Bees pollinate a significant majority of the world’s food. One of every three bites of our food we eat is pollinated by bees and these vital pollinators are in serious trouble. In America alone, honey bees pollinate nearly 95 fruits and nuts, including almonds, cranberries and apples. In year 2000, the total value of crops dependent upon bee pollination was estimated to exceed $15 billion.
The War on Bees
Worldwide, honey bees yield about $200 billion of pollination services. Bees are playing a critical role in maintaining natural plant communities and ensuring production of seeds and most flowers. Pollination is needed for plants to reproduce and so many plants depend on bees or other insects as pollinators. Bees and other pollinators are reaching a tipping point with beekeepers reporting annual losses of a third or more in recent years. It was reported that there were a total of 2.44 million honey-producing hives in the United States in 2008, down from 4.5 million in 1980 and 5.9 million in 1947.
Unfortunately it seems like our civilization has declared war on honey bees. Overdevelopment, habitat destruction, mites and diminishing plant diversity have all negatively impacted our native bee population. But neonicotinoid pesticide is probably the biggest factor in killing bees.
The studies in the United States and Europe have shown that extremely low doses of neonicotinoid – both alone and in combination with other pesticides – can cause impaired communication, disorientation, difficulty to return to hive, decreased longevity, suppressed immunity and disruption of brood cycles in honeybees, making them less productivity in gathering food. Some pesticides are killing bees directly when bees are on flowers. Neonicotinoid pesticides have been used for 20 years to control a variety of pests. As a result of a campaign by Friends of the Earth, Home Depot and other stores have agreed to stop selling these poisons.
Colony collapse disorder is the phenomenon that occurs when the majority of worker bees in a colony disappear. While this is not an entirely new happening, recent years have seen a dramatic rise in the occurrence. In the six years leading up to 2013, more than 10 million beehives were lost.
Save the Bees
Bees need our help! Bee communities, both wild and managed, have been declining over the last half century as pesticide use in agricultural and urban areas increases. Changes in land use have resulted in patchy distribution of food and nesting resources. This has many growers concerned about how they will continue to be able to pollinate their crops. Now more than ever, it is critical to consider practices that will benefit pollinators by providing habitats free of pesticides, with ample potential nesting resources.
After five years of review, California officials have not only failed to complete an evaluation of neonicotinoid pesticides (neonics), they continue to allow more and more of the bee-harming chemicals on the market. The International Body of Scientists released a comprehensive global assessment of the harm that pesticides do to bees. A new report shows that these very same pesticides are found in many backyard plants at levels of concern.
Pesticides touch every aspect of our lives. Pesticides cause severe abnormalities in children like autism, diabetes and cancer; a startling number of children’s diseases and disorders are on the rise; many allergies people did not suffer when natural fertilizers were used. Children are sicker today than they ever were a generation ago. Science leaves little room for doubt. Children exposed to pesticides in utero or during other critical periods may have lower IQs, birth defects, development delays and face higher risk of autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and cancer.
During the spring of 2015, President Obama unveiled the first national strategy for improving the health of bees and other pollinators. The plan calls for restoring 7 million acres of bee habitat. The administration is also proposing $82.5 million for honeybee research.
Neonics are the most heavily used class of insecticides in the United States. People all over the world are seeking healthier alternatives in their own lives and taking collective action to create real change in our food and farming system.
What You Can Do
You, too, can help. Take one of these actions:
- Write a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency demanding that they pull these bee killing pesticides from the U.S. market. Our planet and food supplies depend on it.
- Cut down or quit using strong, synthetic fertilizers and sprays on your plants and garden.
- Volunteer for projects to restore natural habitats. This is a great way to help native bees that are part of our ecosystem.
- Buy local honey because this will support your local beekeeper and also help the native bees.
- Urge Congress to protect our bee pollinators.
- Attend the next meeting of Sustainable Rossmoor (Tuesday, Feb. 2, at 7 p.m. in the Vista Room at Hillside) when pesticides and how to reduce dependency on them will be discussed.
Source of information from PAN/Pesticide Action Network.
This article first appeared in the January 20, 2016 issue of the Rossmoor News, author Klaudia Sikora.