What (and Who) is Killing The Honey Bees?

We seem to be in an age of discovery… of a different sort. More and more we’re finding that much of our human ingenuity employed to control and “enhance” nature during recent generations has lacked foresight and is reaping unforeseeable, unimaginable consequences. Who would have thought that spraying pesticides, herbicides and fungicides in order to secure a greater harvest would actually become a threat to life itself?

We’ve been talking lots lately about the ill effects of these chemicals in the human digestive system, but now scientists are tracing the poison to perhaps the most underappreciated workers in the world: honey bees.

If you do even the lightest research about Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), you’ll find out about staggering losses to the honey bee population worldwide. The buzz about “bee-mageddon” is growing louder as the problem worsens. These days the average consensus among beekeepers points to about an 80% die-off of honey bees across the globe.

I don’t know whether he actually said it, but Albert Einstein is oft credited with the statement, “If honey bees become extinct, human society will follow in four years.” Whoever did say it had good reason. Honey bees pollinate over 130, or about ¾ of the world’s food crops. Some sources say the work of bees contributes approx. $14.6 billion to the US economy yearly; another recent source said it’s more like $30 billion.,  Either way, our little buzzing friends are worth billions of dollars, not to mention the billions of people (you and me) that depend on them for our daily bread.

To the unsuspecting, the culprit behind CCD has been largely a mystery. But while the results of a study released this week from the University of Maryland and the US Dept of Agriculture may be shocking to some, for others, it’s confirmation of long held suspicions.

We can’t yet explain why an entire colony sometimes falls dead all at once, but scientists are seeing at least one reason why many are gradually falling ill and disappearing. Pesticides, herbicides and fungicides have contaminated pollen, aka bee food. Researchers taking a close look at the pollen found various mixtures of chemical cocktails, even in wildflowers and weeds that have not been directly sprayed.

I don’t know about you, but lately if a product contains more than a handful of ingredients, especially with chemical (unrecognizable) names on the nutrition label, I put it down. But bees have had no such luxury. This study reports, “Our pollen samples contained an average of nine different pesticides, ranging as high as 21 pesticides in one cranberry field.” When they collected pollen of some east coast hives and fed it to healthy bees, the bees’ immune systems tanked, making them more susceptible to a parasite called nosema ceranae. The presence of one fungicide in particular made our honey-makers three times more susceptible to the parasite, which is implicated as at least one of the key bee killers. So should we ban that fungicide and move on? Experts say that simply won’t cut it.

In the 1980s a class of insecticide chemicals called “neonicotinoids” was released over the food supply. And in January of this year the European Food Safety Authority put a 2-year ban on its use because of the dangers posed to bees. A few months later neonicotinoids were further implicated by the American Bird Conservancy as being hazardous to birds and other wildlife. The EPA has even been sued by a coalition of beekeepers for their “inadequate” toxicity evaluations.,

But rather than simply outlawing a single pesticide and calling it quits, scientists are asserting that it’s the whole lot of chemicals that are killing bees. Perhaps the 21+ toxic substances found in the sample pollen are many fruits of one mindset: greed. In the interest of profit, we’re trying to out-do nature. Like so many discoveries we’ve made about the factors causing health declines among the nations, there is no one single ingredient to blame, but a mindset of greed giving birth to colonies of artificial ingredients and methods which sacrifice the substance (food & life) for the shadow (mass production & personal profit).

Bottom line: this is probably confirmation that our ways of factory farming and resorting to artificial means to secure a harvest is in direct conflict with the earth. We once thought sterility would protect us forever from disease; now we see that there are beneficial microbes that should be welcomed into our bodies. There are powerful symbiotic relationships everywhere in nature. We’re manipulating realities that we really don’t fully understand.

But perhaps all is not doom and gloom. Through small individual efforts, you and I can make our own deposit on the solution. Keeping home gardens, community plots and green rooftops will not only add beauty to your life and save you a little money, but can also offer fresh habitat for healthy honey bees. In the meantime, keep putting the pressure on BigFarma and buy organic, local, pesticide and chemical free.

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