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As Bees Disappear, So Too Does Our Choice of Foods

The news hasn’t been very good for bees in recent years. Colony collapse disorder, an epidemic that some have argued is curtailing as of late, alarmed bee keepers who found loss rates above 19% more and more regularly within their hives. Despite the press that the disorder generated, scientists are still at a loss to find the root cause of the syndrome that affected the bee keeping industry. By now, most people know that bees and other pollinators are an integral part of the food chain, but two organizations want to show people exactly what a world without pollinators would be like.

In honor of Earth Day, Whole Foods Market teamed with The Xerces Society for the two-week “Share the Buzz” campaign. The Xerces Society is a nonprofit organization that strives to protect invertebrates and their habitats. The group shared photos of what a typical salad bar would look like with and without pollinators. The “without” photo is staggering when you realize how much of our fruit and vegetable options are predicated on healthy pollinators doing their jobs.

The food losses don’t stop there, though. Beef and dairy operations also rely on the bees to pollinate the crops that livestock consume, which could mean that your trips to the supermarket would result in fewer purchases of yogurt, cheese and beef. Almond growers require bees to pollinate their crop, as well. Countless food products rely upon the backbone of the honeybee, directly or otherwise.

Two studies in the journal Nature studied neonicotinoid pesticides (the most common household and garden insecticide) and their effects on all types of bees, not just the ones we rely on for commercial agricultural pollination. The first study found that neonicotinoid pesticides negatively affected most wild bees, but did not plague honeybees used for agricultural production like they did their wild cousins. This is not to say that it was beneficial; however, the fact that it affected the bees differently leaves open the thought that specialized insecticides could target devastating pests while preserving our natural pollinators. The second found that bees actually prefer finding and eating pollen from plants treated with neonicotinoid pesticides. This increases the potential damage for the bees, as it actually attracts more pollinators to a poisoned source of food.

The disappearance of bees is a complex issue with many facets. Weather, pesticides and colony collapse disorder are only a few of the myriad issues affecting bees in this country and around the world. The reality remains, however, that they are vital to our food chain. For that reason, we must continue to invest into research regarding their disappearance, before our food supply and the options therein continue to shrink.