Perhaps you’ve heard murmerings over the past 5-10 years about the plight of the honeybee, whose population has dropped 50% in the past 50 years in the U.S.  While many of you are probably thinking, “sweet, fewer irritating bee stings for me”, there is much, much more at stake than your carefree picnic time.  Honeybees do much, much more than make honey. 

Honeybees pollinate 80% of the flowering plants in the US, and pollination is necessary for plants to produce fruit.  A huge percentage of our food supply is dependent on this process, and if the bees disappear so will our food.  Here is an excerpt describing just how critical the honeybee truly is to our ability to eat:

“Typically, according to the US Department of Agriculture, these under-appreciated workers pollinate 80% of our flowering crops which constitute 1/3 of everything we eat.Their loss could effect not only dietary staples such as apples, broccoli, strawberries, nuts, asparagus, blueberries and cucumbers, but may threaten our beef and dairy industries if alfalfa is not available for feed. One Cornell University study estimated that honeybees annually pollinate $14 billion worth of seeds and crops in the US. Essentially, if honeybees disappear, they could take most of our insect pollinated plants with them, potentially reducing mankind to little more than a bread and water diet.”

Before 2006 the honeybee population was declining at a relatively constant rate, and was believed to be due to certain pests (mites), pesticides, and reduction in beekeepers and natural bee environments.  However, in 2006 the honeybee population took a major hit, declining by 25% with no understood cause.  This was labeled Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), and is characterized by bees that leave the hive and mysteriously do not return – a behavior that is extremely odd. 

In the January edition of EcoWatch, which I picked up at Organic Energy yesterday, I read about one factor is believed to contribute heavily to CCD.  Ironically, it’s related to one of our primary food crops – corn.  Corn is frequently treated with harsh insecticides, via sprays and increasingly seed coatings.  One type of insecticide – nicotinyl insecticides (neonicotinoids) are so persistent that toxic levels are found in plants’ pollen – traces are even found on water droplets on plants’ leaves!  (Does that freak you out a little?  It should).   There is mounting evidence that these chemicals are deadly to bees, and federal bodies in France, Germany, and Italy have suspended the use of these chemicals as a result.  Italy has since seen a resurgence of its bee population. 

This freaks me out.  I love honey, I love fruit, and I love food.  I do not want to see our diversity in food options diminish because we produce 10 billion bushels of chemicalized corn per year.  Not too surprisingly,and unfortunately, the EPA is sluggish to act.  The Sierra Club has an active campaign to force action on this issue.  Here is what EcoWatch suggests that YOU do to support saving the honeybee population:

“Watch the documentary Nicotine Bees. Producers and Directors Kevin Hansen and Krista Keenan did an excellent job researching, interviewing and splicing together an extraordinary story on the CCD problem. Show the 45-minute film at organizational meetings, home parties, classrooms and community events. Then contact EPA’s Steve Owens at owens.steve@epa.gov or call 1-202-564-2902 to request a suspension of the neonicotinoid seed coatings until independent scientists verify safety.”

One other thing you can do: buy corn locally, or buy organic.  Local producers are more judicious about pesticide use, and tend to choose varieties that are not as dangerous to health and the local environment.  For products like frozen corn, polenta, corn meal, corn starch, and others, organic versions are available for little more than conventional prices.  Not only is it better for the environment, it’s better for your health.