Bad news for bees is bad news for us all

A few years back I wrote about the challenges for bees (especially honey bees) as colony collapse disorder was a growing concern and phenomenon.  Recent news items show the problems aren’t reversing but are only getting worse.  This is significantly bad news and the implications could be felt in many ways including on your plate.

Bee populations have been in decline for many years.  Originally it was thought that a number of stress factors were to blame.  Increasingly we are hearing about one class of pesticides called neonicotinoids as the likely culprit pushing global bee populations to the brink.

Within weeks, two mass death events have highlighted the pressing need to address this situation.  In June, tens of thousands of wild bumblebees were found dead in an Oregon parking lot after nearby trees were sprayed with a neonicotinoid pesticide meant to combat aphids.  In early July, a Southern Ontario bee keeper announced he lost more than 37 million bees after the corn fields that surround his farm were planted with neonicotinoid treated seeds.  He claims the dust from the planting killed his bees in short order. 

Honeybees are incredible creatures that live in organized society and communicate by dancing (waggle dance). A honey bee can travel as much as 7 kilometres to find flowers and then communicate the information for other bees to find them with this dance.  Studies show there is a loss of communication and memory among honey bees exposed to neonicotinoid pesticides.  Some countries such the UK and countries of European Union have banned their use.

This is not the case in North America where protection is offered to agricultural and chemical companies while detractors of their products have to provide absolute and irrefutable proof of harm before governments move to ensure environmental or consumer safety.  In these instances the idea of the precautionary principle has been flipped on its head to protect monetary interests from the well-being of society.

Something is rotten here and while we wait for action we are placed precariously on the verge of a major disaster – which is what a world without bees would amount to.  Every third bite on your plate is directly linked to honey bees.  Without wild bees our plant diversity would shrink and take the species that depend on them along as well. 

The potential outcome of this type of disaster actually threatens society in ways that are not even being discussed by our government. Worse, our scientists are muzzled by the current ‘control the message’ government so we can’t be sure we are receiving the opinion of the specialists we hire to do public research on the safety and suitability of pesticides.

There are other potential reasons for colony collapse which will be leaned on by companies with a monetary interest in doing nothing.  They have strong lobbying presences and wine and dine the political support they need to maintain status quo.   An unfortunate part of that status quo is the acceptance of the widespread decline in bees along with other pollinators and the negative consequences that flows from that.  Surely it is time for the government to take this issue seriously.