This year, millions of bees have dropped dead. At first glance, you may shrug this off as no big deal… but it so is. Even if you’d never be caught dead in a shirt that reads, “Save the whales,” you should still care about bees. Because most of the stuff you eat? Without bees, you can’t have it. The bee situation is serious, and Megan and I promise: this is not the thing to be apathetic about.
Why are bees so important to our food? Bees are known in the scientific community as an “indicator species”. This means that the health of bees can be used to determine the health of an ecosystem. If the bees are not lookin’ good, the ecosystem they’re a part of will not be looking good either. And humans are part of that ecosystem in more ways than one.
To break down this problem, think of it like this: Bees are responsible for making honey, sure, but they also have another (arguably more important) job–pollination. To be more precise, bees are responsible for pollenating an absurd amount crops. Somewhere in the ball park of 3/4 of the top crops in the WORLD! Less bees = less crop production = less food = problem for humanity (mostly in the starvation and economy spectrums).
They’re responsible for pollinating things like: almonds, apricots, cherries, pears, apples, squash, cucumbers, pumpkins, okra, kiwi, onions, cashews, celery, mustard, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussel sprouts, turnip, canola, various beans and peas, chili/red/green/bell peppers, papaya, watermelon, tangerine, coconut, coffee, cola, lime, carrot, cotton, sunflower, raspberry, black berry, blue berry, strawberries, grapes, eggplant, cocoa (no chocolate!), vanilla, tomatoes, and about a thousand others… I think you get the point. So without bees, all of this crop will be more expensive and harder to find.
And about this seriously underestimated honey! It can be used as a natural replacement for sugar in things like tea and coffee, or even in things like cookies (and it’s 50% sweeter too!). Honey has a shelf life that’s unmatched and has medicinal properties that aid in the healing of wounds, burns, and ulcers. It increases antioxidant compounds, lowers LDL, raises HDL cholesterol, causes lower rises in blood sugar than the ol’ table sugar, and my personal favorite: if you eat local honey, it helps build immunities to common allergens found in the geographical area it was created in. Honey = the bee’s knees!
What’s happening to the bees?
The dwindling bee population is due to Colony Collapse Disorder, and there are many factors contributing to the collapse, including varroa mites, malnutrition due to the widespread planting of commodity crops like corn and soy, and malnutrition due to over-supplementing bees’ diets with things that aren’t good for them.
It’s also not a new problem. I first heard about bees Colony Collapse Disorder in 2007, when we went to NCORE. There, we heard a speech from one of Megan’s favorite authors, Sherman Alexie, who read a poem he’d written on the plane: In the Matter of Human v. Bee (which now appears in his book of poetry Face). It’s been going on for years, but it’s only getting worse.
One source of CCD that is causing bees to die in mass is the pesticides used to keep insects off of our corn crops (which are a whole other serious problem). This class of pesticides are called Neonicotinoid, and they are very similar to nicotine. The pesticides spread via “corn dust” which is exhausted from harvested corn as it’s moved. This dust contains pesticides that the bees then consume during regular nectar gathering, and the bees ultimately die because of it.
As I said, other things are theorized to contribute to CCD. However, these pesticides seem to me to be the most concerning and also the most solvable. There has been legislation recently brought up around the world, most notably the European Union, which aims to protect bees by banning pesticides linked to bee deaths. Unfortunately, this legislation hasn’t really reached the states yet.
Brief news from this year regarding the development of Neonicotinoid v. Bees:
January 2013 – European Union Food Safety Authority states that neonicotinoids pose an unacceptably high risk to bees.
March 2013 – American Bird Conservancy publishes a review of 200 studies on neonicotinoids including industry research obtained through the US Freedom of Information Act, calling for a ban on neonicotinoid use as seed treatments because of their toxicity to birds, aquatic invertebrates, and other wildlife.
March 2013 – US EPA is sued by a coalition of beekeepers, as well as conservation and sustainable agriculture advocates who accused the agency of performing inadequate toxicity evaluations and for allowing registration of the pesticides to stand on insufficient industry studies.
April 2013 – European Union passes a two-year ban on neonicotinoid insecticides! Yay!
So what can we do?
- Push for legislation banning pesticides linked to honey bees. Tell Congress to support the bill to save the bees.
- Don’t use neonicotinoids in your garden.
- Donate to or get involved with The Xerces Society. (They also have a lot of great information, such as how to create natural pollinator habitats.
- Or, if you’re really passionate, become a bee keeper and contribute to growing their numbers. (We’re considering doing this next year, but our yard might be too small. We also need to check to make sure our kids and neighbors don’t have allergies.)
This issue is complicated and this post is meant to be an introduction. Want to know more? Check out these sources:
- Conserving our bees” by Robert Paxton at the International Bee Research Association. (IBRA)
- Bumblebees die in masses in Oregon after pesticide spraying.
- Millions of honeybees found dead in Canada
- Neonicotinoid Pesticides
- List of Crop plants pollinated by bees
- Are Agriculture’s Most Popular Insecticides Killing Our Bees? – NPR
- Time: A World Without Honey Bees
What are you going to do to save the bees?
Let’s Get Serious is a blog series in which we share our opinions and put ourselves out there. We get that not everyone thinks the same way; the same things don’t work for everyone. These are our opinions. They don’t have to be your opinions. We’d like to hear about what you think, but please don’t be mean to us. Let’s respect each other and talk about it!