Friday, May 25, 2007

the bees are dying! the bees are dying!

So, I'm sure many of you have heard the buzz of Colony Collapse Disorder in domestic honey bees. The ramifications of which I'm sure you've also heard about; no bees = no food. At face value it can seem like an easy thing to dismiss as alarmist, or an overreaction, or "left-wing jibber-jabber." But did you know?...
There was actually a Congressional Hearing on the matter on March 29, 2007 to discuss the magnitude and potential impacts of this problem. "Between 1947 and 2005, colony numbers nationwide declined by over 40%. These losses have occurred as a demand for pollination services has soared for a number of fruit, nut, and vegetable crops, most notably almonds." The honey bee has been partially domesticated for thousands of years to serve purposes for man. "Honey bees are in effect six-legged livestock that both manufacture agricultural commodities - honey and wax - and, more importantly, contribute agricultural services - pollination." Roughly 1/3 of the U.S. diet is comprised of plant-based foods that are pollinated by honey bees. "Although economists differ in calculating the exact dollar value of honey bee pollination to American agriculture, virtually all estimates are in the range of billions (emphasis added) of dollars...Among the most conspicuous demonstrable consequences of honey bee declines in agriculture are the rising costs of producing bees and hence rising costs of honey bee rentals, contributing in turn to rising prices for crops and reductions in consumer welfare. Honey bee declines can reduce crop quality as well as yield...Even before the advent of Colony Collapse Disorder, financial impacts of honey bee shortages have materialized; varroa mites are estimated to have increased honey bee colony rental fees by $30 million annually. Because bee pollination contributes to so many different sectors of the agricultural economy, including the beef and dairy industries (via pollination of clover and other hay and forage crops), disruption of the honey bee supply will likely reverberate across the entire country."
So, why are all the bees dying?
"Diseases carried by foreign bees are just one of the possible causes of colony collapse... Researchers and beekeepers have theorized that the disorder may stem from bee-eating varroa mites or from the pesticide used to kill the mites. Stress on the insects from field-to-field travel has been suggested, too, as have various pesticides and suppression of the bees' immune systems." Non-native farmed honey bees are more susceptible to stress from environmental sources than are organic, or feral honey bees. "Most people think beekeeping is all natural but in commercial operations the bees are treated much like livestock on factory farms." Essentially, left to their own devices, feral honey bees grow smaller and more aggressive compared to commercially bred bees. This agressiveness in turn could help the hive protect itself from the varroa mites thought to be contributing to the death of the colony. It appears that the stresses put on imported hives can be linked to the overall health of the colony. One of the operative hypotheses is that there are multiple and variable causes. If that's the case, that's a problem because we will need multiple and variable solutions."

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