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Maybe It’s Just a Bunch of Bee Keepers Trying to Save Money
“That which is not good for the bee-hive cannot be good for the bees.” Marcus Aurelius Most people have a fear of being stung as soon as they here the buzz of a bee. They swat, swing their arms, run, or even go on the attack and kill the bee. With good reason too, being stung hurts. However people are unaware that honey bees are one of the hardest working insects in the world as well as require little to no maintenance from people and do so much for people without them realizing they need them. One of the major effects affecting our environment today is said to be the dwindling bee population. The dwindling bee population may be caused by many environmental issues as well as manmade issues resulting in an issue that may threaten human existence. Or maybe not.
It is estimated that there were approximately 1 billion honey bee hives in the world in 2012. 100 million of them being managed hives. Meaning, these hives were kept and maintained by bee keepers for the use of making honey and rental to the agriculture industry. 900 million hives are estimated as being wild/feral hives. (www.Biology.Stackexchange.com)
As the graph to the left shows, the wild/feral bee population has continually risen in previous centuries and has leveled off to virtually no growth or a slight decline recently. However, the managed bee population has increased substantially more than the wild/feral bee population. It is only estimated and impossible to get and exact number of how many honey bee hives are thriving in the wild today. The suspected decline however may be more substantial than the graph shows. “The U.S. National Agriculture Statistics show a honey bee decline from about 6 million hives in 1947 to 2.4 million hives in 2008, a 60 percent reduction.” (Weyler) This reduction is bound to affect the world’s supply of food as many fruits and vegetables may require pollination from bees in order to produce a more edible source for both humans and animals. Honey bees are said to pollinate about 80 percent worldwide and a single bee colony to pollinate 300 million flowers each day. Seventy out of the top 100 human food crops, which supply about 90 percent of the world’s nutrition, are pollinated by bees. (Weyler) If the bee population is diminishing, these statistics could prove that the effect could become devastating for the human race. There are many conflicting reports as to the actual amount of bees there are in the world. It would also appear that the managed bee hives are more than making up for the loss of wild/feral hives. The only similarities in the studies is that both types of bees have a substantial loss of life for some unproven reason, however the managed bees seem to be able to recover the loss more easily.
The bee populations are exposed to and potentially affected by many things. Pests and parasites, bacterial diseases, fungal diseases, viral diseases, pesticides, and a little known phenomenon called colony collapse disorder. (Honey Bees Dying) The disappearance of the bees is leaving no real trail of clues to investigate. There are no bee bodies to examine. For this reason scientists cannot come up with the exact cause for the disappearances. Initially, there were many different educated guesses “including environmental change-related stresses, malnutrition,pathogens(i.e., diseaseincludingIsrael acute paralysis virus),mites, pesticidessuch asneonicotinoidsorimidacloprid, radiation from cellular phones or other man-made devices,andgenetically modified cropswith pest control characteristics such astransgenic maize”. (Honey Bees Dying) It is now believed that a combination of all of these is leading to colony collapse disorder or CCD and the disappearance of honey bees worldwide. Studies show that a major factor affecting the dwindling bee population is the pesticides neonicotiniods and imidacloprid. (Zimmer) The neonicotiniods are absorbed and stored throughout every part of the plants. When the bees come to pollinate the plant they ingest these pesticides creating confusion in their brains making it difficult for them to find their way back to their hive. The pesticide is not only affecting honey bees but it is also affecting bumble bees. A British study shows that the pesticides are a keeping the bumble bees from making enough food for new queens to survive. If there are fewer new queens than it is safe to assume there are fewer new hives. The pesticides also weaken the immune system of the bees. Making them more vulnerable for the parasites, mites, and viral and fungal diseases.
Another factor that may be affecting the bees are GMO’s. Dr. Michael Wald, author of the soon-to-be-releasedFrankenfoods – Controversy, Lies and Health Risks, saysthat the connection between Colony Collapse Disorder andGMO’foods’ cannot be ignored.
“I believe that there is a link between the declining population of honeybees and the introduction into the environment of GM foods, particularly with Bt-corn. Because of its genetic modification, this corn produces a pesticide that can be toxic to many varieties of insects, including honeybees”. Says Dr. Michael Wald. (Entine)
Dr. Wald suggests that among all the other things affecting the bee population GMO’s are also playing a role the same way that pesticides that are sprayed onto the plants.
Although there is much research that attests to a diminishing bee population, no research comes to a conclusion as to why the bee population is dwindling. However there are many theories. What seems to be lacking with all the theories is a feasible solution to the problem. Of course there will be no quick fix to the problem and like most environmental issues, it starts with human existence and ultimately ends with human demise. If all the bees were to disappear the effects on human existence will be devastating, right? Not just from the stand point of a diminishing food resources but also from a shortage of oxygen, right? Let’s think about what bees do. Bees pollinate flowers, and other plant life. With this pollination creates seeds to produce other, new plants and flowers. These plants and flowers then go to work changing carbon dioxide into oxygen. Without oxygen the human race cannot survive. This sounds like a logical problem, not a theory. Ok, so the diminishing be population is a popular topic. Rumor has it Einstein, a physicist, said the human race had four years of survival remaining if all the bees die off. Not true. There is no record of Einstein saying such a thing. In fact the rumor was reportedly started in the 1990’s some 50 years after Einstein’s death. (Delaplane) The better questions we should be asking is, does human existence depend on pollination from honey bees or to what extent are humans dependent on the pollination by bees? Of course nothing shows a simple answer to either of those questions. That’s why this topic is becoming more and more debatable. To simplify it a little, Keith Delaplane says, in an article for The University of Georgia, that it depends on where you live and it depends on the climate you live in. Delaplane continues by quoting a United Nations Food and Agriculture analysis concluding that global food production attributed to animal pollination ranges from 5% in industrialized nations to 8% in the developing world. A far cry from 80% mentioned before. Delaplane continues in the article by answering the question “Is it true that human life depends on bee pollination?” No, he answers. He has concluded that another trend is becoming more prevalent. “The fraction of total production made up of animal-pollinated crops grew from 3.6% in 1961 to 6.1% in 2006 – and the trend shows no sign of slowing” It could be the demand for pollinated food driving and issue to become more prevalent.
Nevertheless, this is a debatable topic. Is the bee population diminishing? If yes, what are we doing about it? Currently it is common for bee keepers to give their managed be hives antibiotics in order to prevent losses. However, like humans, the bees build up and immunity to the antibiotics causing the initial problem to substantial bee loss to return to the hives. This has increased research by Lund University for a solution to the bee keeper’s problem. Lund University has discovered that bees “have a battery of healthy bacteria in their honey stomach that protects them. Giving these lactic acid bacteria back to bees boosts their natural immune system, helping them fight off disease.” A sort of antibiotic for bees. This product is called SymBeeotic, it is “a natural supplement containing lactic acid bacteria, and is given to bees as nutrition, ideally before and after their winter hibernation.” (Lund University) With this product, many bee keepers could essentially prevent colony collapse disorder and maintain or increase the bee population “This is the only existing product that boosts bees’ natural immune system so they can fight multifactorial diseases”, says Dr. Tobias Olofsson of Lund University.
There is no doubt that a bee sting hurts and that you have a right to fear one. The debate of whether the bee population is diminishing is left up to the researcher. There is much research to provide evidence that bees disappear from their hives with no trace, however no way to tell if the bees have died. There is also quite a bit of research as to what kills bees, as if we didn’t know that insects are killed by insecticides. However, are we, as humans, too good worry about the bees? Are we thinking about the potential effects of disappearing bees? With all the research that is being done, one would be inclined to think that it is certainly a concern worth looking into before it’s too late. Or, maybe it’s just a bunch of bee keepers trying to save money by not having their bees killed when they rent them out to farmers who use insecticides.
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