The plight of the honeybee is a concern for all of us, but Europe may have found a way to help the bee population comeback from the brink. The dying of honeybee populations around the globe has been called colony collapse disorder and it’s a very serious problem.
According to a USDA survey of bee colonies in the U.S., between 750,000 and one million colonies died in the United States over the winter of 2007-2008 alone, which is approximately a 36% loss of bees in one season. Winter die off is normal, but the bees are dying at a rate that is beyond the normal winter losses.
Bees are so important for our food production, but the tiny helpers can get overlooked as we seek faster, better, and safer ways to get more food to our tables. Bees and other pollinators like bats and butterflies feed off of the flowers that plants produce.
The action of the bees visiting the flowers allows pollen to be transferred from one plant to another, which then becomes a fertilized fruit. All nut and fruit trees require pollination. All vegetables that grow above ground, like peas and squash, need bees too. All of the seeds that we eat are the result of pollination. You can see how important honeybees are for our healthy, natural diets that come from plant sources.
The Bee Population is Resurging In Europe. Here’s Why…
According to Greenpeace, the European Commission adopted a two-year ban on three bee-toxic pesticides. Scientists will use the two year timeframe to watch the recovery rate of the bees and they may consider a longer-term ban on these and other pesticides. Eight European countries have also banned genetically modified foods.
According to a review in the Seattle Journal of Environmental Law, despite petitions, the EPA has decided to leave the pesticide on the market and in use while there is further research done. The pesticide manufacturers and agribusiness companies claim that there is not enough evidence to show that there is a real problem with pesticides and the bee population.
Pesticides that kill bees
The bee-toxic insecticides and pesticides that are sprayed, dripped, or irrigated into plants are known as neonicotinoids. The word nicotine is in there because these are made from a derivative of nicotine. The chemicals are made by Bayer (patented in 1986) and Syngenta. Pesticides like these are, according to one toxicity study from the University of Florida, highly toxic to bees, and can be mildly toxic to birds and fish.
If you aren’t eating organic, you’re eating pesticides
Because these insecticides/pesticides are systemic, the entire plant absorbs them, from root to fruit to pollen. If you wash your produce, this means that you can’t wash off this kind of sneaky pesticide. Unless you specifically purchase produce that was grown organically and without pesticides, you are probably eating this bee-killer.
According to a BBC report, ‘Pesticides made in this way are water soluble, which means they can be applied to the soil and taken up by the whole plant – they are called “systemic”, meaning they turn the plant itself into a poison factory, with toxins coming from roots, leaves, stems and pollen. Neonicotinoids are often applied as seed treatments, which means coating the seeds before planting.’
There were 1142 accidental poisonings with these specific bee-killing pesticides reported to six Texas poison control centers between 2000-2012. These accidental poisonings are believed to be from farm workers who were exposed to the chemicals while working for farmers who used the products.
In humans the symptoms of poisoning by Neonicotinoid pesticides include:
* eye reddening
* skin reddening
* mouth irritation
In rats, the poisons cause additional symptoms:
* respiratory disturbances
* decreased movement
* staggering gait
* occasional trembling and spasms
Agroecology is the food producing wave of the future
In a TED talk, Pablo Tittonell described the future of a more nature-based system of food production which is called Agroecology. In Agroecology, there is no waste because waste is food for other plants, like mushrooms to grow in. Agroecology can help develop diverse farming systems but on a large scale, with no GMOs and in a system that focuses on renewable resources and also offers lots of business opportunities.
An example of how this could work is to imagine rice growing on a layer of water and then imagine that we add fish, ducks and other floating plants to the rice field. More food is available in the same amount of space. This also adds diversify to the diet and pesticides would not be used because that would kill the fish but both the fish and ducks could eat any insects that attack the rice.
What you can do to help
Share what you have learned with others and spread the word about protecting our food production. Here’s how to help create a resurging bee population here as well:
* Buy organic, pesticide-free produce
* Request organic produce whenever possible dining out
* Grow your own organic produce
* Support local organic farmers
* Plant bee-friendly flowers
* Allow some natural areas in your yard or garden that aren’t weeded
* Make fresh water sources available
* Don’t use chemicals in your garden
* Tell legislators about your health preferences when it comes to how your food is produced
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In June 2014, President Obama announced the formation of a task force to identify a Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators. Although the goals of the group are impressive, if more people followed the above steps, the honeybee population could see a resurgence here in America as well.