If honey bees weren’t buzzing from flower to flower, plant to plant pollinating everything from almonds and apples to cauliflower and cotton seed, we could be in a world of hurt—and, quite possibly, hunger. But honey bees have been disappearing rapidly since around 2006.
Beekeepers began noticing that a large amount of bees were simply leaving their colonies and never returning; this is now called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). There are several different possible causes that are being examined as to why these bees are unable to return to their hives including parasitic mites, new viruses, malnutrition and habitat loss. Many believe exposure to neonicotinoid insecticides is the main cause of CCD, and the neonicotinoid insecticide, imidacloprid, is the most common and widely used insecticide in the world. In the United States, it is widely used on corn crops.
Neonicotinoids and their effects on bees have caused such a commotion that the European Union passed a two-year ban on them on April 29 with a vote of 15 member countries in favor, despite strong opposition from eight countries including the United Kingdom. (Four countries abstained.) Restrictions on neonicotinoids had already been in place in several countries including Germany, France and Italy.
One of the more troubling parts about this to local activists Sharon and John Davidson is that global agricultural biotechnology giant, Monsanto—which incorporates neonicotinoids into some of its seeds—bought an international bee research company, Beeologics, in 2011. Beeologics “researches and is developing biological tools to provide targeted control of pests and disease, including those that are related to honey bee health,” according to a statement from Monsanto.
Sharon said that she was concerned about what Beeologics and Monsanto’s solution to CCD will be because it seems to be going in the direction of a bee that’s genetically modified to resist things like viruses and insecticides. John also voiced concern that Monsanto now has some level of control over the research about bee health and CCD since they own one of the companies conducting this research.
After looking into CCD and neonicotinoids, John became curious about alternative methods of pollination.
“They did a study at MIT on this, which is pretty interesting,” John said. “They sprayed pollen from overhead onto the fields, and they measured what the fruit set was after spraying, what the cost of the aerial effort was, what the cost of the pollen they sprayed was. … They had a 73 percent smaller crop yield as a result of overhead pollination. … They estimated that it was going to cost $876,000 annually to do overhead pollination rather than the bees, which remember are free. So it’s not an option.”
John also noted that there was a better crop yield with hand pollination, but it didn’t seem feasible because of the enormous amount of man hours it would take.
John strongly believes that there is no good alternative to honey bees for pollination. And both he and Sharon believe that neonicotinoids need to be banned in the United States, at least until more research on the rapid disappearance of honey bees can be done.
“We need the bees,” John said. “That’s the bottom line.”