There are a number of factors that have been contributing to the alarming decrease in the population of honeybees. This includes our small scale perceptions of the insect as a threat and fear of being stung, to large scale perceptions of entire hives getting wiped out due to a pesticide treatment on the agriculture they may have been pollinating. Additionally, deforestation is another large contributor due to the great loss of habitat for bees. The loss of the worldwide bee population is not only a matter of ecocentrism and saving the species, it is also a large social risk to agriculture on the global scale. Honeybees play a large role in the production of a number of common produce items that U.S. citizens take for granted everyday when they walk into their local grocery store.
The use of pesticides increased dramatically throughout the end of the 20th century and on into the 21st. While Most pesticides do not pose major threats to the environment, there are always unknown risks created as new products are developed. These risks can create new hazards for ecosystems including impacts on runoffs into major waterways and on other species as well. For most of the agriculture sector, these risks get overlooked and the decision is made to use pesticides despite their unknowns, leaving those who are most vulnerable in their wake. Recent studies in the United Kingdom followed a crop known as oilseed rape that has been heavily treated with neonics (McGrath, 2016). It was determined that species that fed on oilseed rape displayed more serious population declines, but the conclusion is that of an association, not a cause and effect (McGrath).
With regards to markets that depend on the survival of bees, a great portion of our food market depends on cross pollination from bees. Cross pollination is the process by which pollinators fertilize flowers by transferring pollen and seeds from flower to flower, allowing the plant to grow and produce food. Cross pollination aides at least 30 percent of our world’s crop production, and 90 percent of our worlds wild plants (Sass).
“Every third bite of food you take, thank a bee or other pollinator” – E.O. Wilson
Every year, over $15 billion in crops are pollinated by bees and $150 million in honey in the U.S. alone. Global economic loss due to the decline in bee population is estimated at about $5.7 billion (Sass). U.S. food production will take a major hit if the decline in bee population continues as it is, and with our new administration we may be not see the proper action taken to help protect them. American citizens need to realize the cost we face with fewer bees and take action into their own hands.
Pesticides are not only contributing to the declining bee colony populations but are also affecting the size of the individual worker bee (Shaun). The use of pyrethroid pesticides has been shown to have a prolonged effect on the growth of worker bees. The main chemical in pesticides being studied and blamed is Neonicotinoids. Scientists have tracked the growth of worker bees over a four-month period and have also monitored the number of queens and males being produced in a colony. They have noticed the decline in size of the bees. When it come to foraging larger bees are more effective. If the colony is producing smaller worker bees than this can affect the success of the colony. Smaller bees are less efficient when it comes to collecting nectar and pollen (Shaun). Bees need to be kept healthy and large to be efficient workers. Knowing which pesticides are most harmful to bees is vital in understanding how to save the declining bee populations.
We are experiencing a decline in the population in bees worldwide but the risk and hazards of this situation are not being brought to light in the manner that they should be. The risk of pesticides has been one of the topics widely discussed as a major threat to bees. A few years ago the European Commission proved how serious they believe the matter is by banning a pesticide they thought to be causing the colony collapse disorder. As mentioned earlier by Erik and Chelsea, the pesticide that seems to be doing the most damage is neonicotinoids.
One crop that we risk losing through dangerous unknown hazards such as pesticides is almonds. California’s almond orchards span across 800,000 acres and require up to 1.6 million bee colonies to pollinate the trees, but with the rapid decline we have been experiencing it is becoming much more difficult to provide the necessary number of colonies to make that happen (Grossman). Tonio Borg, the European Union Health Commissioner said “I pledge to my utmost to ensure that our bees, which are so vital to our ecosystem and contribute over 22 billion Euros [$29 billion] annually to European agriculture, are protected,”. It is important that we take the necessary steps in order to protect our bee population. We need to implement plans or ideas that have the bees best interest in mind at least until we have been able to decipher the issue at hand.
The decline of bees has had an effect on the honey market. The collapsing of hives is experienced worldwide. Not only are we experiencing the loss of hives, we are also seeing a decrease of them as well. Originally, the average hive weighed around 150 pounds. Currently, hives are only about 50-70 pounds. This is a dramatic decrease that can be observed all over the world (Phipps).
The Canadian Honey Council thought that when the honey prices decreased, the price of production would as well. The statistics showed that it was opposite. This has had a huge impact on the market. With honey prices decreasing and the price of production increasing, a threat to the honey industry overall has become prevalent. Even though honey prices are going down, the wholesale of honey has become increasingly more expensive. This has created a huge gap in the market of honey pertaining to inputs and outputs.The steady declination of honey prices is a direct effect of the worldwide loss of bees. It is no surprise to people that the honey market would experience some type of effect from this, but other markets that people wouldn’t believe to be correlated to bees with are too. (Phipps).
Pesticides, pests, and disease are known to be have a contributing factor to Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD, which is an elevated loss in the number of bees. Since fall of 2006, beekeepers reported a higher than usual colony loss in bees. It is estimated an average of 30% of colonies have died from CCD (PerfectBee). CCD is not a new disorder and has been seen occurring in bee colonies over the past 50-60 years. It begins with the worker bees “disappearing” and not returning to the bee hive. The hives are then invaded by other pests such as small hive beetles and wax moths. Ultimately, this leads to the collapse of the colony (Ellis). Other risks/hazards that cause Colony Collapse Disorder is chemical toxins in the environment and genetically modified crops. Pesticides used in agriculture come into contact as the worker bees are foraging or they encounter the toxins in contaminated water supplies. Genetically modified crops as seeds are dipped into systemic insecticides which are then seen in the pollen and nectar (Ellis). Again, the worker bees encounter this toxins. Without worker bees a bee colony cannot properly function. This is what is being seen throughout the country. Colony Collapse Disorder needs to be further investigated to find solutions to the root cause of the decline in bees.
Ellis, Jamie. “Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) in Honey Bees.” EDIS New Publications RSS. Entomology and Nematology, 01 Oct. 2013. Web. 05 Apr. 2017. https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in720
Grossman, Elizabeth. “Declining Bee Populations Pose a Threat to Global Agriculture.” Yale E360. N.p., 30 Apr. 2013. Web. 05 Apr. 2017.
McGrath, Matt. “Neonic Pesticide Link to Long-term Wild Bee Decline.” BBC News. BBC, 16 Aug. 2016. Web. 04 Apr. 2017.
Phipps, Ron. “International Honey Market Update.” American Bee Journal. 1, July. 2016. Web. 04 Apr. 2017. http://americanbeejournal.com/international-honey-market-update.
“Threats to Bees.” PerfectBee. Perfect Bee LLC, 2017. Web. 05 Apr. 2017. https://www.perfectbee.com/a-healthy-beehive/main-threats-to-bees.
Sass, Jennifer. Why We Need Bees: Nature’s Tiny Workers Put Food on Our Tables. Washington, DC: Library of Congress, National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, 1982. NRDC. Natural Resources Defense Council, 17 Mar. 2011. Web. 5 Apr. 2017. https://www.nrdc.org/resources/why-we-need-bees-natures-tiny-workers-put-food-our-tables.
Shaun. “Pesticides Have Resulted in Smaller Worker Bees.” Cox’s Honey. N.p., 26 Jan. 2017. Web. 05 Apr. 2017.