You've probably heard it being thrown around. "The bees are dying! We need to save the bees!" And you might be aware that there are decreasing numbers of bee hives in the United States, but what's the problem and why should we care? The solution is hardly simple, but the problem needs solving because bees are responsible for pollinating somewhere between one-third and two-thirds of our most important crops. Without bees, we wouldn't have apples, almonds, blueberries, avocados, onions, cherries, oranges and many more everyday foods in the American diet. Moreover, plants like cotton would be farmed at a much less efficient rate.
How did we get to a point where many species of bees, including the notorious honeybee and bumblebee, are considered endangered in the United States? The easiest answer is Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). This condition occurs when a majority of the worker bees disappear from the hive, leaving the queen and immature bees without worker bees to bring back nectar and pollen. Without food and care, the colonies quickly collapse.
Most researchers agree that major factors causing the CCD epidemic involve pesticides, global warming, habitat loss and invasive parasites. Reversing global warming solely for the sake of the bees may prove to be a tough sell, but there are scientifically suggested policies to help reverse colony collapses resulting from pesticides and parasites.
Many pesticides play an important role in increasing crop yield efficiency by driving away invasive pests, however, some chemicals can be detrimental to the essential pollinators. Recent research has suggested that a certain class of pesticides, neonicotinoids, are particularly harmful to bees because they are absorbed into every part of the plant, including the pollen and nectar. The cycle of cultivating plants using neonicotinoids can have disastrous accumulated effects on the plants, soil and bee colonies.
Researchers believe that the use of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) could help minimize crop yields lost to parasites while ditching harmful chemicals that can accumulate over time. IPM involves the introduction of insects who prey on parasites into farms. While it may seem counterintuitive to introduce more insects to get rid of smaller insects, the corrective IPM insects pose little threat to farmers' crops and could provide a cost-effective replacement to many harmful insecticides. Not only would the plants be healthier, the bees would likely see a return to restored populations.
Bee activists also recommend planting your own herbs, flowers, bushes and trees in your garden as you too can help to provide organic sources of pollen and nectar to encourage healthy bee colonies. While your personal situation may not allow you to become a full-time gardener, your buying habits have a major effect on the future of these friendly little pollinators. By buying organic products, you can help to increase demand for the use of sustainable, environmentally-friendly farming tactics instead of procedures involving genetically modified seeds and widespread chemical application.
While it may be more expensive to buy organic, the effects on our bodies and the environment prove that organic practices are optimal. Instead of buying processed honey at the supermarket, you can check to see if there are any local farmers' markets in the area offering organic honey options. If this isn't an option in your community, check out the organic produce section in your supermarket; this is becoming an increasingly affordable option in most areas.
But don't stop at produce. According to the World Wildlife Fund, "2.4% of the world’s crop land is planted with cotton and yet it accounts for 24% and 11% of the global sales of insecticide and pesticides respectively." This statistic indicates the need for the cotton industry to shift over to more sustainable farming practices. If nearly a quarter of insecticide application on farms could be eliminated by increasing organic cotton production, then this should be a key focus of agricultural reformers and consumers alike. By buying all-organic cotton apparel, you are voting for sustainable farming practices that will eventually lead to a shift towards less pesticides and insecticides in the agricultural industry. The bees will thank you.
Written by Mike Krohn, Intern at Bighorn
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