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Why are bees dropping like flies?
by Alma Hernadez, published on Thursday, April 14, 2011 - 16:04
I watched "Real Time with Bill Maher" a few weeks ago and discovered that bees are vanishing at an alarming rate from a condition known as Colony Collapse Disorder. As a journalism major, I like to think I keep up with the news (at least more than the average student), so I was embarrassed and a bit shocked to be hearing this information for the first time. The actress Ellen Page was a guest on the show to talk about a documentary, titled "Vanishing of the Bees," which she narrates. It's currently screening across the country with the closest one to the Valley in San Antonio.
So, let's talk about the vanishing of the bees. The collapse of honeybee colonies is now a global phenomenon according to a report published in March of this year by scientists working for the United Nations. It is estimated that in the United States the number of honeybee colonies has been cut in half in the last 40 years. They are at their lowest numbers since 1950.
The sharp decline started in 2006 with 31 percent of colonies collapsing. Then 2007 saw a collapse increase to 32 percent, another increase in losses at 36 percent in 2008 and nearly 29 percent in 2009 according to scientists who surveyed commercial beekeepers and brokers.
Maybe you're wondering why you should care or how this will personally affect you.
More than 100 agricultural crops in the United States are pollinated by bees, including 90 percent of the world's commercial plants, from fruits and vegetables to coffee and cotton. About one-third of the human diet comes from flowering crops, and honeybees are responsible for pollinating about 80 percent of these. According to Dennis Van Engelsdorp of Penn State University's College of Agricultural Sciences, "One in every three bites of food you eat comes from a plant, or depends on a plant, that was pollinated by an insect, most likely a bee."
Honey bees in the United States produce about $150 million in honey every year and more than $15 billion a year in U.S. crops are pollinated by bees.
Now that we know what why bees are so important, we must look at the causes of Colony Collapse Disorder. The problem is we don't know exactly why the bees are dying.
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council there are a number of factors at work.
Pesticides - Many pesticides banned in other countries because they harm bees are still available in the United States. Last December an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) internal memo was leaked which confirms that the very agency charged with protecting the environment is ignoring the warnings of its own scientists about clothianidin, a pesticide made by Bayer. The very first paragraph on Page 2 of the 70-page memo states, "Clothianidin's major risk concern is to non-target insects (that is, honey bees). Clothianidin is a neonicotinoid insecticide that is both persistent and systemic. Acute toxicity studies to honey bees show that clothianidin is highly toxic on both a contact and an oral basis. Although EFED does not conduct RQ-based risk assessments on non-target insects, information from standard tests and field studies, as well as incident reports involving other neonicotinoids insecticides (e.g., imidacloprid) suggest the potential for long-term toxic risk to honey bees and other beneficial insects."
Global warming - This has caused flowers to bloom earlier or later than usual. When bees come out of hibernation they discover the flowers that provide their food have already bloomed.
Parasites - Such as mite infestations. These tiny bugs feast on live bee larvae or infest the trachea of adults bringing death to colonies that are not treated.
Habitat loss - This is brought about by development, or farmers growing crops without leaving habitat for wildlife.
This issue may seem huge, out of the hands of you and I. It is a big issue, our food supply hinges on bees pollinating crops. Luckily there are things the average person can do to make a difference. Talking will bring more awareness about the situation. Writing your senators and representatives in Congress on the state and federal levels, asking them to support funding for honeybee research. Asking the EPA to ban Bayer's clothianidin. Buying pesticide-free foods.