Most beekeeping products are consumable items. They can be looked at as transitory (i.e. short-term assets on the beekeeping balance sheet). One, however, has traditionally been in the long- term asset category. This is beeswax, that marvelous substance only the honey bee can produce. Although it can be converted into other products (candles, cosmetics), a huge amount is recycled by the beekeeping industry for many uses, but especially to given it back to the industrious insects that made it in the first place as foundation for their nest.
Along with those of honey, beeswax prices have recently escalated, though not necessarily for the same reasons. In the February issue of BEE BIZ (No. 2, 1996, pp. 3), Editor Matthew Allen analyzed this phenomenon. For many years, the market was split. Top-quality wax from Africa, the Americas and Australia was viewed differently than that of the Far East, mostly from China. The latter was often adulterated by paraffin and, thus, restricted to polish and candle use. The price differential between these two wax sources is now closing, Mr. Allen concludes, as demand for use in luxury items, confectionery and fancy food products increases, and so the price may remain high for some time. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the world’s beeswax is becoming more fouled each day, a tradeoff in controlling the Varroa mite.
Ever since beekeepers began using pesticides inside living bee colonies against Varroa, there have been concerns voiced about colony contamination. Most had to do with honey. Few, however, considered the possible effect of long- term widespread use of the contact pesticide fluvalinate on the beeswax supply.
No longer is this the case. Writing in the same issue of BEE BIZ as Mr. Allen about the 1995 Apimondia meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland, Clive de Bruyn reported that high residue levels of fluvalinate have been found in beeswax. Because of the nature of the molecule, he concluded, it bonds with the wax, making it almost unremovable. The Australian Bee Journal (quoted from June 1996 Bee Culture, p. 376) says virtually every kilogram of European wax is contaminated, most likely because of recycling fluvalinate-impregnated wax for foundation. Other chemicals that might replace fluvalinate also could contaminate the world’s beeswax supply.
European beekeepers, therefore, are examining their beeswax more closely than in the past, and not using heavily contaminated product for foundation. Dr. Peter Rosenkranz, University of Hohenheim reported at the Fifth Ibero Latin American Beekeeping Congress in Mercedes, Uruguay (June 1, 1996) that residues from two to 20 milligrams of fluvalinate per kilogram of beeswax have been found. He says these levels might be enough to cause pesticide resistance to develop in Varroa. Mr. de Bruyn says that so much resistance can already be seen in certain districts of Italy, France and Germany that beekeepers are being advised to abandon all pyrethroids (chemical relatives of fluvalinate) in favor of other chemicals.
If levels of fluvalinate get too high, might there not be concern that the honey bees themselves will be poisoned by the chemical designed to rid them of Varroa. There is some hope that beeswax from places that don’t have Varroa would dilute the worldwide supply, according to the Australian Bee Journal, as referenced in Bee Culture. However, it concludes that a return to fluvalinate- free wax, would take an estimated fifty years, provided there was no chemical usage for that time period.
Fluvalinate has been mostly replaced with other chemicals over the years due to resistance. However, its continued use along with other chemicals inside and outside the hive, continually puts the world’s beeswax at risk of contamination.