Honeybees (wild and domestic) account for 80% of all pollination around the globe. Whilst grains are primarily pollinated by the wind, fruits, nuts, and vegetables are pollinated by bees. Seventy out of the top one hundred human food crops are pollinated by bees. That constitutes 90% of the world’s nourishment and translates into one of every three bites of food you eat [i]. These immense statistics are matched by an immense economic impact. Managed honeybees are “the most economically important pollinator, contributing $19 billion annually to the U.S. economy.”[ii]
The phenomenon currently decimating bee populations is known as colony collapse disorder (CCD), first reported by a Pennsylvanian commercial bee farmer in the fall of 2006. Simply put, the majority of worker bees leave their colony to pollinate and never return. This leaves the colony with a small number of remaining nurse bees to take care of the queen and immature bees[iii]. The EPA and USDA have not discovered the cause behind CCD, but some studies showed that pesticide poisoning disoriented bees, so it seems possible that there could be a link between the two issues[iv]. Since CCD was recognized in 2006, commercial beekeepers in the U.S. have reported average annual losses of 29 to 45 percent per year, “more than double what is considered normal.”[v] Additionally, there has been a 90% decline of working bee colonies per hectare, a vital metric for crop health.[vi]
This population decline is extremely worrisome, as although pollination biologists “do not foresee imminent food system collapse without honeybees, we do know that agriculture would quickly become unrecognizable — and much more limited.”[vii] Furthermore, it puts more strain on an already overtaxed agriculture and food supply system, specifically on farmers. “For example, the cost of almond pollination has nearly tripled since colonies began collapsing in 2004, costing that industry over $83 million per year.”[viii]
CCD is not the only cause of this population decrease, although it may be linked to the other factors, these being: “Pesticides, habitat destruction, drought, nutrition deficit, air pollution, climate change, and pathogen loads.”[ix] The two most devastating factors are pesticide exposure and habitat loss.
Studies completed over the past several years have discovered that neonicotinoid pesticides are the “key catalysts behind this disturbing phenomenon, both because of their direct toxicity to bees and their indirect cascading effects.”[x] Furthermore, as stated by University of California apiculturist, Eric Mussen, biologists have identified a lethal “pesticide cocktail” in bee pollen, formed by 150 different chemical residues. These bees can be gravely poisoned whilst simply flying through “pesticide-contaminated planted dust in a recently planted corn field,” however, more ordinarily they consume contaminated pollen, nectar, and water at sublethal levels, which over time induces chronic poisoning and severe sickness. This sickness can lead to: “Compromised immune response, shortened adult life cycle, impaired memory and learning, reduced social communication (reduces foraging efficacy), disorientation, delayed larval development, disrupted brood cycle, and “Gut” microbe disruption leading to malnutrition.”[xi]
In the last four years, the chemical industry has spent $11.2 million on public relations in an attempt to divert blame from, fighting to prevent any change in pesticide policy. Chemical companies such as Bayer, Syngeta, BASF, Dow, DuPont, and Monsanto claim not to recognize the harm they are causing, even sponsoring studies that have been proven biased, as the business has been and continued to be extremely lucrative (Schwartz).
Honeybees population decrease can also be attributed to the destruction of their habitats, “as industrial agribusiness converts grasslands and forest into mono-culture farms, which are then contaminated with pesticides,” (Schwartz). This issue is far more complex, as it will require gradually adapting our currently broken agriculture system to see improvement.
The problem is exacerbated because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency continues to permit the use of neonicotinoid pesticides, despite unbiased studies proving the damage being done to bees by these chemicals. Additionally, the “U.S. Department of Agriculture has filed a report warning about the dangers of the bee colony collapse due to the use of these pesticides and insecticides, still no change has been made. The U.S. government, specifically the EPA needs to ban the use of neonicotinoid pesticides, as well as preserving vital wild habitats and gradually restoring healthy agriculture[xii].
There are some things that you can do to help the bees, in addition to voting for officials who are likely to back environmental protection and management legislation. When planting your own garden, avoid using pesticides, fungicides, or herbicides and try to plant native and bee friendly plants. Furthermore, if you purchase plants make sure they have not been pre-treated with neonic pesticides[xiii]. Next, avoid planting laws (or at least make them smaller) as they do not include plants that are beneficial to bees and attempt to limit weeding as they are a nutrient source for bees, especially dandelions and clover[xiv]. Bees get most of their nectar from trees, so planting and taking care of trees in your garden provides a massive benefit for them. You can also help the bees by creating a bee bath using a small water container on a balcony so that they have something to drink in the summer heat. If you do so, make sure to put some stones and floating cork on the water so the bees don’t drown. Finally, buy local and raw honey from nearby beekeepers if at all possible[xv].
[i] “Save the Bees – Greenpeace USA,” accessed June 15, 2020, https://www.greenpeace.org/usa/sustainable-agriculture/save-the-bees/.
[ii] “Bees in Crisis | Pesticide Action Network,” accessed June 15, 2020, https://www.panna.org/food-farming-derailed/bees-crisis.
[iii] “Colony Collapse Disorder | Biology | Britannica,” accessed June 15, 2020, https://www.britannica.com/science/colony-collapse-disorder.
[iv] OCSPP US EPA, “Colony Collapse Disorder,” Overviews and Factsheets, US EPA, August 29, 2013, https://www.epa.gov/pollinator-protection/colony-collapse-disorder.
[v] “Bees in Crisis | Pesticide Action Network.”
[vi] “Save the Bees – Greenpeace USA.”
[vii] “Bees in Crisis | Pesticide Action Network.”
[viii] “Bees in Crisis | Pesticide Action Network.”
[ix] “Save the Bees – Greenpeace USA.”
[x] “Bees in Crisis | Pesticide Action Network.”
[xi] “Bees in Crisis | Pesticide Action Network.”
[xii] “Save the Bees – Greenpeace USA.”
[xiii] “10 Ways You Can Help Save the Bees,” New York Bee Sanctuary, accessed June 15, 2020, http://www.newyorkbeesanctuary.org/blog/2016/3/3/10-ways-you-can-help-save-the-bees.
[xiv] “How to Save the Bees – Easy Ways to Help the Bees Today,” The Honeybee Conservancy (blog), accessed June 15, 2020, https://thehoneybeeconservancy.org/how-to-save-the-bees/.
[xv] “Saving the Bees Is Good for Everyone!,” Heifer International, accessed June 15, 2020, https://www.heifer.org/bees/index.html.