Wednesday, July 2, 2014

This Is Your Grocery Store In An Era Without Bees


Despite the weekly swarms, the world's bee populations are rapidly diminishing. Their depleting numbers won't just rob a certain NYPD Detective of his job, it'll also rob us of some of the foods we enjoy—and take for granted—on a daily basis. "Of the 100 crop species that provide 90% of the world's food, over 70 are pollinated by bees," explained Achim Steiner, head of the UN Environmental Program in a report about bee populations.

Take a look at the above photo as a startling example of what the loss of bees—and other pollinators—would mean for our food variety. It's not just fruits and veggies but products like chocolate, flavored yogurts and almond milk would also be significantly impacted. We spoke with Whole Foods "Eco-Czar," bee expert and regional forager Lee Kane, who provided an overview of the epidemic as it stands and what, if anything, we can do to stop it.

When was the honeybee population decline noticed and how soon did people realize the implications of this decline? Well, those are really good questions. I guess 2006 is the year that's most often bandied around, when people really realized that something big was going on with honeybees in particular. I'm quite sure that people were seeing trends prior to that but I don't think people kind of put two and two together and realized there was something quite on the scale that it has turned out to be happening. So it took a while. It's like that old conundrum, a room full of blind people standing in front of an elephant seeing different parts of it and thinking that's what was going on. It wasn't until people started to put all those pieces together that they realized this is really big and this is really serious.

What kind of a population decrease are we looking at between 2006 and the present? Well, the rate of die-off average annually has been running about 30% a year. I can't give you an exact percentage of how much that's up but it was nowhere near that much prior to 2006, so the decline has been pretty escalated and pretty dramatic since that year. The colony collapse disorder is the biggest piece of that puzzle but there are other factors that are affecting honeybees in particular, and pollinators in general that have been more long standing issues. The decline of natural forage land has been a really big piece of this and then obviously—well, maybe not so obviously—the increase in pesticides and other chemicals, and in particular the neonicotinoid pesticides seem to have dramatically escalated the die off. Actually that's even debatable, but it's been one of the main contributing factors to what's happening with the bees.

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