Imagine a world without almonds, sunflowers, raspberries, and onions. This could become a reality in coming years if Colony Collapse Disorder continues to decimate bee populations.
Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is categorized by, “very low or no adult honey bees present in the hive,” and “a live queen and no dead honeybee bodies present,” according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). What this means is that the vast majority of bees in a hive suddenly disappear leaving honey, immature bees, and even their queen behind. This results in the collapse of the hive. Furthermore, this means that no honey is produced, which is one of the worst side effects for apiarists (beekeepers who raise bees for commercial and agricultural purposes) around the country.
According to a 2013 article in US News by Jeff Nesbit, “CCD has killed off more than 10 million beehives in North America since 2007 alone.” This figure has continued to skyrocket in recent years. USDA data says that “Annual losses from the winter of 2006-2011 averaged about 33 percent each year, with a third of these losses attributed to CCD by beekeepers.” If losses continue at this level, economic vitality within the bee pollination industry will be threatened.
Without a sufficient population of honeybees in the United States, some of the nation’s most valuable food products could be in jeopardy. According to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), food products at risk include the aforementioned produce along with grapes, pumpkins, peanuts, citrus, and hundreds of other products. In total, a potential $15 billion of crops may be lost along with wine, pumpkin pie, peanut butter, orange juice, and dozens of other staples. Even the milk you pour in your coffee in the morning is at risk because the alfalfa used to feed many cows is pollinated by, you guessed it, honeybees. The USDA estimates that as much as one bite of food in three that is consumed in the United States is the result of honeybee pollination either directly or indirectly making it imperative that a solution is found.
In order to find a solution, scientists must first pinpoint the cause, a task scientists only recently accomplished. A recent study highlighted in Nesbit’s article suggests that CCD is caused by “a complex web of many chemicals that involves different types and classes of pesticides and fungicides.” Once honeybees are introduced to these chemicals, they become more prone to parasites, a contributing factor in CCD. Many details regarding CCD have yet to be uncovered. However, the widely held belief that a combination of chemicals is responsible makes future regulation much more difficult to achieve.
Agencies such as the USDA are currently waiting on further research to ensue in order to develop a plan to stop or lessen the effects of CCD. Research is necessary to determine exactly when bees are being exposed as well as if there are any additional factors such as genetically modified (GMO) foods.
This complex problem throughout the United States poses a huge risk both to human and honeybee populations and without a solution soon, both species will have to undergo radical changes.