It seems to me that this honey bee situation is getting pretty serious. The money quote in Elizabeth Grossman's Declining Bee Populations Pose A Threat to Global Agriculture comes at the end.
“There’s going to be a shortage of bees in this entire growing season,” James Frazier, a professor of entomology at Pennsylvania State University, said of the U.S. situation. “The ability to replace bees that have been lost has been exhausted, so there’s a very large question mark about next year. Whether we’ve reached a point of no return, we don’t know.”
The point of no return. Let's back up a bit. I used the word "collapse" in the title. Isn't that alarmist? You be the judge.
For much of the past 10 years, beekeepers, primarily in the United States and Europe, have been reporting annual hive losses of 30 percent or higher, substantially more than is considered normal or sustainable.
But this winter, many U.S. beekeepers experienced losses of 40 to 50 percent or more, just as commercial bee operations prepared to transport their hives for the country’s largest pollinator event: the fertilizing of California’s almond trees.
If this doesn't amount to a population collapse among commercial honey bees, I don't know what would.
Bees are in the news—they are not nearly as newsworthy as Kim Kardashian's pregnancy—because the European Union imposed a two-year ban on the use of neonicotinoids, which are widely used insecticides.
The gravity of the situation was underscored on Monday, when the European Commission (EC) said it intended to impose a two-year ban on a class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids, now the world’s most widely used type of insecticide. Neonicotinoids are one of the leading suspected causes of colony collapse disorder, and the European Commission announced its controversial decision three months after the European Food Safety Agency concluded that the pesticides represented a “high acute risk” to honeybees and other pollinators.
The EC action will restrict the use of three major neonicitinoids on seeds and plants attractive to bees, as well as grains, beginning December 1. “I pledge to my utmost to ensure that our bees, which are so vital to our ecosystem and contribute over 22 billion Euros [$29 billion] annually to European agriculture, are protected,” said European Union Health Commissioner Tonio Borg.
In so far as "one of every three bites of food eaten worldwide depends on pollinators, especially bees, for a successful harvest," it seems more than a little—what's the word I want here?—misguided to put a monetary value of the ecosystem and agricultural services provided by pollinators, especially Apis mellifora (the common honey bee).
Well, that's the way the humans typically think, and it's damn near impossible to get them to think any other way.
If banning neonicotinoids was guaranteed to solve this problem, there would be no crisis. Withdraw the insecticides, and honey bee populations would eventually recover. Unfortunately, it's not that simple.
No one investigating the issue is suggesting that neonicotinoids are the sole cause of current bee declines.
Tucker, other beekeepers, and entomologists say that the cause of colony collapse disorder is likely a combination of factors that includes the widespread use of pesticides and fungicides, as well as the spread of viral pathogens and parasitic mites in beehives. While mites and diseases have long been known to cause significant declines in domesticated bee populations, no single pathogen or parasite, say entomologists, appears to sufficiently explain the current rate of hive collapse.
A recent study that found unprecedented levels of agricultural pesticides — some at toxic levels — in honeybee colonies is prompting entomologists to look more closely at the role of neonicotinoids in current bee declines...
While not downplaying neonicotinoids as a potential culprit, Eric Mussen, an apiculturiust at the University of California, Davis, noted that the case against these pesticides is not clear-cut.
For example, honeybees are apparently doing fine in Australia, where neonicotinoids are widely used and varroa mites are not a problem.
Neonicotinoid use is common in Canada, but colony collapse disorder is not significantly affecting hives there.
Here we've got a typical good news/bad news situation. The good news is that colony collapse disorder is not global; the bad news is that nobody really knows why these bees are dying in the U.S. and Europe.
We need "more research" says entomologist James Frazier, who was quoted above. I guess so, and speaking of research, I've got some right here. Check this out, from Honey May Be Bees’ Best Medicine for Colony Collapse Disorder (Discover Magazine, April 30. 2013).
Western honey bees have a taste for a range of nectars, so they are exposed to many different chemicals in and on the plants they pollinate. In addition, commercial hives are often treated with insecticides to kill parasitic mites. The trouble is that the western honey bee doesn’t have a lot of defenses: only 46 of its genes (about half that of most insects) can metabolize these potentially dangerous chemicals.
Even more important than how many genes the bees have is knowing what kicks these genes into gear. For the first time, researchers have identified the chemicals that regulate these genes, and have determined that many bees raised in commercial colonies don’t get enough of them.
The researchers identified a handful of chemicals that boost these detoxifying genes. The most potent was an acid called p-coumaric acid, which is found in pollen grains.
By eating honey, which contains traces of pollen, the bees become less susceptible to the range of pesticides and pathogens they encounter on their pollinating exploits.
OK, that explanation seems pretty clear — honey bees like honey. Honey is good for honey bees!
Here's the kicker.
Wild bees are normally raised on honey, so there is no shortage of p-coumaric acid in their diets.
But commercial colonies raised for agricultural pollination aren’t so lucky. To cut costs, many bee keepers harvest and sell the honey their bees produce and instead feed the growing bee babies high fructose corn syrup or other sweeteners.
While nutritionally comparable, the researchers say these sugars lack essential chemicals like p-coumaric acid.
They feed these bees just like they feed obese, pre-diabetic Americans. It's a money-making operation.
To cut costs, they sell the honey and give these bees high fructose corn syrup instead!
This insightful research gives us further permission to pursue the already strong hypothesis that these self-defeating humans are far, far, far too stupid to be allowed to manage commerical honey bees, let alone anything else on this once hospitable blue-green planet.
And I will conclude on that less than happy note.