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Honeybees are perhaps one of the least recognized workers in the agricultural industry. They contribute $15 billion in annual agriculture revenue to the U.S. economy alone, as a full one-third of the U.S. food supply depends on them pollinating crops.
Apple orchards, for instance, require one colony of bees per acre in order to be adequately pollinated. So, unless the mysterious disappearance of bees is reversed, major food shortages could result.
This is not a brand new issue.
For several years now, scientists have been struggling to determine why bee colonies across the world are disappearing—a phenomenon dubbed colony collapse disorder (CCD). In a series of reports and videos, PBS talks about the bee colony devastation and its impact on the food supply and U.S. agriculture.
For a great review, please watch the PBS episode, Silence of the Bees.
What’s Causing Colony Collapse Disorder?
A few different theories are currently circulating that may explain the bee die-offs:
Pesticides and insecticides—such as Imidacloprid and Clothianidin, which kills insects by attacking their nervous systems. These are known to get into pollen and nectar, and can damage beneficial insects such as bees. According to the EPA’s fact sheet on clothianidin:
“Clothianidin has the potential for toxic chronic exposure to honey bees, as well as other nontarget pollinators, through the translocation of clothianidin residues in nectar and pollen … In honey bees, the effects of this toxic chronic exposure may include lethal and/or sub-lethal effects in the larvae and reproductive effects on the queen.”
Unfortunately, the EPA approved these pesticides, known as neonicotinoids, on the basis that the amounts found in pollen and nectar are not enough to kill bees. However, the marketing of these pesticides coincided with the occurrence of large-scale bee deaths in many European countries and the United States, resulting in lawsuits against Bayer.
Meanwhile, France banned Imidacloprid for use on corn and sunflowers after reporting large losses of bees after exposure to it. They also rejected Bayer´s application for Clothianidin, and other countries, such as Italy, have banned certain neonicotinoids as well. Another possibility is the inadvertent transfer of built-in pesticides found in genetically engineered crops, which has now been shown to create ‘pesticide factories’ in the human gut.