You’ve probably heard that the world’s honey bee population is dying off. Maybe it shocked you, maybe it didn’t concern you too much at the time. Well here is a shocking statistic that should concern all of us:
Without honey bees, certain crops would not get pollinated, and 237 out of 453 food items currently on grocery store shelves would simply vanish.
No that’s really not an exaggeration. Without honey bees, 1/3 of the world’s food would no longer be grown. We wouldn’t have a majority of vegetables and fruits, nuts, alfalfa (which cows rely on), and guar bean (this is used in plethora of products).
But it doesn’t just stop at food. Honey bees pollinate the oilseeds, like cotton seeds, sunflower seeds, and coconut. If these go away, more than half of the world’s supply of fat and oil goes away, too. On top of this, the lack of cotton plants would eliminate 35% of the world’s clothing as well as many household products.
All told, honey bees contribute more than $15 billion to U.S. crop production alone. Any more loss of honey bee colonies would really sting.
About a decade ago, beekeepers in the United States reported a “mysterious affliction” that caused widespread die-offs of their colonies. This affliction has been called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) and describes a scenario where adult worker bees completely disappear. The developing bees remain, the queen bee remains, but all of the worker bees suddenly (poof) vanish without a trace.
Experts now agree that CCD was likely caused by a combination of biological and environmental factors, though none have been confirmed or proven 100% at this time. CCD is no longer causing large-scale colony die off in North America, but beekeepers from around the country are still reporting troubling losses, as high as 45% of the colony per year.
There has been passionate debate raging for years now about the effects of pesticides on human health, and now that debate has buzzed on over to the world of honey bees. Neonicotinoids are a class of insecticides that affect an insect’s nervous system, and many fingers are pointing to them as a key culprit in the demise of the honey bee. While trying to keep “bad bugs” from infesting crops, perhaps these insecticides are having a negative affect on the “good bugs” such as the much-needed pollinators like honey bees.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is currently reviewing data and potential risks from insecticides like neonicotinoids and imidacloprids, a class of insecticide that has been shown to have negative effects when dosed at larger concentrations.
One bit of data that has been uncovered is that when bees have access to optimal nutrition, they stand a much better chance of dealing with disease and pesticides. The problem is, intensive farming and urbanization have reduced the amount of available forage that bees need to survive and thrive. (But you can help and we’ll show you how in a minute!)
As if pesticides weren’t enough of a problem, there is a parasitic mite called Varroa destructor. To give you an idea of how destructive this little mite is, it has been nicknamed “the vampire of the bee world” (sweet dreams). While sucking the blood from adult and developing bees, the vampire mite transmits pathogens, while at the same time suppresses the bees’ immune response.
But wait, it gets worse. Many beekeepers are forced to use miticides to control this problem, but many of these miticides have been shown to have negative effects on bees. Kind of a “damned if you do – damned if you don’t” situation.
There is light at the end of this rather dark tunnel, and that is that there are things we can all do to help the honey bees. Here are some ways you can help the world’s most important pollinators:
By adding your name to the petition, you can urge the USDA and EPA to ban neonicotinoids, the pesticide we mentioned at the beginning of this article that is toxic to honey bees and believed to play a big role in Colony Collapse Disorder. The EU has already enacted a ban on these pesticides. Will the U.S. be next?
Each spring, many North Americans spray their lawns to keep the dandelions and clover from growing. But these two plants are some of the bees’ favorite foods and provide excellent nourishment for them. So what if your lawn isn’t as pristine as your neighbours’? You can feel good about saving the bees and helping your neighbours eat their favorite foods!
Why stop at dandelions and clover? Why not give the honey bees a buffet of flowers in your yard. Bees love plants like bee balm, asters, lavender, mint, marigolds, poppies and sunflowers. Not only will you be helping the bees, but your house will look wonderful. Just be sure to do a bit of research or ask for help at your local lawn and garden store to ensure you plant native species of flowers.
Just because your local garden store sells them doesn’t mean you should buy them and use them on your property or in your garden. These chemicals are not only toxic to bees but also to your family and pets. Better to use organic alternatives.
And speaking of organic, it is better to purchase organic products like produce and organically-grown cotton that don’t use harmful chemicals that can hurt the honey bees.
Local bee keepers tend to be more concerned about the health of their bees than the big honey companies. Support your local beekeepers by buying their honey products.
If everyone did these 5 things, we could save the world’s honey bees and never have to live without any of our favourite foods. That’s a deliciously sweet win/win.
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