With the familiar coming of spring, we expect warmer weather, longer days and the steady buzzing of bees as they fly around the flowers. But in recent years, there has been a steady decline in the number of bees. While animal population shifts are normal, this one is taking a dangerous turn. Because bees are one of our most important food pollinators, their loss will have a devastating effect on human life. Scientists and researchers have been searching frantically to find out what the cause of the decline is and how to stop it. Unfortunately, the cause is not a naturally occurring event and is actually something caused by humans.
Without the bees pollinating the various foods we eat, like blueberries, apples, onions and other fruit and vegetables, human beings lose out on their food supply. It’s been reported that over a quarter of the American diet is sustained by bees. And yet, the number of bees has diminished to a third of their numbers in the last decade. This phenomenon has been dubbed Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). One of the major factors being pinpointed for this decline is the continued use of stronger and more damaging pesticides.
These highly toxic pesticides are classified as neonicotinoids. Monsanto, a company known for its controversial production of genetically modified foods, is one of the companies that use these pesticides. These products are intended to specifically aid in the growing and manufacturing of GMOs. But, in this need to grow high numbers of GMOs, the pesticides and herbicides coating the produce are killing the bees. And they are also killing the other animals that come in contact with them. There have also been recorded declines in bird and butterfly populations in areas where these pesticides are being used.
Unlike other pesticides that are applied via topical spraying of vegetables or fruit after they’ve developed above ground, neonicotinoids are used much sooner. They are applied to the seeds of the intended produce before it is planted. This means that as the vegetables or fruit grow, they are already exposed and carrying the pesticides through their system. Eventually, the pesticide is exposed to the nectar and pollen, which then make their way to the bees.
Along with the death of the bees, there is also a decrease in the production of honey and damage to beehives as the bees become disoriented. The bee population decline is also an indicator of just how harmful neonicotinoids can be for other living creatures. Because the seeds are coated in the toxin before they get put into the ground, this means that the ground soil is also being treated with the pesticide. Sadly, there are no regulations on seed-coating pesticides.
The pesticide is not contained only to the seed once planted, it can spread through the soil and into the groundwater, causing many damaging effects to other unintended plants and animals, including humans. Not only is this toxin being spread through the ground, but it is also being spread through the air. Even if the bees do not have direct contact with the neonicotinoid-grown plants, the pesticide does not stick to the plant and can be carried via wind to other plants. This means that it is almost impossible for beekeepers to protect their products and bees. Other products, like Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer, also spread in such a way that makes the bees more vulnerable to the effects of the pesticides.
The Colony Collapse Disorder focuses on how the bees function as a group and how the pesticides are tearing them apart. One of the problems is that because bees operate in a single-hive mind, they accept everything from each other. Unfortunately, this includes the exposure to pesticides that kill them. The colonies are failing and the bees dying because once exposed, forager bees that get affected do not return to their nests. This leads to a decrease in food production and also a decrease in the reproduction of adult bees. And without food sources from the foragers, the worker bees also die. So the neonicotinoids are having dangerous effects at all levels of the bees’ lives.
By demanding more regulation on seed-coating pesticides, supporting local, organic farmers and farmers’ markets, we can take steps to help stop the dying of bees.