How Does the Decline of Wild Bees Affect the Organic Foods Industry?

The indiscriminate use of artificial chemicals in today’s agriculture is a detriment to our health and the future of the planet. For the famers it’s often just faster, cheaper, and more productive to use the chemicals. And so many use them with no thought for the future or for our health today.

However, there is another way. Organic farming is fast becoming the best way to a healthier America. Farmers who commit to raise their crops organically send healthier produce to our tables. One of the major links in the organic farmer’s process is the honeybee. In fact, honeybees play a critical role in the overall agricultural economy of the world.

The first service that the honeybee renders to the organic food industry is pollination. It has been estimated that of every three bites of food eaten anywhere in the world, one of those bites owes its existence to a pollinator. In other words, one-third of the world’s crops owe their existence to pollinators. And honeybees are the world’s most prolific pollinators.

One classic example of the world’s dependence on honeybees is the recent California almond crisis. The California almond industry depends on 1.4 million colonies of honeybees to pollinate the plants. In 2013, the honeybee population fell by 30 to 40 percent, causing a loss of 800,000 tons of production. Almond prices around the world skyrocketed.

A second service that the honeybees offer to the organic food industry is their direct manufacturing of organic products. The major organic products produced by honeybees include honey and beeswax. Honeybees forage for nectar and pollen up to six miles from their hive. The nectar they bring back to the hive is converted to honey which is then stored in hexagonal cylinders. Each cylinder is capped with a white beeswax. Many health care products, especially those for the skin, contain beeswax and make use of its emollient, anti-inflammatory, and antiseptic properties. Organic honey is kept free of any pesticides and antibiotics that are believed to cause cancer and aplastic anemia.

Despite the fact that world agriculture depends on the honeybees, and despite the growing demand for honeybee products, the sad reality is that natural honeybee populations are declining at a frightening pace. The decline of honeybee populations worsened around the 1980s with the coming to the United States of various viruses and mites. Over the last ten years honeybee population declines have been exacerbated by increased attacks by tracheal mites and varroa virus. Another factor in the decline of honeybee populations is the indiscriminate use of synthetic pesticides in agriculture. From 2006 to 2011 alone, bee populations plummeted by thirty-three percent each year!

As the honeybee populations continue to plummet, agriculture worldwide will suffer. Plants left un-pollinated will not be able to reproduce and will die off. Farmers will be forced to rely more and more heavily on chemical pesticides and fertilizers in an attempt to keep their crop production at pace with the world demand for produce.

As a nation we have done little to protect our agricultural economy against a collapse of the honeybee population. The Farm Bill which was passed on June 10, 2013, set aside not even $2 million per year to assist honeybees. Whole Foods recently imagined a hypothetical grocery store without bee pollinators: the store had half its produce missing. Carlen Jupe, secretary and treasurer for the California State Beekeepers Association offers a chilling warning: “The bottom line is, if something is not done to improve honeybee health, then most of the interesting food we eat is going to be unavailable.”

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