Bees might be tiny insects, but they sure are important. These yellow and black striped creatures are responsible for making many of the foods that we know and love possible. It is estimated that seventy of the top 100 food crops grown worldwide rely on pollinators like bees; this is equivalent to 90 percent of the world’s nutrition. Considering that one out of every three bites of foodwe eat comes from crops pollinated by bees, you might be shocked to learn that these insects are rapidly disappearing from the face of the earth.
In the past decade, bee populations have dropped by an average of 30 percent every single year. At this rate, we might not be far off from seeing a day where bees no longer exist. While there are many factors that contribute to the loss of bees, unfortunately, human actions are largely to blame. Climate change and habitat loss play a role in bee decline, but the biggest threat to these insects are neonicotinoid pesticides. This group of pesticides is sprayed on many agricultural crops and works by disrupting the nervous system. Although bees are not the target of these chemicals, sadly they are all too often the victims. When bees are exposed to these pesticides they lose their ability to navigate back to the hive – leading to Colony Collapse Disorder – and they also become more susceptible to fungus and other illnesses.
Knowing what we do about the importance of bees and the various threats that causing their decline, many people and organizations have begun to take action in protection of this vital species. 2015 saw many little victories for bees which will hopefully pave the way for a much more bee-friendly 2016. It can be daunting to think about all the threats these insects face, but these wins prove that there is hope if we keep the momentum going!
1. Study Finds Bees Add Enormous Value to Our Economy
Although bees are known for their pollination abilities, the actual value that they add to our global economy was made known in 2015. A study published in the science journal Nature found that bees contribute about $6,000 to crop production per acre of farmland every single year. This all adds up to billions of dollars worth of revenue from the sale of fruits, vegetables, and flowers. We would argue that a bee’s dollar value pales in comparison to the role that they play in the ecosystem, but this discovery certainly works to motivate people who are only concerned with the business to take measures to protect bees!
2. Study Finds Bees are the Key to Fighting Off Human Illness and Disease
We know how important bees are to food production, but their value is much more complex than you might think. A study carried out by University of Vermont researchers found that bees play a crucial role in human health. You see, bees pollinate a wide variety of fruits and vegetables meaning that when bees disappear so does this variety. While here in the U.S., we don’t have to worry too much about a lack of variety in our food, thanks the fact that grocery stores import goods across the world, in places where crops are all grown by hand and consumed by the growers, a loss of variety means a loss of nutrition. Researchers found that nutrition deficiencies triggered by bee loss could lead to illnesses like blindness and make people more susceptible to diseases like malaria. Knowing this, it becomes abundantly clear that protecting bees means protecting people.
3. White House Launches Bee Protection Program
As more studies came out in 2015 showcasing the role that bees play in our collective ecosystem, the Obama administration was motivated to take action – after all, seeing how influential these insects are on health, how could they not!? In 2014, Obama launched a Bee Protection Task Force to address the many concerns facing bees and in 2015, part of their National Strategy to Promote the Healthy of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators set into motion. The strategy outlines a plan to restore over seven million acres of land in the U.S. over the course of the next five years, it also indicated that the EPA will have to re-evaluate neonicotinoid pesticides in order to ensure a stable future for bees.
4. EPA Overturns Approval of Sulfoxaflor
In a much-lauded victory for bees, the Federal government ruled to overturn the EPA’s approval of a neonicotinoid insecticide called Sulfoxaflor that is known to be detrimental to bees. These chemicals are notorious for the damage that they cause to bees and with this in mind, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that the EPA should not have approved the insecticide because no additional tests proving its safety were carried out. Although this is just one of many neonicotinoid pesticides, it is a huge step in the right direction!
5. Bee-Killing Pesticides are Disappearing From Shelves
Large-scale farms aren’t the only source of harmful pesticides in the U.S., in fact, many common landscaping products contain components that can harm bees. Luckily, however, a new report from Friends of the Earth, entitled “Growing Bee-Friendly Garden Plants: Profiles In Innovation,” found that greenhouses and nursery growers across the U.S. are taking action to stop this.
These businesses are actively phasing out the use of bee-toxic pesticides and with this action, many hardware and garden supply stores are starting to remove neonicotinoid pesticides from their shelves. Ace Hardware has chosen to oust these chemicals and so has True Value. The report also found that many local garden suppliers are refusing to sell neonicotinoid products.
With the progress that has been made in 2015 through the discoveries made about the importance of bees to humans and the actions that have been made to protect these insects, we have lots of reason to be hopeful for 2016. As we have learned, we need bees for a lot more than pollinating flowers, they are at the center of our economy and help keep us all healthy. For all that bees do for us, we could all stand to do a little something for them. To kick off 2016 right, learn how you can start protecting bees today:
- 4 Ways to Help Bees From Home
- Simple Tips to be a Bee’s Friend and Protect Them From Harm
- The Best Pollinators and How You Can Help Them
Lead image source: Maciej A. Czyzewski/Wikimedia