Colony Collapse Disorder, commonly referred to as CCD, is a phenomenon currently manifesting in North America honey bee hives which causes the adult worker bees to abandon their hive, leaving behind a substantial amount of food and their queen. CCD has resulted in a loss of 50 percent to 90 percent of colonies in beekeeping operations across the United States and was first reported in the winter of 2006.[i] CCD is not only a problem for the beekeepers who revel in the economic benefits; it also presents problems for the vitality of the human race due to the fact that honey bees act as pollinators for a considerable amount of our food.
Many zoologist research groups are searching for potential factors for causing this disorder, some of which include pathogens, parasites, poor nutrition, environmental stressors, and lack of genetic diversity.[ii] For now, a single cause is scientifically unknown, and many beekeepers and zoologists would argue that CCD is not caused by one single factor, but a culmination of multiple factors.
In an attempt to remove the mystery and confusion around the disorder, scientists have stated the consistent symptoms which are often associated with CCD, including: (1) the lack of adult worker bees in or around the colonies; (2) the presence of capped brood and; (3) the presence of food that has not been robbed by other bees or common colony pests.[iii]
In 2014, President Obama signed a memorandum in order to create a federal strategy to promote the health and wellness of honey bees and other pollinators. This directive announces not only the assimilation of multiple task forces, but also outlines specific projects each force will try to accomplish.[iv] Some of these tasks include encouraging public research projects and public education programs, along with increasing and improving pollinator habitats.
Although government action has been moderately implemented, honey bee pollinators continue to die at an alarming rate, with the amount increasing each passing winter. If a new law, The Pollinator Welfare Act of 2016, were to be passed, then Federal Law would regulate the treatment, research, and transportation of the pollinators in our ecosystem. Federal law would also fund scientific research concerning the cause of CCD. This would not only benefit beekeeping farmers, but it would also help the United States economy, and the welfare of humanity.
Honey Bee Populations Are Vital to Fruit, Vegetable, and Animal Agriculture
The life of the Western honey bee (Apis mellifera), over the last few centuries, has become so intertwined with that of humanity, that they have become a vital necessity to humans. Honey bees are the the most effective pollinators, more importantly than that of birds, bats, and other insects.[v] Partly due to their sheer numbers, bees are able to pollinate a considerably large amount of land in a short time span. Most bee colonies have up to 80,000 bees per colony; and it only takes an single bee to visit a one flower.[vi]
Pollination occurs when a transfer of pollen is made from male to female organs of seed plants. This enables sexual reproduction of the plants and therefore allows the bearing of fruits and seeds eaten by a multitude of birds and mammals, including humans. Although some plants have adopted the ability to self-pollinate, about 80 percent of all plant pollination requires the help of other living creatures, most importantly bees. This is appropriately named ‘biotic pollination.’[vii]
When a bee lands on a specific male flower, nectar and pollen from the flower of the plant adhere to the hairs of its body, allowing her to move freely from plant to plant. When she visits the next flower, some of that acquired pollen is rubbed off onto the female flower and essentially, the work of the bee is complete.[viii] Without bees performing this vital step in the reproductive process, a female flower would never be able to produce the fruits and seeds that many birds and mammals not only enjoy, but require in their everyday diets.
A spectrum of fruit and vegetable crops are 90 percent or more reliant on insects for pollination; some of these include almonds, apples, avocados, blueberries, broccoli, carrots, onions, and legumes. The yield of these crops would decline to less than 10 percent if bee were to become extinct.[ix] In addition to this, increasing demand for honey bee pollination services is outpacing the availability of the colonies, due to human population escalation. Without pollinators, at least one third of our food staples we rely on would no longer be available.
Along with the multitude of fruits and vegetables bees help pollinate for us, they also pollinate food for the animals we eat, including cows and pigs. Beef and dairy cattle tend to graze on the wild grasses provided in their habitat. These include clover and alfalfa (related to clover, but slightly taller), which make up a majority of the animals’ food source. Without these staples in their diet, farmers would have to provide corn, wheat, and other grains to their livestock. Although many farmers already include corn and wheat in their animals’ feed, autumn and winter seasons are largely scarce when it comes to providing this food.[x]
“If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.”[xi] This quote, usually attributed to Albert Einstein has a strange similarity to Colony Collapse Disorder. In fact, if bees were to completely go extinct, where would we obtain our food from? Many plants, including corn, potatoes, carrots, and leafy vegetables would be able to survive, but at significantly lower production rates than with the honeybees as pollinators. On the other hand, our vitamin-rich fruits such as melons, berries, and apples would be substantially harder to produce.[xii] Pear farmers in the southwest of China have resorted to human pollination. That is, individually pollinating each blossom individually with pots of pollen and paintbrushes.[xiii] Although this seems to be an impractical solution to the lack of pollinators, ‘human bees’ could frequent in our future agricultural practices.
Honey Bees Contribute Substantially to The United States and World Economies
In addition to the production of fruit, vegetables, and livestock, bees supply the United States economy. In America, honey bees are estimated to contribute over $15 billion annually to the economy.[xiv] This includes several products that are of direct benefit to us: honey, wax, and the resins. Globally, 87 of the 115 food crops are evaluated as dependent on pollinator populations, contributing 35 percent to global food productions.[xv] For example, California’s almond production relies almost entirely on bees for pollination and required almost 1.4 million beehives annually (60 percent of all United States beehives) to maintain this, yielding 80 percent of the world’s almond production at 4.8 billion dollars every year.[xvi]
Honey is a valuable food, beauty, and medicinal commodity throughout the world. The liquid gold, produced by the pollen that honeybees accumulate from flowers, has the potential to cure multiple ailments on the human body including cuts, scrapes, burns, sore throats, and dandruff.[xvii] It can be used as an acne treatment or added as a sweetener to tea and coffee. Each state in America produces honey, with North Dakota producing the highest dollar value at $67,565,000 with 33,120,000 pounds produced. According to a 2010 USDA’s Economic Research Service, America consumes about 410 million pounds annually.[xviii]
In addition to honey, wax is another profitable by-product of the hive. Wax is the material which bees produce to build their nest, forming the substance in the famous hexagonal-shaped cells to form the comb. Especially in rural communities, beeswax is an excellent commodity to use as a cash crop or export. In America, beeswax is chiefly used for candle-making, ingredients in ointment, medicines, soaps and polishes.[xix] Growth of these industries is expected to fuel beeswax industry expansion over the next seven years, according to Grand View Research, Inc. With this, Mr. Bidemi Ojeleye, the Director of The Center for Bee Research and Development, stresses that “it’s pertinent to note that the global honey business contributes over 200 billion U.S dollars to the global economy through the production of honey, beeswax, and other beehive products.”[xx]
Declining Bee Populations Pose a Threat to Commercial Beekeepers
Beehives have been transported by man to pollinate crops since the early days of Egypt. They were shipped by boat down the Nile to accommodate the blooming season. Today, bees are transported by semi-trucks and pollinate over $15 billion worth of food annually. Commercial beekeepers, such as David Hackenberg, who first shed light on Colony Collapse Disorder, do not make a majority of their income from honey. Rather, they make money from pollination contracts with farmers who rely on honeybees to pollinate their crops.[xxi]
Beekeepers across the United States have lost an amount of 10 million hives collectively, and each hive is estimated to cost around $200.[xxii] Due to the rapid loss of colonies across the country, beekeepers and farmers alike have invested a great source of their income to rebuilding the hives. Unfortunately, this rapid loss had caused the cost of rebuilding a colony to increase dramatically. For example, the cost of renting honey bee hives went from $50 in 2003 to $150 in 2009.[xxiii]
In early 2008, honeybee disappearances were still occurring throughout the world, and commercial beekeepers struggled to maintain their pollinator contracts. The worst case of Colony Collapse Disorder ever recorded occurred in South Dakota. Bret Adee, co-owner of Adee Honey Farms reported that when it came time to pollinate his almonds, almost 55 percent of his 80,000 honeybee colonies (two billion bees) were gone.[xxiv] “Its hard and it costs a lot of money,” said George Hansen, past president of the American Beekeeping Federation. “There’s a certain toll you have to pay when things go wrong, how many times can you take those kinds of hits and still get up and do it again?”[xxv]
Amid the chaos of this disorder, commercial beekeepers have been going to extraordinary lengths in an effort to save their beehives, or in many cases, their main source of income. A shot in the dark solution for many beekeepers is the restocking of queenless hives with new queen bees, shipped from warmer climates. In addition, they can also turn to overseas beekeepers to replenish their lack of pollinators. These bees are shipped in packages, which cost about $55 for 12,000 workers and a fertilized queen.[xxvi] It becomes increasingly expensive for beekeepers struggling to maintain their honeybee populations, a feat that has forced many of them to leave behind their self-operated business and has pushed some to the brink of bankruptcy.
Dennis van Englesdorp, a professor at the Pennsylvania State University department of Entomology states that what has happened is that “beekeepers have become very good at replacing dead hives. The average beekeeper is going to tell you that he loses 30 percent of his hives every year. But if a cow farmer or a corn grower or an apple producer lost 30 percent of their crop every year, they’d be going crazy! Like they called in the National Guard when cows were starving in Montana.”[xxvii] Without proper knowledge and education of Colony Collapse Disorder, ignorance will continue to persist, and with that ignorance comes the assurance of the fact that nothing is wrong.
Restoring Ecological Agriculture Will Stabilize Human Food Production, Preserve Wild Habitats, and Protect Bee Populations
Most discussions concerning Colony Collapse Disorder have focused on poor nutrition, the affect of insecticides, and viruses. However, a recent study has connected the world’s largest used herbicide, Roundup, to the decline of honeybee populations in the United States. Plant pathologist Dr. Don Huber submitted his research paper to the Center for Honeybee Research. In it, he highlighted glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, as a potential cause of CCD. He found that this chemical (1) lowers available nutrients in plants- a common cause of CCD which results in malnutrition; (2) acts as an antibiotic to beneficial bacteria, some of which is necessary for digestion; (3) is a neurotoxin- a common symptom of CCD that causes the honeybees to experience neurological distortion commonly associated with disorientation; (4) stimulates fungal overgrowth and; (5) is a persistent poison that is present in honey, nectar, and plant products, meaning honeybees are continually exposed to a toxin that has the potential to travel through their endocrine system.[xxviii]
Currently in the United States, neonicotinoids are used on about 95 percent of corn and canola crops and about half of all soy beans. They are also used on a multitude of fruits and vegetable crops including apples, berries, leafy greens, tomatoes, and potatoes.[xxix]
When governments around the world approved of these insecticides in the 1990s for use in commercial farming, many questioned the environmental impacts of neonicotinoids (“neonics”) and wondered if they could pose detrimental effect on the environment. However, many of these questions were left unanswered.[xxx] “The motivation for producing neonicotinoids was reduced human toxicity, but the environmental and ecosystem impacts were not considered in enough detail to predict what’s going on,” says James Frazier, a professor of entomology at Pennsylvania State University.[xxxi] The European Union banned the three most common neonicotinoids at the end of 2013. However, the United States used these three pesticides, along with others..[xxxii]
Apart from Roundup and other toxic pesticides, farmers and avid gardeners have the ability to rely on an assortment of non-toxic methods to ward off unwanted pests. These can include organic pesticides and environmentally friendly practices in order to control pests, insects, and weeds.[xxxiii] The use of organic farming practices preserve nature-given habitats for the honeybees and also avoid the use of chemical pesticides. Areas or regions in which organic farming practices occur serve as environmental havens for honeybee populations.[xxxiv]
The benefits of ecological farming outweigh the negatives. In fact, ecological farming is the system which humans have been profiting from throughout the course of human history, until recent. This system resists large-scale insect damage by avoiding monocultures (where one crop is mass-produced, for instance, corn) and promoting diversity in the ecosystem.[xxxv] In addition, ecological farming restores nutrients within the soil that produce natural composting systems while avoiding soil loss from wind and water erosion.[xxxvi] In total, ecological farming produces a quality crop without the use of chemicals and fertilizers which have the high potential of passing from product to consumer.
Both the Scientific and Domestic Community Agrees that Bees are Important for the Livelihood of Humans
With current news articles and media attention swarming around the issue, many people have been called on to take action into their own hands. Environmental organizations like Greenpeace and Sierra Club have encouraged consumers to buy organic food from local farmers and set up their own holistic beekeeping hive in their backyard. Whether its out a concern for our global environment or a fascination with the lives of pollinators, many American people would agree that bees are an essential part of our world.
Deforestation has become a common concern among the environmental community, stressing that if we lose the rainforest altogether, we could potentially lose the plants and animals that provide medicine and other commodities for humans. The practice of exploring nature to find commercially useful products is called bioprospecting. In fact, many plants and animals benefit us just by being; photosynthetic plankton in the sea and green plants provide us with the oxygen that we breathe.[xxxvii] And in the same way, bees provide us with one third of all the food we eat along with other medicinal purposes. Environmental organizations such as Peta, Greenpeace, and World Wildlife Fund are all concerned with providing sufficient information to the American public concerning the topic of Colony Collapse Disorder.
In 2011, Beekeepers and civilians alike across France organized an official anti-pesticide protest in the streets of France. In particularly, these former beekeepers protested outside Bayer, the company that manufactures the systemic pesticides that are in question of causing CCD.[xxxviii] They continuously burned piles upon piles of abandoned beehives in order to show the detrimental loss of their honeybees. They even went to the extend of hanging a beekeeper’s uniform from a crane to symbolically show the death of honeybees implies the death of beekeepers as well. [xxxix]
Tia Tuenge of Los Angeles, California states that “This was our first house and I had been hearing a lot about bees not having enough food because of pesticides. And so we got a gardening book and decided to build an organic garden for the bees. And I love that my daughter is learning to have a love for nature.”[xl] Also, in the spring of 2009, First Lady Michelle Obama planted an organic garden at the White House. And to help the fruits and vegetables grow, the garden holds a beehive.[xli]
In Michigan, at the Rosa Park Elementary School received an observational beehive, a project made possible by a $1,500 grant from The Bee Cause. In plight of Colony Collapse Disorder, the organization helps to raise awareness for the disease by putting observatory beehives in 1,000 school throughout the United States.[xlii] “The goal for the kids is to learn about the honeybees in general… there’s so many different things we can learn about bees including the science behind pollination and hive building but also working together as a community to raise awareness that honeybees are very threatened.”[xliii]
The EPA Has the Ability to Restrict or Limit the Use of Pesticides
The EPA, or the United States Environmental Protection Agency, is part of the federal government which was assimilated in order to protect human health and the environment, both on the national and international levels by enforcing environmental and/or health regulations based on the laws passed by Congress.[xliv] The agency conducts environmental research as well as works with other governmental agencies, including the FDA and USDA, in a plethora of environmental protection programs and energy conservation efforts.[xlv]
In response to the Colony Collapse Disorder crisis, almost 10 years after farmers and ecologists alike first began complaining of bee deaths and pesticide use, President Barack Obama issued a memorandum in order to establish a Pollinator Health Task Force, co-chaired by the USDA and the EPA.[xlvi] The EPA’s proposals to protect pollinators from pesticide use include (1) prohibiting the use of pesticides that are harmful to bee health when crops are in bloom and bees are under farming contract for pollinating services, (2) prohibit the use of neonicotinoids when bees are present, and (3) encouraging the re-evaluation of neonicotinoids as pesticides.[xlvii]
Neonicotinoids were re-assessed by the EPA in 2009- not as a single class, but as one by one instead (there are altogether 5 neonicotinoids used in the United States and globally). Although the agency has conceded that one neonicotinoid, Bayer’s imidacloprid, has affected honeybee health, the EPA has failed to mention the other four neonicotinoids that have the possibility to affect honeybee health.[xlviii]
The foods that are most likely to be affected by imidacloprid are citrus fruits. The EPA issued a statement that said crops like corn, soy, leafy greens that are sprayed with imidacloprid caused little to no harm with the honeybees. However, there are four other neonicotinoids which the EPA has yet to asses, including clothianidin.[xlix]
Shortly after the EPA proposals were released, beekeepers and environmental groups filed a lawsuit in federal court stating that the agency had failed to properly assess neonicotinoids in their most widely-used form: seed coatings.[l] These coatings are sold to farmers, usually having an unnatural blue-greenish coating on them. Throughout the life of the plant, the neonicotinoid coating grows with the plant, without a need for spraying other pesticides.[li]
While many honeybee hives throughout the United States and Europe continued to suffer from Colony Collapse Disorder, it is important to note that many beekeepers, environmental groups, and educational institutions are continuously making huge strides toward the awareness and prevention of this disorder. Yet the current state of affairs in the agricultural business and their relationship with governmental agencies has resulted in the inability to provide honeybees and their beekeepers with and sufficient response to the issue at hand. Undeniably, without the services that honeybees provide us with, including pollination, the ultimate result would be the worst famine the world’s populations have ever seen.
[i] American Association for the Advancement of Science, A Metagenomic Survey of Microbes in Bee Colony Collapse Disorder, http://science.sciencemag.org/content/318/5848/283.full (Apr. 3rd, 2016).
[iii] Journal of Apicultural Research, Colony Losses, Managed Colony Population Decline, and Colony Collapse Disorder in the United States, http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.3896/IBRA.126.96.36.199 (Apr. 3rd, 2016).
[iv] White House, Presidential Memorandum- Creating a Federal Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators, https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/06/20/presidential-memorandum-creating-federal-strategy-promote-health-honey-b (Apr. 3rd, 2016).
[v] Wilson-Rich, Noah, The Bee: A Natural History (Princeton, NJ: The Ivy Press, 2014), 68-70.
[vii] Canada Agriculture and Food Museum, The Importance of Bees: Pollination, http://www.bees.techno-science.ca/english/bees/pollination/default.php (Apr. 6th, 2016).
[ix] Wilson-Rich, 132-134.
[x] Wilson-Rich, 153-154.
[xi] Forbes, Einstein and the Bees: Should You Worry?, http://www.forbes.com/sites/paulrodgers/2014/09/09/einstein-and-the-bees-should-you-worry/#48c9770d10c5 (Apr. 6th, 2016).
[xii] Wilson-Rich, 152.
[xiii] Wilson-Rich, 153.
[xiv] Wilson-Rich, 132.
[xv] The White House, Fact Sheet: The Economic Challenge Posed by Declining Pollinator Populations, https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/06/20/fact-sheet-economic-challenge-posed-declining-pollinator-populations (Apr. 3rd, 2016).
[xvii] Medical Daily, Liquid Gold: 7 Health Benefits of Honey That Could Heal Your Whole Body, http://www.medicaldaily.com/liquid-gold-7-health-benefits-honey-could-heal-your-whole-body-325932 (Apr. 10th, 2016).
[xviii] Honey, Honey Industry Facts, http://www.honey.com/newsroom/press-kits/honey-industry-facts (Apr. 10th, 2016).
[xx] News Agency of Nigeria, Features: Beekeeping as a Viable Economic Venture, http://nannewsnigeria.com/features-beekeeping-viable-economic-venture (Apr. 10th, 2016)
[xxi] Maryam Henein, George Langworthy, “The Vanishing of the Bees,” https://www.netflix.com/watch/70166291?trackId=13752289&tctx=0%2C2%2Ce2885a11171e49e6696399d8d9f62ed1f98191dc%3A40fbd8059231f0a566fcc1f404335a16f6c87a91 (April 4, 2016).
[xxii] The Washington Post, Beekeepers Try to Keep Bees-and Livelihoods- From Going Extinct, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/beekeepers-try-to-keep-bees–and-livelihoods–from-going-extinct/2015/08/08/d471d68a-1f70-11e5-84d5-eb37ee8eaa61_story.html (Apr. 12th, 2016).
[xxiv] “The Vanishing of the Bees.”
[xxvi] “The Vanishing of the Bees.”
[xxvii] “The Vanishing of the Bees.”
[xxviii] NYR Natural News, Is Roundup Killing Our Honeybees?, http://www.nyrnaturalnews.com/article/is-roundup-killing-our-honeybees/ (Apr. 3rd, 2016).
[xxix] Yale: Environment 360, Decline Bee Populations Pose a Threat to Global Agriculture, http://e360.yale.edu/feature/declining_bee_populations_pose_a_threat_to_global_agriculture/2645/ (Apr. 12th, 2016).
[xxxiii] ISIS: Institute of Science in Society, Synergistic Effects of Pesticides and Parasitic Fungi and Worsening Decline of Honeybees, http://www.i-sis.org.uk/honeyBeeOrganicFarming.php (Apr. 10th, 2016).
[xxxv] Greenpeace, Save the Bees: Be the Solution to Help Protect Bees in Crisis, http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/sustainable-agriculture/save-the-bees/ (Apr. 11th, 2016).
[xxxvii] The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), What is the Point of Saving Endangered Species?, http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20150715-why-save-an-endangered-species (Apr. 14th, 2016).
[xxxviii] Union Nationale de l’Apiculture Française, UNAF Press Release Paris le 11th October 2011, http://www.moraybeedinosaurs.co.uk/archives/french%20demonstrations.html (Apr. 13th, 2016).
[xl] “The Vanishing of the Bees.”
[xli] The New York Times, The Obamas to Plant Vegetable Garden at White House, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/20/dining/20garden.html?_r=0 (Apr. 15th, 2016).
[xlii] Michigan Live: What’s the Buzz? Elementary School’s Beehive Will be the Second in Michigan, http://www.mlive.com/news/muskegon/index.ssf/2016/04/observational_beehive_in_west.html (Apr. 15th, 2016).
[xliv] EPA: United States Environmental Protection Agency, Our Mission and What We Do, https://www.epa.gov/aboutepa/our-mission-and-what-we-do (Apr. 12th, 2016).
[xlvi] EPA: United States Environmental Protection Agency, EPA Actions to Protect Pollinators, https://www.epa.gov/pollinator-protection/epa-actions-protect-pollinators (Apr. 3rd, 2016).
[xlviii] Mother Jones, The EPA Admits that the World’s Most Popular Pesticide Kills Bees- 20 Years Too Late, http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2016/01/epa-finds-major-pesticide-toxic-bees (Apr. 15th, 2016).
[li] Center For Food Safety, Hidden Costs of Toxic Seed Coatings: Insecticide Use on the Rise, http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/files/neonic-factsheet_75083.pdf (April 14th, 2016).