Honeybees have been dying in large numbers for years, and an article from the New York Times indicates that the problem is only getting worse.
We’ve written about the phenomenon of colony collapse disorder—a phenomenon where honey bees disappear from their colonies, never to return—a number of times over the years. We have also pointed out the role of neonicotinoids, a class of plant pesticide thought to contribute to the problem. Neonicotinoids are once again in the spotlight as a result of growing bee deaths in the past year (40% to 50% of the hives that pollinate fruits and vegetables in the U.S., which is just terrifying). One beekeeper is quoted in the Times article with a worrying anecdote:
"They looked so healthy last spring," said Bill Dahle, 50, who owns Big Sky Honey in Fairview, Mont. "We were so proud of them. Then, about the first of September, they started to fall on their face, to die like crazy. We’ve been doing this 30 years, and we’ve never experienced this kind of loss before."
And yet another disturbing quote from the Times:
Bret Adee, who is an owner, with his father and brother, of Adee Honey Farms of South Dakota, the nation’s largest beekeeper, described mounting losses.
"We lost 42 percent over the winter. But by the time we came around to pollinate almonds, it was a 55 percent loss," he said in an interview here this week.
Sound familiar? This echoes what Colorado beekeeper Tom Theobold told us in 2010:
Now the stakes are higher than ever. Tom Theobald’s honey crop this year is the smallest he’s seen in 35 years of beekeeping. "This is the critical winter for the beekeeping industry. I don’t think we can survive," he says. "If the beekeeping industry collapses, it jeopardizes a third of American agriculture."
Here’s the problem: honeybees are more important than you might think. They pollinate most of the foods that humans love, including peaches, plums, pears, almonds, eggplant, blueberries, strawberries, watermelon, mustard, coconut, onions—the list goes on. Bee die-off impacts us all.
Scientists still don’t know exactly why this is happening. As we mentioned, neonicotinoids probably play a big part, though Jay Vroom, the president of CropLife America is quoted by the Times as saying that research on the pesticides "supports the notion that the products are safe and are not contributing in any measurable way to pollinator health concerns." That’s not entirely true. Herbicides and fungicides also most likely play key roles in the recent bee decline.
Honeybees pollinate a third of all crop species in the U.S. Why isn’t this considered a national emergency? If it isn’t taken more seriously—and if certain pesticides aren’t banned or restricted—we’ll all have some unpleasantly limited diets.