Pollination plays a crucial role in food production, which means that bees are intricately tied to the success of the process. Over the last decade, however, concern for these small pests has grown increasingly urgent, as bee colonies continue to see huge hive losses. The EU took action recently decided to ban neonicotinoids, the most popular insecticide in the world, for two years. Many believe that neonicotinoids are linked to the hive losses, including the European Food Safety Agency.
Beekeepers, charged with the task of moving hives into California to fertilize almond trees this year, scrambled to make that process happen. The situation on the west coast highlighted an issue that could have far-reaching consequences around the world. What does it all mean?
California Almond Orchards
Almonds are big business in California; they are the number one overseas agricultural export. The orchards are laid out across hundreds of thousands of acres, and in order to make sure the trees are pollinated properly, approximately one and half million bee colonies must be brought in to do the job. This year, because of the hive losses, the pollination process was only achieved through a nationwide plea to bring in the necessary number of bees.
Concerns For Food Production
The almond orchards are unique, in that they need a significant number of bees in order to complete the pollination process. Therefore, although other crops have not yet been affected by hive losses, they will be if the current trend does not begin to reverse itself soon. Some beekeepers reported losing half of their hives this year, and the bees that were left were not always as efficient and effective as bees from previous colonies.
The European Commission is certainly taking the situation seriously. They recently decided to ban neonicotinoids, the most popular insecticide in the world, for two years. Many believe that neonicotinoids are linked to the hive losses, including the European Food Safety Agency. The move comes as scientists are speaking out about how a shortage of bees will affect worldwide food production. While neonicotinoids are certainly not the only factor in play, they do seem to confuse bees and make them less likely to find their way back to their hives. They could also make the pests more susceptible to diseases. Still, there is some debate about exactly how harmful neonicotinoids really are.
In response to EU’s ban and concerns raised by a number of commercial beekeepers and environmental advocacy groups, the Environmental Protection Agency is taking a second look at neonicotinoids. One way they hope to protect bees is by cutting back on how much neonicotinoid-contaminated dust is sprayed at planting time, since bees are particularly likely to come across the insecticide at that time.
Neonicotinoids are used prominently in the United States, particularly on corn, cotton, rice, grains, fruits and vegetables. The insecticide was widely accepted in the 90s because the risk of human exposure is low compared to previously used products. However, neonicotinoids remain present as plants grow and develop, which means there are a number of ways that bees could be exposed to them, something that was not considered when the insecticide was first introduced. Because of how frequently neonicotinoids are used, wild and domesticated bees are exposed to the insecticide often, which makes for a very uncertain future. Still, while neonicotinoids were present in damaged hives, the exact reason for hive losses can’t yet be pinpointed.
The only thing we know for certain is that there will be fewer bees this year than in years past. As the issue becomes more serious, both private citizens and Odessa pest control technicians are doing their part to help. Wild bees making a “nuisance” of themselves are more likely to be relocated than destroyed, which certainly helps. However, the losses of domesticated bees may be too great to overcome.
About the author: Chris is a blogger for a Texas based pest control company.