If, as a middle age or senior adult, you’ve been thinking there seem to be less honey bees around than when you were a child, you’re absolutely right. Moreover, honey bees are disappearing at a staggering rate, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Between April 2014 and April 2015, losses of managed honey bee colonies hit 41.2%, up from the 34.2% loss during the 2013 – 2014 season. This made the 2014 – 2015 loss the second highest annual loss so far.
Results were drawn from survey responses provided by 6,100 beekeepers managing about 400,000 colonies. These 400,000 colonies represent about 15.5% of the bee colonies in the United States.
In 2014, the Harvard School of Public Health released a study that pointed to two widely used neonicotinoids – a class of insecticide – that appear to significantly harm honey bee colonies over the winter, particularly during colder winters. Jeff Pettis, research leader at the USDA’s agricultural research service, indicated viruses, parasites, nutrition problems and pesticides are all factors.
Since honey bees are critical agents in the pollination of American crops, their decline has become an issue for the U.S. government. The issue, and how best to resolve it, has become highly political. The White House set up a task force in 2014 to study the decline. Additionally, the Environmental Protection Agency is requiring a series of studies on neonic effects on bees and plans to release its first, in a series of, assessments later this year.
Monsanto Co, DuPont, Syngenta AG, Bayer AG and other agrichemical companies say the bees are being destroyed by other factors, such as mites. Note that Bayer and Syngenta produce the pesticides in question; while Monosanto Co and DuPont have used them as coatings for the seeds they sell.
Pettis said the high summer losses weakened the argument that mites are the cause of the staggering losses as the mites are most active in winter. The 2014 – 2015 season was the first that summer losses exceeded winter, at 27.4% and 23.1%, respectively as compared to 19.8% (summer) and 23.7% (winter) for the prior year.
“The bees should be surviving better, but the numbers say otherwise,” said Pettis.
Whatever the cause, reversal is paramount as honey bees are needed to pollinate plants producing a quarter (25%) of the food consumed by Americans. Foods such as almonds, apples, beans and watermelon are listed on the list released by government officials; however, they are certainly not the only crops affected.