Bee colony collapse has confounded scientists until a recent breakthrough. PHOTO: Luis Miguel Bugallo Sanchez, CC license
New research sheds light on why bees are dying in incredible numbers. The complicated answer is an interacting cocktail of pesticides and pathogens. The simpler answer: Big Agriculture. Let’s spend a little time on each.
Scientists have been hard at work to determine the cause of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) in which an entire colony of bees dies at once. CCD has wiped out an incredible 10 million beehives in the last six years, costing $2 billion in agricultural losses, according to Quartz. While it’s hard to get people exercised about, CCD threatens the agricultural fabric of the United States. Research published in PLOS ONE by the University of Maryland and the US Department of Agriculture finds that the die-offs are triggered by pesticides in bushes and weeds surrounding agricultural fields. These pesticides get into the pollen that bees collect. The poisons increase the bees’ vulnerability to parasites (namely Nosema ceranae) and this deadly mix can trigger colony collapse.
Now for the big picture: big agriculture is showing its long term unsustainability. While factory farming and monocultures have created incredible yields, over decades it has big, potentially self-destructive side effects. Many would have predicted that Big Agriculture’s self-destruction would come from soil depletion from mono cultures (a mono culture is an entire field devoted to a single crop) or groundwater depletion (which could still happen, and would be a huge problem), if we can’t curtail the rate of CCD, it is the unexpected catastrophe of bee deaths that could be the first problem big enough to fell Big Agriculture.
So, they’re going to hit the brakes, consult leading permaculture experts, transition more and more to organic and…no of course not. There are hungry mouths to feed, overly generous subsidies to cash in on, and an industry much much bigger than any one person. The biggest culprits, like Monsanto and Cargill, have shown zero inclination to respond to environmental concerns.
No, it’s you, reader, who has to change. You are our best shot at turning this around. Buy organic. Buy local. Go to your farmer’s market. Sign up for a CSA. Big business doesn’t know how to say no to profits. The only hope is to take those profits away.