Article by James W. Smith
The 2008 calendar indicates that another spring has arrived in North America and the signs of the new season are everywhere. Buds have appeared on trees, heralding the arrival of new leaves. The increased daylight and the warming sun act as harbingers for the appearance of flowering plants that will soon begin their summer cycle of growth. Nurseries and home improvement stores; such as, Home Depot and Loews, are selling plants, rakes, shovels, mulch, and fertilizer.
Indeed, the familiar signs of spring are everywhere. However, once again this year, there is a real problem in nature which is tempering agricultural enthusiasm for the upcoming growing season. It is a problem that was first identified in 2006. The problem continues to be the disappearance of the honey bee. Once again there is little progress to report from research into this mystery surrounding the honey bee called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).
CCD occurs when all adult bees disappear from the hive, leaving the honey and pollen behind. Few, if any, dead bees are found around the hive. Between 50 and 90% of the commercial honey bee (Apis mellifera) colonies in the United States have been afflicted with CCD and the problem is making it difficult for U.S. commercial beekeepers to pollinate crops. About a quarter of beekeeping operations were affected by CCD during the 2006-2007 winter alone. It is estimated that up to 70% of honey bees in the United States have just disappeared due to Colony Collapse Disorder. The problem has continued during the winter of 2007-2008.
In addition to the ongoing problem of CCD, consider that news reports indicate significant regional problems with dying honey bees this spring in the United States. In Hawaii, a microscopic mite is devastating Oahu’s honey bee population and the long term affects could wipe out much of the island’s agriculture. Western Washington State has a developing agricultural crisis as bees are dying from a new pathogen called Nosema Ceranae. This fungus attacks the bee’s gut, making it impossible to process food and the bee eventually starves to death.
In general, the various problems with disappearing and dying honey bees are rapidly taking a toll on the entire United States beekeeping industry. It has been reported that the number of keepers who produce more than 6,000 pounds of honey annually has declined from 2,054 in 2005, (the year before keepers started experiencing colony collapse) to about 1,100 this year.
Internationally, a lack of a sufficient number of honey bees is responsible this spring for problems in blueberry pollination in Canada. The Fraser Valley produces about one-fifth of the world’s blueberries, but no longer has a sufficient number of honey bees to support its blueberry pollination, and honey bees are now being imported for pollination.
In England and Wales, proposals to protect honey bees have recently been announced by the government. However, bee keepers complain about a lack of research funding and the slow pace of governmental response since the number of honey bees continues in decline.
It is now estimated that nearly half of Italy’s 50 billion bee population died last year. That bee mortality rate will have a drastic effect on the country’s 25-million-euro honey industry (which could plummet by at least 50% in 2008) and wreak havoc on fruit crops. The worldwide bee epidemic has also hit France, Germany, Britain, Brazil, and Australia.
The increased cost of energy in food production and transportation has already led to a world food price inflation of 45 percent in the last nine months alone. There are serious worldwide shortages of rice, wheat, and corn. The rising cost of food has recently been responsible for deadly clashes in Egypt, Haiti, and several African states.
However, if the population of the honey bee continues to decline, worldwide events from higher prices and shortages of food will have only just begun. The pollination of the honey bee is crucial to agriculture and the world’s food supply. Without the honey bee, prices of vegetables, fruit, meat, eggs, and dairy prices will all spiral much higher.
The disappearance of the honey bee poses a threat to eating premium ice cream as well. Haagen-Dazs, (owned by General Mills) said bees are responsible for 40% of its 60 flavors, such as strawberry, toasted pecan, and banana split. The company is launching a new flavor this spring called Vanilla Honey Bee to raise consumer awareness about the problem. Proceeds from the sale of the ice cream will be used to fund CCD research.
The ramifications to our diet and lifestyle are enormous, but government’s response to the developing food crisis has been limited and slow. The disappearing honey bee issue has not been discussed in any Presidential debate or in any campaign forum. In fact, both of our major political parties have been silent on the problem.
Hopefully, American politicians on the campaign trail in the 2008 United States presidential election like Haagen- Daz products. The truth is that Vanilla Honey Bee ice cream may be the only way to bring the candidates attention to a serious, developing, agricultural crisis. A world without sufficient honey bee pollination will create a food crisis of economic, national, and international ramifications. Indeed, it is another year without a solution to the problem of disappearing honey bees.
About the Author
James William Smith has worked in senior management positions for some of the largest financial services firms in the United States for the last twenty five years. He has also provided business consulting support for insurance organizations and start up businesses. Mr. Smith has a Bachelor of Science Degree from Boston College. He enjoys writing articles on political, national, and world events. Visit his website at http://www.eworldvu.com