investigated the theft of bees for National Geographic. She says hive theft is something that keeps beekeepers up at night. But that's the thing. It's like, it's always an inside job. You have to be a beekeeper to steal bees. And a few years back, Anand started keeping bees. His plan was to take intimate portraits of their lives for National Geographic.
More on that later. But anything in the system goes wrong and there's not really a good backup plan. Because bees are a linchpin to the industry that feeds us. EBERSOLE: When I was there, I saw people, you know, ripping out their vineyards where they grow raisin grapes and you know they're planting new orchards, almond orchards as quickly as they can. And almond trees only bloom for a couple weeks in the winter. But the rest of the time it's like a desert for them.
The hives come from as far away as Miami.
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EBERSOLE: You see them stacked and you see like, they have a sort of a netting over top of them You know, prevents the bees from getting out and stinging someone at the at the rest stop. And you walk into this grocery store, what's the first thing you see? It's always the produce section, isn't it? Jerry says the produce section is the most appealing section in the grocery story because color, odor and nutrition are concentrated there. HAYES: And then maybe back to the east coast for well, you know, oranges or follow spring north, winding up with cranberries.
HAYES: All those fruits, nuts, and vegetables you see in the produce section when you walk into the grocery store have had a honeybee associated with them to move that pollen, to produce that fruit, nut or vegetable. And even spinach and lettuce and kale, we don't think — well, gee whiz, you know honey bees don't produce that well. Yeah, they kind of do, because somebody has to grow those. These will flower to produce a seed, so that seed can be sold to somebody who's going to grow the lettuce or the kale or the spinach.
So, approximately a food worth about 20 billion dollars in the United States is at the whim of honeybees and their beekeepers. GWIN: So basically, bees are breathing, buzzing gold. We rely on monoculture. You know, thousands of acres planted one with one individual crop that's a large-scale monoculture.
But clearing swaths of land for one crop also clears out the native pollinators -- like butterflies, moths and other kinds of wild bees.
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So farmers enlist the European honeybee to do the work. But relying on one species to pollinate that much food is super risky. HAYES: What do you do if a third of your food comes from honeybee pollination and these bees have to be healthy and well? GWIN: Jerry has been in the beekeeping industry for 35 years. He started to worry about sick bees back in the mids.
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HAYES: I was getting phone calls from one beekeeper in particular telling me that his bees were gone. They weren't like dead on the ground or dead in the bottom of the hive. They were just gone. HAYES: I remember sitting on my bedroom floor one night in Florida talking to colleagues at university and government and USDA and what have you about this because they were starting to get similar phone calls.
We had no earthly idea what was going on. GWIN: But they knew it was happening in several places and they were worried it could be a big problem for agriculture. They needed money to study it, so in order to attract funding, they gave the problem a name. HAYES: We knew that most people wouldn't pay attention to this anyway and this would be gone in 18 months like everything else in the beekeeping industry.
The media got a hold of it. People got attention to it and it really drove attention of honeybees as perhaps the canary in the coal mine somehow relating what might be going on in the environment. It got attention above and beyond whatever we had ever thought it would. But there was another major culprit. Proportionately, that's how large a varroa mite is to a honeybee's body. HAYES: And our European genetically based honeybees had not evolved or developed along with this parasite in order to learn how to control it.
So it's like any other parasite on any other livestock. When you have something new, that livestock always dies because they're not adapted to it. Only the European honeybee can be counted on for that job. HAYES: You know when a mosquito bites you they spit into you so it stops your immune system from closing off that feeding site and, but that's how you might get malaria or Zika, and what have you.
Well, the varroa mite does the same thing with, with honeybees when it bites them. GWIN: Ever since the varroa mite problem was discovered in commercial bees, beekeepers have been scrambling to keep up, spraying their bees with varroacides to keep the mites at bay. Jerry says this needs to be a mandatory part of beekeeping, even though sometimes he gets pushback from beekeepers who worry about the impact of pesticides. Do you want to spend a dollar for an apple?
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Do you want to spend two dollars for a head of lettuce? Do you want to you know spend 4. That's the question. VARMA: We became so reliant on this one species because it was so convenient to be able to put millions of bees on a truck and move them to almond orchards and cherry orchards and to grow food in this really efficient way. But we kind of made a tradeoff in making more and more intensive ways of growing food. The latest models of cars often have sophisticated anti-theft devices, requiring sophisticated measures to defeat them.
For the car thief, the difficulty in bypassing these security features may be nearly impossible or too time consuming. Most cars equipped with these systems are either stolen while the keys are still in the ignition — mostly from owner negligence at a gas station — or towed away by "sneaker" tow trucks. Advanced car theft "rings" have the knowledge and equipment needed to bypass this security. For instance, on cars equipped with RF transmitters inside of the key, the RF transmitter ID must match the security module and the engine computer.
So, not only does the physical key cut have to match, the RF transmitter has to match as well.
6 places that prove 'chop shop' is the trendy Dallas name for anything
To get around this, some "rings" establish relationships with car dealers and get car keys cut by VIN directly from the dealer themselves. Other methods are to try multiple pre-cut keys, and to use code scanners for RF based systems. The chop shop will likely be more familiar with these devices.
In Australia, buying accident-crashed cars at auction and repairing with parts from a stolen vehicle or using the VIN and engine numbers of the purchased vehicle to register the stolen vehicle is called car rebirthing.