Food Crisis Looms As Bees Die
Bees, the great pollinators enabling many crops to grow, play a vital role in making food for human beings. They pollinate 71 of the 100 crops which account for 90 percent of the food people eat, according to scientists, or one out of every three bites of food a person takes, far outworking other pollinators, such as hummingbirds and bats, in the human food supply chain.
In the United States, bees pollinate $15 billion worth of crops each year, according to researchers, who point out that some crops, such as blueberries and cherries, are 90-percent dependent on bees for pollination; one crop, almonds, depends entirely on bees for pollination.
If humans’ insect partners disappeared, the food on which people depend would disappear, too. How would people survive?
In fact, bees are disappearing. They are dying in increasingly large numbers, both in the wild and in the commercial operations of beekeepers.
Researchers calculate that more than 700 populations of bees in North America face the prospect of extinction in the coming years. Already officials at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have added one type, known as the common rusty-patch bumblebee, to its list of endangered species.
But it is the die-off of honey bees, in particular, which raises the most alarm, since they are the ones responsible for pollinating the vast majority of crops, not only blueberries, cherries, and almonds but also many others, such as cranberries, apples, melons, and broccoli.
In thousands of commercial operations across the United States, beekeepers report big declines in their colonies of honey bees, including a loss of one-third of their colonies between April of 2016 and April of 2017, following a loss of 40 percent during the previous year.
U.S. Government Must Protect Bees
Although diseases and parasites, particularly mites, are the most common killers of honey bees, especially in commercial operations, pesticides are fueling a large-scale die-off.
For years, scientists have published the results of studies showing the toxic effects of pesticides on bees of all types, calling attention to a particularly deadly class of pesticides, called neonicotinoids, which paralyze and then kill bees by attacking their central nervous systems.
In December of 2017, researchers from the University of California San Diego issued results of a new study revealing that neonicotinoids are 50 percent more harmful to the insects than previously thought.
Although a rising awareness of the dangers of neonicotinoids has led retail giants, such as Home Depot and Lowe’s, and one prominent pesticide manufacturer, Ortho, to remove the deadly poisons from their product lines, it has not, apparently, convinced government officials of the need to ban the neonicotinoids.
In fact, not only are government officials in the United States failing to pass laws to ban use of pesticides like neonicotinoids. They are encouraging their use.
Today, officials at the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, are considering a proposal from an agrochemical company, called Syngenta, based in Switzerland, to spray neonicotinoids on 165 million acres of American farmland, including on thousands of fields of wheat, barley, corn, rice, and potatoes across the United States.
If EPA officials approve the proposal of the Swiss firm, they will accelerate the die-off of bees, scientists say.
Scientists warn of dire consequences for the human population, which currently stands at 7.5 billion men, women, and children across the globe. How could a die-off of bees not lead to a corresponding die-off among human beings?