Take a drive up the I-5 in California and you will notice some vast differences than the years before. The once green flourishing agricultural valleys have become barren fields filled with tumble weeds aplenty. While not all of what is grown in the central valley is almonds, a vast majority is. In fact almonds are California’s largest crop, 80% of the almonds the world eats comes from those crops,(source). Why is it that those previously green trees are now dry and barren? In part due to the death of the honey bee population from something called Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD. Almonds rely solely on honey bees to pollinate, meaning if there are no bees the trees die.
Do you know what else relies on honey bees to pollinate? 30% of the worlds crops, most of which are fruits and vegetables! (source). Blueberries, applies, zucchini, celery, kale, and more. Without the honey bees much of our food chain will die off. An unfortunate and disheartening thought.
Last summer 43% of American bee colonies died and this number has been growing since CCD was discovered in 2006 (source).
What is causing the bees to die?
While there is no official decision as to what is the cause of the bee’s deaths the Rodale Institute, among others, sum it up pretty well. For one, there are multiple factors that are all compounding. Most plausibly, these factors are all contributing to CCD in one way or another.
One is the parasitic mite which weakens the bee leaving room for other opportunistic infections to kill it. Even newly born bees now are found with these mites present on them. Something, that didn’t happen in the past.
Another issue is with bee's nutrition. Because areas of natural wildflower growth (a favorite food of bees) are being destroyed and planted with non-pollinating crops (think soy, wheat) the bees have less food, and can therefore starve. Commercial bee farms also often use GMO corn syrup to replace this pollen. If GMOs aren’t good for us I doubt a creature as small as a bee will think differently.
EMFs from cell phones and cell towers are a third factor. EMFs have shown to interfere significantly with bees navigation systems. So much so that bees never return back to the hive, lost in the wilderness to die. In 2012 the Journal of Entomology and Nematology published an article that states, “In one experiment, a mobile device was placed adjacent to bee hives for 10 min, for a short period of only 5 to 10 days. After a few days, the worker bees never returned home,” (source).
Lastly, and in my opinion most significantly are pesticides. CCD was first seen in 2006, and guess what happened in 2005? Two of the most widely used Neonicotinoids, a class of pesticide, were approved for use, (source). However, research on their full environmental impact was never done…unsurprisingly, (source). Since its start in 2005, Neonics have exploded in popularity making it now the most widely used class of insecticide ever.
This study, from Harvard, demonstrates the connection between Neonics and CCD. The researchers fed the test group low doses of Neonics, common to what the bees would come across during pollination. They state, “We found that the majority of bees in all neonicotinoid-treated colonies, regardless of whether they survived or not, had abandoned their hives during the course of winter. However, we observed a complete opposite phenomenon in the control colonies in which instead of abandonment, hives were re-populated quickly with new emerging bees,” Lu, (2014). They also found that 50% of the hives that consumed neonic died of CCD!
The European Commission along with several European countries have acknowledged Neonicotinoids to be the cause of honey bees deaths. After several studies the European Commission recommend a ban across the EU of three neonics, with four countries actually doing so. But with the deeps pockets of BiAg in the US no official cause has been decided. The CDC still stating, “No scientific cause for CCD has been proven,” (source). So we continue to spray produce and coat seeds in Neonics until the cows come home.
What to Do?
Just as significant as the cause is how are we to take care of the current honey bee population we do have? Do beekeeping practice changes need to be made for this fragile population? The Rodale Institute thinks so and has begun to answer this question. In 2012 they founded the Honeybee Conservency which, “promotes healthy beekeeping practices through education and outreach and includes classes in sustainable beekeeping practices, hive hosting on Rodale Institute’s organic farm and support for beginners through the network.”
Their key teaching points to help save the honey bees are:
- Avoiding the use of smoke to control the bees. Smoke saturates the sensitive scent receptors which makes it more difficult for the bee to find pollen and produce honey.
- Clean and Natural Comb
- No toxic chemicals including mitacides, antibiotics, etc to teat bee illnesses
- Preservation vs. production
As non-bee keepers what can we do?
- Source honey from local bee keepers or companies who practice the above techniques. Aside from my local beekeeper, I love Wedderspoon Organic for non-gmo and organic honey. If you’re wondering if your local bee keeper fits the bill read these 6 questions to ask before you buy.
- Plant wildflowers and flowering trees that bees love to feed on.
- Support organic agriculture.
- Spread awareness by sharing this article on social media, telling your friends...make it known, knowledge is power.
July is National Honey Month. My favorite honey company, Wedderspoon Organic is teaming up with the Rodale Institute to help spread awareness about the decline of the honey bees and what we can do about it. #beeaware in your social posts to share with you friends the plight on the honey bee. Also, stay tuned for my review later this week on Wedderspoon, I think it will fast become your source for Organic and GMO-free honey.
- Lu, Chensheng.(2014). Sub-lethal exposure to neonicotinoids impaired honey bees winterization before proceeding to colony collapse disorder. Bulletin of Insectology, 67 (1): 125-130, 2014 ISSN 1721-8861
- Pattazhy, Sainudeen. (2012). Electromagnetic radiation (EMR) clashes with honeybees. Journal of Entomology and Nematology.4(1), pp. 1-3, DOI: 10.5897/JEN11.014