OK, so let me state right off the bat that the title to this blog is a little over zealous. The extinction of bees altogether would not eliminate our entire food supply. HOWEVER, according to entomologist Dennis vanEngelstorp of the University of Maryland, “If we want to grow fruits and nuts and berries, this (bee decline) is important. One in every three bites [of food consumed in the U.S.] is directly or indirectly pollinated by bees.” I don’t know about you, but I like my fruit and nuts!
I was reminded of the bee decline, specifically honey bees, as I visited my mom to celebrate Mother’s Day this past week. I hadn’t seen her in about a year. By sheer happenstance an uncle and aunt of mine (her brother and sister) stopped by for a quick chat. It was great to catch up. As we stood outside beneath the warm spring sun and asked each other “what’cha been doin” questions, I felt a little something on my neck. A split second later, WHAMO!, a bee stung me! Son-of-a… It had been quite a few years since I was stung by a bee, and let me tell ya, it still doesn’t feel good.
My immediate reaction was to find the little sucker and smash his wings through his body; making a fuzzy flat roof for some ants who were willing to carry the pelt off for an ant hill topper. After I spun my head around a few times trying to find that little pain shooter, I was reminded of just how valuable bees are to us and how their decline is a real concern.
Recently released honeybee colony loses showed nearly one in three commercial honeybee colonies in the U.S. died or disappeared last winter. This is an unsustainable decline; a decline rate that has been seen the past seven years, and that threatens the nation’s food supply. Why this is happening is not all known, but some of the problem can be linked to our own health.
Colony collapse disorder (CCD) is a general term for explaining the malady of honeybees leaving their hives and vanishing. Whatever causes this is unknown, but it does contribute to a percentage of the honeybee decline, as do weather conditions such as drought. The number one reason according to many researchers is the presence of a class if pesticides called neonicotinoids.
Neonicotinoids were rushed to the market in the 1990’s with very little studies behind them (surprise, surprise). There’s a lot on our “for human consumption or use” shelves that is supported by very little research. It should actually come to no one’s surprise that a toxic substance, even in sub-lethal doses, is killing honeybees. There are many chemicals approved to be used on our foods – pesticides included – that won’t kill us in a single serving (or even multiple servings), but no doubt take a toll on our immunity, as in NO dose are they good for us. Another blog post, hell, a daily blog could be written on how pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, and other toxins are affecting our food supply and our health NEGETIVELY. But, I’ll stick primarily to the bees for the most part today.
The other major contributor to the death of the honeybee is Varroa destructor mite. Apparently, this little mite, first detected in the U.S. in 1987, basically kills the honeybee by sucking out it’s blood! There blood is called hemolyph, but we’re not scientists here so I’ll call it blood for affect. ;) It’s possible that this mite is such a bad-ass that he can kill a perfectly healthy honeybee by himself. Many researchers however, believe that the pesticides – of which on average 6 different pesticides are found in a bee hive – are responsible for weakening the bees immunity to a degree in which they become more susceptible to the mite’s blood-sucking ways. Is there a lesson in all this to be learned by us?
The research on how bees contribute to our food supply is well known in some scientific and foodie communities, but probably either unknown or swept under the rug by the average folk. So first, remember to respect your bees. Second, let the idea of pesticides (and other toxins) affecting our health negatively soak in. The bees may be dying off to a degree from exposure to pesticides, and we…may be catching colds, struggling with allergies, and living with ill-health due to our exposure to toxins like pesticides, smog, and daily household cleaning agents.