The 2008 calendar indicates another spring has arrived in North America and also the signs of the new season are everywhere. Buds have appeared on trees, heralding the arrival of new leaves. The higher daylight and the warming sun act as harbingers for the appearance of flowering plants that will soon begin their summer cycle of growth.
Indeed, the familiar signs of spring are everywhere. However, once again this season, there’s a real problem in character which is tempering agricultural excitement for the upcoming growing season. It is an issue which was diagnosed 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 named Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).
CCD happens when all adult bees disappear from the hive, leaving the honey and pollen behind. Few, if any, dead bees are located around the hive. Between 50 and 90% of the commercial honey bee (Apis mellifera) colonies in america have been affected with CCD and the issue 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’s estimated that up to 70% of honey bees in the USA have just disappeared due to Colony Collapse Disorder. The problem has continued throughout the winter of 2007-2008.
Besides the continuing problem of CCD, believe news reports indicate significant regional problems with dying honey bees this spring in the United States. In Hawaii, a microscopic mite is catastrophic Oahu’s honey bee population and the long term impacts could wipe out much of the island’s agriculture. Western Washington State has a growing agricultural catastrophe 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 quickly 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 approximately 1,100 annually.
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 of a lack of research funding and the slow pace of governmental reaction since the amount of honey bees proceeds in decline.
It is now estimated that nearly half of Italy’s 50 billion bee population died last year. That bee mortality rate is going to have a drastic influence on the country’s 25-million-euro honey sector (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 manufacturing and transportation has led to a world food price inflation of 45 percent in the past nine months alone. There are serious worldwide shortages of rice, wheat, and corn. The increasing cost of food has recently been in charge of deadly clashes in Egypt, Haiti, and several African states.
But if the population of the honey bee continues to decrease, worldwide events from higher prices and shortages of food will have only just started. The pollination of the honey bee is crucial to agriculture and the world’s food supply. With no 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 percent of its 60 flavors, such as strawberry, toasted pecan, and banana split. The company is launching a new flavor this spring named Vanilla Honey Bee to raise consumer awareness about the issue. Proceeds from the sale of this ice cream will be used to fund CCD research.
The ramifications to our lifestyle and diet are enormous, but government’s response to the growing food crisis has been limited and slow. The evaporating honey bee issue hasn’t been discussed in any Presidential debate or in any campaign forum. In fact, both of our major political parties have been silent on the issue.
Hopefully, American politicians on the campaign trail from the 2008 United States presidential election like Haagen- Daz solutions. The truth is that Vanilla Honey Bee ice cream might be the only way to bring the candidates focus on a serious, developing, agricultural crisis. A world with no 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.