Honey Bees Are Disappearing (Putting $15B In Crops At Risk)

When I wrote about the recently renovated, fun and sustainable Francis Ford Coppola Winery, I learned about an exciting new trend (wineries with electric car charging stations) and a disturbing natural disaster: Colony Collapse Disorder. CCD is a phenomena that has been written about on EatDrinkBetter before but was news to me.

In 2006 beekeepers started noticing that seemingly healthy bees were abandoning their hives and not returning. We now know its a serious problem (researchers estimate that nearly one-third of all honey bee colonies in the country have since vanished). And while CCD is plaguing honeybee populations around the world, its not just bees and their honey that are at risk, but also $15 billion worth of crops that bees pollinate every year in the United States.

Taggart Siegel, director of Queen of the Sun: What are the Bees Telling Us?, a documentary exposing the catastrophic disappearance of honeybees, wrote me in an email:

Bees could die out and they are the animal that sustains us. The Greeks, Egyptians, Mayans all knew this and saw the bee as a sacred animal. As Michael Pollan says 40% of all the food we eat comes from the help of bees. We would loose most fruits and vegetables and many ecosystems would collapse without pollinators. Imagine a world not being able to eat peaches and cherries and almonds.

Why are the bees leaving? Scientists studying the disorder aren’t quite sure. The prevailing theory is that the bees are sick or as one researchers said, they are “committing altruistic suicide.” Several theories explain the disappearance of bees including pesticide exposure, invasive parasitic mites, an inadequate food supply and a new virus that targets bees’ immune systems. Siegel points a finger at large companies like Monsanto and Bayer, as well as at commercial beekeepers that feed their bees corn syrup, antibiotics and truck their bees up to 100,000 miles per year.

Check out this video produced for OnEarth magazine.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kNPwOtEk3AY]

According to the NRDC the list of crops that could be impacted is extensive: “The list of crops that simply won’t grow without honey bees is a long one: Apples, cucumbers, broccoli, onions, pumpkins, carrots, avocados, almonds … and it goes on.”

Here’s a list of what bees pollinate from the NRDC:

Fruits and Nuts Vegetables Field Crops
  • Almonds
  • Apples
  • Apricots
  • Avocadoes
  • Blueberries
  • Boysenberries
  • Cherries
  • Citrus
  • Cranberries
  • Grapes
  • Kiwifruit
  • Loganberries
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Nectarines
  • Olives
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Plums/Prunes
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries
  • Asparagus
  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Cucumbers
  • Cantaloupe
  • Honeydew
  • Onions
  • Pumpkins
  • Squash
  • Watermelons
  • Alfalfa Hay
  • Alfalfa Seed
  • Cotton Lint
  • Cotton Seed
  • Legume Seed
  • Peanuts
  • Rapeseed
  • Soybeans
  • Sugar Beets
  • Sunflowers

What can you do? First, you can attract bees to your bee-safe garden. The NRDC suggests including a wide variety of plants, planting native species, avoid using pesticides, providing shallow pools of water, and building nests for bees. Check out the NRDC Make Your Garden Bee-Safe guide for more information.

You can also urge the USDA to act by emailing the Department of Agriculture and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and ask for research funding to determine the cause of colony collapse disorder.

Photo: NRDC

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