Bees are essential to growing agricultural crops, and while we now know that pesticides are responsible for collapsing bee populations, there seems to be another chemical factor that is causing a massive drop in bee numbers. This year alone about 80,000 beehives were lost after pollinating conventional almond fields in California, leading beekeepers and the EPA to question what is behind this devastating blow to the bee species.

While there may not be a definitive answer as of yet, most beekeepers point straight to the number of chemicals used on conventional almond crops as the source of these sudden bee deaths. “Tank mixing” or the process of mixing insecticides and pesticides together for blanketing crops is the top culprit in this mysterious case. Denise Quall, a California bee broker, lost 10 percent of her bees after they were exposed to a lethal mixture of chemicals while pollinating California conventional almond fields. Quall claims the amount of chemicals used on such crops is “unbelievable” and believes the EPA needs to make pesticide labeling mandatory. In addition to better labeling, the EPA is looking into setting restrictions on the times of day certain pesticides can be sprayed to minimize bee exposure.

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Bees pollinate $18 billion worth of crops in the U.S. and their already struggling population is highly susceptible to damage from chemical exposure. The beehives that were damaged by tank mixture had extended their pollination contracts to help farmers boost crops after the season’s drought, meaning bees were exposed to more chemicals for a longer period of time than normally permitted.

It is clear that there is a lack of regulation and general knowledge pertaining to the amount of pesticides and insecticides used in today’s agricultural system, especially for conventional crops. There are alternatives to chemical compounds that harm bees, yet the disconnect between farmers, beekeepers and regulatory agencies like the EPA is hindering the ability of the agriculture industry to change the poor practices that are currently in place. Eugene, Ore. was the first in the country to ban pesticides that harm bees. It is crucial that all U.S. cities and states follow suite before it’s too late!

Image source: Mark Winterbourne / Wikipedia Commons 

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