Scientists have recently reported that mass extinctions of marine animals may soon be occurring at alarmingly rapid rates than previously projected due to pollution, rising water temperatures and loss of habitat.
Many land species also face a similar fate for the same reasons. But perhaps the biggest foreboding danger of all facing humans is the loss of the global honeybee population. The consequence of a dying bee population impacts man at the highest levels on our food chain, posing an enormously grave threat to human survival. Since no other single animal species plays a more significant role in producing the fruits and vegetables that we humans commonly take for granted yet require near daily to stay alive, the greatest modern scientist Albert Einstein once prophetically remarked, “Mankind will not survive the honeybees’ disappearance for more than five years.”
Since 2006 beekeepers have been noticing their honeybee populations have been dying off at increasingly rapid rates. Subsequently researchers have been scrambling to come up with an accurate explanation and an effective strategy to save the bees and in turn save us homo sapiens from extinction. Recent harsh winters that stay freezing cold well into spring have been instrumental in decimating the honeybee population in Iowa by up to 70% as well as the other historically high yielding honey states – the Dakotas, Montana, Minnesota.
The northern Plains and Midwestern states that have regionally always produced the nation’s most honey have been severely hurt by the long harsh winters in the last couple years. Florida as the third largest honey producer and especially California always among the top producers have been hit especially hard by decreasing bee colony populations. In 2006 when the problem of bee loss first was noticed,
California was right up at the top with North Dakota producing nearly twice as much honey as the next state South Dakota but its bee numbers have incurred such heavy losses that in 2011, though still second, California’s honey production fell by nearly half in just six years. The recent severe drought in California has become an additional factor driving both its honey yield and bee numbers down as less rain means less flowers available to pollinate.
Honeybee Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) as this loss of bee phenomenon has been called is currently recognized as such an urgent crisis that a month ago Newsweek ran an article outlining the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announcement that it will provide a $3 million subsidy in order to help the one animal on the planet that will either make or break food prices. According to the latest USDA industry survey, this emergency plan assistance comes after nearly a third of commercial honeybees died last winter, a whopping increase of 42% from the previous year.
The three million dollar giveaway program is designed to entice both Midwest dairy farmers and cattle ranchers to reseed their fields this spring with eco-friendly crops like alfalfa and clover to develop healthier habitats for increasing the national bee population. Farmers and ranchers only had until March 21st, 2014 to sign up and take advantage as eligible seedling recipients.
Last month’s Newsweek reported that honeybees in trucks migrate to various regions of the country to pollinate an estimated $40 billion worth of the nation’s agricultural produce each year. This means that every third bite of food we eat comes as the result of bees and other pollinators. USDA Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack stated that more than 130 fruits and vegetables that make up a nutritious diet are cross pollinated by honeybees. Commercial bees raised on farms and then shipped to other farms in the country used for pollination purposes along with wild bees are responsible for pollination of an estimated 80% of all food crops in the United States.
In the last half decade alone 30% of the national bee population has disappeared and nearly a third of all bee colonies in the U.S. have perished. Though the rate of bee depopulation is growing each year, 42% more last year than the year before, even at the current annual rate the estimated monetary loss is a colossal 30 billion dollars a year. With such an enormous loss in revenue, last month’s USDA announcement of just a three million dollar investment in farmer aid in comparison to the formidable challenge seems like a paltry drop in the bucket to making any real dent in the epidemic.
With so much at stake, efforts to investigate and uncover reasons for this sudden global pandemic have been robust. A new government study blames a combination of factors for the mysterious and dramatic loss of honeybees, including increased use of pesticides especially in the US, shrinking habitats, multiple viruses, poor nutrition and genetics, and even cell phone towers. However, according to last year’s joint EPA-USDA study, the biggest cause is the parasite called the Varroa destructor, a type of mite found to be highly resistant to the insecticides that US beekeepers have used in attempts to control the mites from inside the beehives. Moreover, new virus species have been found in the US and several of these have been associated with Colony Collapse Disorder.
In a vicious cycle, since 1987 when the Varroa mite was first discovered in the US, Monsanto, Dow, Bayer and other large chemical manufacturers aggressively glommed onto the bee industry selling genetically modified insecticides and herbicides as the quick and easy fix to remedy the parasitic invasion, only to weaken the bees’ natural genetic defenses to fight off the parasite. In an article from the Guardian earlier this month, Monsanto’s contribution to the vanishing bee population is detailed. From genetically altered corn, Monsanto produced an insecticide called Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), which once ingested by bees, Bt binds to receptors within the bee’s stomach lining that keeps the bee from eating.
Of course this weakens the bee, causing the breakdown of the inner stomach wall, which in turn makes the bee susceptible to spores and bacteria. To further compound the problem, for years the lobbying power of the chemical giant denied causing damage to the bee’s internal immune capacity for resistance to parasites, which of course only continued to kill off the bee population worldwide. Thus, continued chemical use, especially in America, only exacerbates this growing problem.