Disappearing Honeybees… and What to Do About It

May 7th, 2013 | Simcha Weinstein | Comments Off on Disappearing Honeybees… and What to Do About It

honeybeeHoneybees, which play a key role in pollinating a wide variety of food crops, are in sharp decline in the United States (and have been since 2007), due to parasites, disease and pesticides, according to a federal report released last week. In the United States alone the bee decline has impacted $30 billion a year in crops and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that “out of some 100 crop species which provide 90% of food worldwide, 71 of these are bee-pollinated.” Around the world, these crops are worth at least $207 billion.

Honeybee pollination plays a role in about one-third of all food and beverages sold in the United States. The California almond crop alone requires 60 percent of all managed colonies devoted to pollination. Honeybees pollinate more than 90 of the flowering crops we have – among them: apples, nuts, avocados, soybeans, asparagus, broccoli, celery, squash and cucumbers, citrus fruit, peaches, kiwi, cherries, blueberries, cranberries, strawberries, cantaloupe and other melons.

About one-third of the human diet comes from insect-pollinated plants, and the honeybee is responsible for 80 percent of that pollination, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Even cattle, which feed on alfalfa, depend on bees.

This honeybee problem extends beyond the borders of the U.S. On Monday, the European Union responded to this report by banning three of the world’s most widely used pesticides (known as neonicotinoids) for two years as a precautionary measure.

In the United States, by contrast, regulators are moving more slowly. In this new Federal report from the Agriculture Department and the Environmental Protection Agency – they argue that there are a wide variety of reasons for the disappearance of U.S. honeybees since 2007 and neonicotinoids are only one possible factor.

U.S regulators will not be taking the same action as Europe and are not yet ready to ban the pesticides in question. Instead, the U.S. is slowly conducting a review of neonicotinoids that is expected to be completed in 5 years.

The link between bee colonies disappearing and pesticides is still being debated (only the degree to which it is having an impact – not whether or not it is actually part of the problem), but Europe, when faced with an uncertain concern that could impact their food supply and the overall environment made the decision to ban neonicotinoids for 2 years, just in case they really are the over-riding culprits in the demise of our bee populations. The United States, on the other hand (with pesticides being a billion dollar industry in the country) have decided to move more slowly.

Quite a contrast, the EU, when faced with this crisis errs on the side of the environment. The United States… not so much – let’s give it 5 more years. Our approach in the U.S. to the environment is exhausting. I’d much prefer if it were exhaustive instead.