Apiculturists and scientists are trying to reverse a dramatic decline in bee colonies that threatens agricultural production.
For the past few years the bees required to pollinate fruit and vegetables in the US have been dying en masse with reported losses last season of up to 50%. These losses are devastating for beekeepers who are struggling to keep up with demand and meet their contractual obligations. Farmers aren’t happy either as they are having to pay unusually high prices for the scarce resource and sometimes having to settle for poorer quality bees. Both industries have an obvious vested interest in resolving the issue, the problem is no one is entirely sure what’s causing it.
Earlier this year the European Commission opted to restrict the use of Neonicotinoids, a class of pesticides thought be be harmful to bees. Neonicotinoids are still in use in the US, however, where many beekeepers are not convinced that banning the pesticide alone will be enough to prevent Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). They point to a combination of factors including the prevalence of Varroa mites who carry viruses harmful to bees, inadequate nutrition, migratory beekeeping as well as the widespread use of a variety of fungicides and pesticides. Eric Mussen, a leading US apiculturist, thinks bees may even be acting as the proverbial canary in the coal mine: “The honey bee may be showing us that they just can’t hack the combined environmental stresses anymore. Maybe that means we [humans] soon won’t be able to hack it either.”