Posted: Jul 15, 2013 8:30 AM
 
Our honeybees are being wiped out, sometimes 40 or 50 percent at a time. Most recently, 37 million bees in Canada died. Find out why this matters, and why it's time families start thinking about what they're eating.

In March, I read this article in The New York Times about bees mysteriously dying, by the millions. Since 2005, beekeepers in America have been struggling with "colony collapse disorder," a seemingly inexplicable killer of honeybees.

Apparently, in the last year, this problem has gotten worse. Just this month, 37 million bees were found dead in Elmwood, Canada. Dave Schuit, who runs the beekeeping business in Elmwood, blames insecticides used on recently planted corn near his bees: "Once the corn started to get planted, our bees died by the millions." (Source)

Many beekeepers believe neonicotinoids, a powerful new type of insecticide manufactured by Bayer CropScience, is responsible for killing their bees. Since plants absorb them, they are ingested by the honeybees. According to this article, the European Union "recently voted to ban these insecticides for two years, beginning December 1, 2013, to…study how it relates to the large bee kill they are experiencing there also."

[A] quarter of the American diet, from apples to cherries to watermelons to onions, depends on pollination by honeybees. Fewer bees means smaller harvests and higher food prices.

According to the same The New York Times article, the U.S. Agriculture Department says a "quarter of the American diet, from apples to cherries to watermelons to onions, depends on pollination by honeybees. Fewer bees means smaller harvests and higher food prices."

Further, regarding California, the article states: "Almonds are a bellwether. Eighty percent of the nation's almonds grow here, and 80 percent of those are exported, a multibillion dollar crop crucial to California agriculture. Pollinating up to 800,000 acres, with at least two hives per acre, takes as many as two-thirds of all commercial hives. This past winter's die-off sent growers scrambling for enough hives to guarantee a harvest. Chris Moore, a beekeeper in Kountze, Texas, said he had planned to skip the groves after sickness killed 40 percent of his bees and left survivors weakened."

One of the problems is that the new class of insecticide (neonicotinoids) stays in the bees' systems for weeks or months. Though "older pesticides could kill bees and other beneficial insects… they quickly degraded — often in a matter of days — [but] neonicotinoids persist for weeks and even months. Bees [may] carry a summer's worth of contaminated pollen to hives, where ensuing generations dine on a steady dose of pesticide that, eaten once or twice, might not be dangerous. (Source) The same substance eaten daily can kill 40 to 50 percent of the hive.

Though the pesticide industry disagrees their substances cause any harm, growing evidence has prompted the U.S. Department of Agriculture to begin a formal investigation of the situation.

Two responses...

There are two responses to information like this: Do something or blow it off. I suppose that's pretty much the case with anything, but I think it's easier to ignore something that isn't affecting you immediately, right now. Like most environmental concerns (climate change, for example), we can, if we want, bury our heads in the sand and pretend everything is OK, because it seems OK now.

We can dismiss people who talk of honeybee deaths and rising sea levels as whacky liberal extremists. And of course, we can always find studies "disproving" the science of environmentalist causes. Personally, I just look at the money trail. Who's benefiting financially from this situation?

And then I know who's lying.

Maybe I'm just a cynic. Whatever. That may be true, but here's the thing: If I'm going to error, it's going to be on the side of protecting our planet.

And no, I'm not somebody who eats only organic free-range sustainably harvested local foods from companies employing people who ride bikes to work and wear only organic hemp. OK I probably took that a little too far. But no, I can't afford all organic food, and I don't always have time for a little jaunt to the local dairy for some raw milk.

I can replace many cleaners and body products with homemade solutions. I can buy as much organic as I can, particularly products that fall on the "Dirty Dozen" list. I do have time to not buy GMO products.

But I do have time to make small changes. I can replace many cleaners and body products with homemade solutions. I can buy as much organic as I can, particularly products that fall on the "Dirty Dozen" list (high pesticide content). I do have time to not buy GMO products. (Monsanto is another conversation altogether, but you can find some information about their relationship to honeybees here).

I do have time to buy my produce from the local stand (I love living in the Central Valley of California, where we get it all!). I do have time to teach my kids about real food versus the crap people just call food.

And you know, I don't believe it's a matter of "having time" or "being bothered." This is a responsibility. A responsibility to our kids and their kids. And though we may delude ourselves into thinking that's just a theoretical statement, when honeybees, which support one-fourth of the American diet, are falling dead by the millions, theory becomes reality.

And opening your eyes becomes a practicality.

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