If you are not aware, our bee population has been declining at an alarming rate. Honeybees are dying at a rate of 30% per year. Experts have estimated that pollinating bees account for 50-80% of the global food. One-third of the fruits and vegetables in the United States would not survive without bees. Some other fruits and vegetables would survive but would not prosper as well. Bees also pollinate nuts, produce honey, make beeswax and pollinate the feed for our cattle. It is a very scary realization that the demise of bees will have a spiraling effect on human survival. This year the White House estimated that honeybees provide $15 billion in value to U.S. agriculture and bumblebees provide $9 billion in value to the U.S. agriculture.
It still amazes me how things have changed; those little bees that would make me scream are becoming a passion of mine. Our yard is full of honeybees and bumblebees. I now provide them with daily water, let them fly all around us at the pool, watch them with my son when they are moving from flower to flower and next year we are going to become beekeepers.
He powerfully summarized that ‘After the death of bees, mankind would not survive for more than four years due to the lack of pollination.’
Why Bees are Dying: Knowing the Causes
Bee population around the world is facing a decline. Bees leave their colonies and do not return. The disappearance of a significant number of bees causes the colonies to collapse, which has become the most common complaint of beekeepers across the United States and Europe. This problem is now known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).
Annual hive losses are roughly 30% reported by beekeepers in the US and Europe over the last ten years, an amount considerably greater than average. In the winter of 2012 to 2013, U.S. beekeepers incurred losses of up to 50% as honeybees journeyed towards the country’s largest pollinator event: the fertilizing of California’s almond trees.
Harvard University discovered neonicotinoids, the most commonly used insecticides, are the direct cause of CCD. The Harvard study does not stand in isolation. The US Department of Agriculture and the University of Maryland have firmly supported this premise. Biologist have found approximately 150 types of chemicals in bee pollen, from chemical companies such as Monsanto, BASF, Bayer, Dow, DuPont and Syngenta. Contrary to the claim from chemical companies who state that insecticide, pesticides and herbicides are not a threat because the chemicals are meant to biodegrade, and they contain sub-lethal doses. CropLife America’s Senior Director of Regulatory Policy, Ray McAllister stated, pesticides and insecticides need to be used carefully and in limited quantities. While their dosage should be enough to protect the plant from pests and insects, they should not exceed limits that cause the dose to become toxic. But, the combination and compounded accumulation of chemicals have caused lethal effects on many species including bees. It has also been discovered that high levels of neonicotinoids continue to exist during the planting of crops. The problem is aggravated firstly due to bees carrying the contaminated pollen back to their hives, and, secondly, as they fall prey to components of the pesticide which are present in soils where the insecticide is yet to be sprayed. Bees also need water to survive, after it rains they will drink this toxic water from puddles in fields and lawns. These reasons go to show that the problem is evolving rapidly as new dynamics continues to emerge. Suburban households competing for the greenest lawn on the block are treating their soil with chemicals that is killing bees, and slowly poisoning their pets and children and these chemicals eventually make their way to water supplies. I am guilty of using many of these products in the past. Recent scientific research has revealed some links between lawn chemicals and an increase of canine lymphoma and bladder cancer.
We could blame the farmers for using too many pesticides on the produce we buy and eat. But, we must first look to ourselves. The farmers are giving the consumers what they want and will purchase. In addition, it has also been determined that homeowners use up to ten times more chemicals on their lawns than farmers use on their crops. It is unfortunate that homeowners are unknowingly contaminating their own well water, lakes and ponds all for the sake of the greenest grass. We must all work together as a country and a world.
Previously, neonicotinoids and other toxic agricultural pesticides found in bee colonies were not solely being blamed for the decline in the bee populations. Investigators also blamed CCD on a combination of parasites, varroa mites, fungi, lack of biological diversity, nutrition deficit, air pollution, global heating, cellular or electromagnetic radiation. Surprisingly, cellular phones can dissuade bees. Honeybees communicate through a peculiar sound, and when they are near to cellphone sources, the sound of the bees changes. Study shows that long-term exposure to electrical sources like cellphones can break up the colony and bees die thereafter.
What Can be Done to Reduce Bees’ Deaths
Scientists are currently amalgamating their efforts to figure out what indeed is causing bee populations to decline at such a rapid pace. While pesticides, herbicides and insecticides such as neonicotinoids are to blame, scientists are also placing the blame on a host of other reasons including human behavior. To alleviate the problem, we, humans, should alter our attitude towards bees. Apart from embracing the role of bees in the ecosystem, it is also best to put these ideas into actions such as:
- Planting bee-attracting flowers.
- Place a ban on neonicotinoids.
- Replace household use of pesticides, herbicides and insecticides with natural alternatives.
- Buy organic food to help farmers realize we will support their option to not use toxic pesticides.
- Become a beekeeper.
- Provide bees with drinking water.
The United Kingdom is taking a stand and has created a national action plan to save bee populations as a European study revealed that the United Kingdom was suffering the worst rates of honeybee colony deaths in Europe.
Impact of the Decline in Population of Bees
The heaviest impact of declining bee populations shall be felt by the agricultural sector of various economies. For example, within the United States, the production of almonds shall face a sharp hit. Almond is the United States’ largest agricultural export which has a noticeable presence in California, where almond orchards cover 800,000 acres. These orchards require 1.6 million domesticated bee colonies to pollinate trees. This task is becoming increasingly difficult in light of declining bee populations due to CCD.
As per the U.S. Department of State, honeybees pollinate 80% of all flowering crops, and one-third is used for food. Losing bees will place a serious threat upon the dietary staples but also upon the beef and dairy industry due to a lack of alfalfa available for feed. In total approximately $24 billion to U.S. agriculture will be lost if all the bees die, but this estimate does not take into consideration the cascading effect it will have on cattle, milk and human health.
To end, one must understand that it is not too late to make an effort to save the bee population; however, delayed or lax action prolonged over a considerable timeframe shall prove irreversible effects. Changes can be made to improve the living standards of bees while we simultaneously maintain the quality of ours.
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