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Devastating honeybee loss reported across United States expected to impact food prices

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
April 8th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Fifty percent of the domestic honeybee population is dead, the greatest single-year loss of honeybees in the United States ever recorded. The dramatic loss of the bees is expected to affect consumers.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Scientists and beekeepers have been baffled by Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) which is characterized by the sudden disappearance of the hive's worker population.

According to the USDA, Symptoms of CCD include few or no adult honeybees present, honey and immature bees (broods) remain present in the hive suggesting a sudden abandonment of the hive--a possible response to stress. However, the bees are never found elsewhere, they simply disappear and die. Usually, the queen bee is left behind but dies without establishing a new population.

The disorder has significantly affected bee populations since the 1970s with a sharp increase in losses since 2006. Now, as beekeepers return to their hives to prepare for spring pollination, they are finding that at least half of their bees are gone.

The 2013 year now marks the highest loss on record with at least 50 percent of all European honeybees in the U.S. reported lost to CCD.

The attrition rate for honeybee hives is normally around 5 to 10 percent per year. After 2006, that rate increased to about one third. This year, it is one half.

That one-half figure is a critical point beyond which many beekeepers think prices will be affected.

Bees are important because they pollinate most of the fruit and vegetable supply in the United States. They also produce honey, which is still widely consumed as a sweetener on bread and in a variety of other products.

Just what's killing the bees remains a mystery but beekeepers are beside themselves, often approaching their hives to find hundreds of worker bees dying outside the hives each day. As the bees die, farmers lose the ability to pollinate crops, reducing yields and thereby the food supply. Farmers are now projecting that the decrease in the supply of fruits and vegetables will be so great that prices will be impacted by the summer of this year.

A number of beekeepers blame pesticides for the loss of their bees, specifically as class known as neonicotinoids. Neonicotinoids are a form of pesticide that work by blocking the nerve endings in insects, paralyzing them so that they die slowly by starvation. Beekeepers think their bees are being exposed to the pesticides and are dying as a result.

Research done one dead bees confirms the pesticide is occasionally present.

This has prompted beekeepers to work together to sue the EPA for failing to ban neonicotinoids.

Others still think the causes could be more complex, a combination of natural and man-made factors which are contributing to the extreme mortality rate.

What researchers have widely observed is that bees are being exposed to a wider variety of chemicals in the environment that previously supposed. A virtual cocktail of pesticides and chemicals could be contributing to their demise.

Other research has looked into the possibility of diseases such as parasites or viruses, but no single factor has demonstrated the lethality that beekeepers are reporting.

Although the cause remains inconclusive, the effects are now beyond question. The dramatic reduction in honeybee population means fewer crops will be pollinated and farmers will pay more for their beehives this year. That means less food and higher costs for fruits and vegetables later in the year.

Of course, so few Americans still eat fresh fruits and vegetables these days, the impact will probably be mitigated somewhat by our extremely poor dietary habits.

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