The Bee Crisis
Updated: Jan 29
“In the last four years, the chemical industry has spent $11.2 million on a PR initiative to say it’s not their fault, so we know whose fault it is.”
- Jon Cooksey
Honey bees perform about 80 percent of all pollination worldwide. A single bee colony can pollinate 300 million flowers each day. Grains are pollinated by the wind but fruits, nuts and vegetables are pollinated by bees. Seventy out of the top 100 human food crops — which supply about 90 percent of the world’s nutrition — are pollinated by bees.
But the bees are dying off.
What’s Killing them?
Worldwide, bee colonies are collapsing and it’s not as big a mystery as the chemical industry claims. Scientists know that bees are dying from a variety of factors—pesticides, drought, habitat destruction, nutrition deficit, air pollution, global warming and more. Many of these causes are interrelated. The bottom line is humans are largely responsible for the two most prominent causes: pesticides and habitat loss. U.S. National Agricultural Statistics show a honey bee decline from about 6 million hives in 1947 to 2.6 million hives in 2016, a 60 percent reduction. It’s also worth noting that in 1950 the global human population was 2.5 billion and by 2020 it will be nearly 8 billion.
According to University of California at Davis apiculturist Eric Mussen, biologists have found more than 150 different chemical residues in bee pollen. The chemical companies Bayer, Syngenta, BASF, Dow, DuPont and Monsanto shrug their shoulders at the systemic complexity, as if the mystery were too complicated to solve. They’re not going to advocate a change in pesticide policy because it’s profitable.
Additionally, wild bee habitats shrink every year as industrial agribusiness converts grasslands and forest into single-crop farms, which are then contaminated with pesticides. To reverse the world bee decline, we need to fix our dysfunctional and destructive agricultural system.
Neonicotinoids have been linked in a range of studies to adverse ecological effects that include honey-bee colony collapse disorder (CCD). The neonicotinoids act on their nervous systems. Bees that don’t die outright, experience sub-lethal systemic effects, development defects, weakness, and loss of orientation. The die-off leaves fewer bees and weaker bees, who must work harder to produce honey in depleted wild habitats. Neonicotinoids keep bees from supplying their hives with enough food for queen production. The poison accumulates in individual bees and within entire colonies, including the honey that bees feed to infant larvae. Bees exposed to sub-lethal doses of neonicotinoids (the type routinely used in the U.S. on wheat, corn, soy, and cotton crops), end up with compromised immune systems and become more easily infected by the gut parasite Nosema apis, among other things.
Bayer makes and markets the neonicotinoids imidacloprid and clothianidin; Syngenta produces thiamethoxam. In 2009, the world market for these three toxins reached more than $2 billion. Syngenta, Bayer, Dow, Monsanto, and DuPont control nearly 100% of the world market for genetically modified pesticides, plants and seeds. In 2012, a German court criminally charged Syngenta with perjury for concealing its own report showing that its genetically modified corn had killed livestock. In the U.S., the company paid out $105 million to settle a class-action lawsuit for contaminating the drinking water for over 50 million citizens with its “gender-bending” herbicide Atrazine (see our blog on water pollution).
This isn’t a liberal or conservative issue. This is our food.
Call your congressman and encourage him or her to support responsible agricultural regulations. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continues to allow the use of neonicotinoid pesticides, in spite of a U.S. Department of Agriculture report warning about the dangers of the bee colony collapse. If Europe can do without neonicotinoid pesticides, then so can we!
Bee part of the Solution
Buy local and organic whenever possible. The organic movement is having a positive impact! Organic farmers have advocated better research and funding by industry, government, farmers, and the public to develop organic farming techniques, improve food production, and maintain ecological health. A revolution in farming would promote equitable diets around the world and support crops primarily for human consumption, avoiding crops for animal food and bio-fuels. Ecological, organic farming is nothing new. It is the way most farming has been done throughout human history.
Ecological farming resists insect damage by avoiding large mono crops and preserving ecosystem diversity. Ecological farming restores soil nutrients with natural composting systems, avoids soil loss from wind and water erosion, and avoids pesticides and chemical fertilizers.
Part of the problem with rapid population growth, is keepers have to boost hive numbers to meet demand. The amount of undeveloped land with good bee forage just isn't enough to sustain the masses. By restoring bee populations and healthier bees, ecological agriculture improves pollination, which in turn improves crop yields. Ecological farming takes advantage of the natural ecosystem services, water filtration, pollination, oxygen production, and disease and pest control.
Build a Hive
Why not help solve the pollinator crisis with a honeybee hive of your own and produce honey at home? There are several websites for different levels of commitment. The Brushy Mountain Bee Farm sells starter kits and the Bees Brothers have put together a great tutorial, but there are hundreds of resources online depending on your level of commitment. Unfortunately, this is one of those issues that’s going to require action. Because for the first time ever, honeybee species have been listed under the Endangered Species Act.
Flowers Bees Will Love You For
Agastache (anise hyssop)
Asclepias (butterfly weed)
Echinacea purpurea (purple coneflower)
Monarda (bee balm)
Rudbeckia (black-eyed Susan)
Ceanothus (Ray Hartman)
Buddleja davidii (butterfly bush)
Lavendula augustifolia (lavender)
Heliotropium (common heliotrope)
Digitalis purpurea (foxglove)
Make a pledge to help the bees by visiting this site at Burt's Bees.