“ Buzz Kill ”

The other day, while I was rescuing a bee from a swimming pool, I got to thinking about bees and their relationship to agriculture; more importantly, why the world’s bee population is in rapid decline.

The honey production process is astounding.  A collection of bees; an entire hive attending to approximately 250 million flowers, flies 50,000 miles to produce a pound of honey.  An average worker bee makes only about 1-2 teaspoons of honey in its lifetime.  That is a bee’s life.

Secondary to honey production, and even more important, is pollination.  Almost 100 crops, including apples, citrus, tomatoes, sunflowers, almonds, soy, strawberries, celery and cantaloupe rely on pollination by bees.  The simple truth is that seventy out of the top 100 human food crops are pollinated by bees!  In nature, bees and plants have a symbiotic relationship.  The flower needs the bee to pollinate it, and the bee needs the pollen from the flower to provide protein and energy for itself and its offspring.  Without these processes, ecosystems fall apart.  Saving bees should be a top priority!

The startling loss of bees on the planet is a cold hard fact—they’re disappearing.  Entire populations of bees have vanished from mid-air—they simply, just disappear.  There is now growing scientific evidence that the use of neonicotinoids is the cause.  Neonicotinoids are a relatively, new class of neuro-active insecticides and the most widely used in the world.  They are systemic pesticides, taken up by the plant and transported to the leaves, flowers, roots and stems, as well as the pollen and nectar.  Neonics are causing bees to have lower activity levels and fewer offspring.  In laboratory experiments, researchers have discovered that the effect, depending on the amount of exposure, can be either lethal or sub-lethal to the bees.  The sub-lethal effects include impaired learning behavior, short and long term memory loss, reduced fertility and reproduction, and altered foraging behavior and motor activity.  How ironic that seeds that are supposed to give life, and in turn, support species that play an incredibly significant role in our survival on this planet are treated with chemicals that are killing those very species!  This is short term gain for crop production. For the long term, it is devastation of our natural resources!

Biologists have found hundreds of dangerous pesticides in bee pollen, yet alarmingly, the large chemical companies take zero responsibility and deny their role in the unfolding of this catastrophe.  To make matters worse, there appears to be no interest in the regulation of this chemical use.   It appears that the only concern is that the sale of these toxic chemicals to farmers is highly lucrative, not that they are safe!  Furthermore, as agribusiness continues to convert crops into monocultures, i.e., corn into ethanol and sorghum into feed crops, this kind of atrocious business policy will continue.  Our agriculture industry can’t afford to lose bees!

When will we be called to act? Before it’s too late? A hard question is: If bees were wiped out and their pollination stops, could we lose these crops from our markets and our diets forever?  How will we sustain our food supply if we lose these vitally important pollinators? What are the solutions?  Unfortunately, much damage has already been done, but what we can do at this point, is choose to be stewards rather than consumers of nature.  Hopefully, growing awareness, taking a stand on pesticide use, lobbying against mono-crops, and instilling these values into future generations, will awaken a deep respect for nature and a reverence for all it does to support life.   If this does not happen, sadly, there does not appear to be any other solution “waiting in the wings.”