By now we’ve all heard that honey bees are dying in record numbers across the planet, lost to a phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).
Experts say many stresses on bees contribute to CCD, in which honey bee hives suddenly perish: A virus that the bees contract, habitat loss and the widespread use of pesticides may all be partly to blame.
As the problem ripples through the food system, produce and crop growers worry that without the bees, production could plummet. Bees help fertilize one-third of all the plant foods that humans consume. Some foods, such as almond trees, are almost exclusively dependent on pollination by bees. Other foods that depend upon honey bees include many you wouldn’t want to drop off the menu: Apples, avocados blueberries, strawberries, watermelon, sunflowers, cucumbers, peaches, peppers and pumpkins.
In short, no bees, no food. At least no certain foods, until those robotic bees are perfected (and is that what we want?).
Everyone can do their part to save bees, by planting the native blooming flowers and shrubs that help feed bees and also by staying away from pesticides, particularly the worst offenders, a group of pesticides known as neonicotinoids.
The problem with neonicotinoids
Neonicotinoids are taken up by plants and exuded in their pollen, making them toxic to pests. Scientists say these pesticides are not just killing target pests, but also are weakening and killing bees and other pollinators, like butterflies, by damaging them neurologically. Honey bees affected by these chemicals become disoriented and lose their way home to the hive.
This is emerging science, and some experts say neonicotinoids are not to blame. But the evidence is strong enough that the European Union has temporarily banned this class of pesticides for use in agriculture, hoping to help restore bee populations.
The non-political Xerces Society, which is committed to “the conservation of invertebrates” also has sounded the alarm, noting in a report that neonicotinoids can be more toxic in a home garden than in controlled agricultural uses.
“Products approved for homeowners to use in gardens, lawns, and on ornamental trees have manufacturer-recommended application rates up to 120 times higher than rates approved for agricultural crops,” the Xerces Society noted in a review of the science “Are Neonicotinoids Killing Bees?”.
If you want to “ban” neonicotinoids in your home landscape to protect bees, you can consult this list put out by the Center for Food Safety. The Center for Food Safety is a non-profit based in Washington D.C., which advocates for a healthy food system.
The products on the CFS “do not use” list contain the neonicotinoid chemicals that have been found to harm bees. You can also check the label for these names: Imidacloprid, Clothianidin, Dinotefuran and Acetamiprid.
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