If you’re as disturbed about the declining bee population as I am, you’re probably wondering (or maybe already know) what is causing their decline?
The answer in a word: insecticides. As if spraying toxic chemicals on our food wasn’t really bad enough, these chemicals are playing a role in destroying our planet and our little fuzzy friends - the bees.
As a result of this, the bee population statistics are heartbreaking. From 5 million 75 years ago to only 2.5 million today (source: usda.gov). Now, this same website talks about different mites and parasites that could be causing the bee decline, as well as the weather, but let’s get real: they’re not about to admit that their legal poisons are killing our planet and threatening our food supply.
The class of insecticides thought to be responsible for bee deaths all over the United States is neonicotinoids, which includes imidacloprid (the most commonly used one), clothianidin, thiamethoxam, acetamiprid, and nitenpyram. What are these things? If you’re like me, you’ve never seen these words in your life. Or, maybe you’ve just never read the back of that bottle of wasp killer you bought over the summer. So, the question is, can buying organic save the bees? Probably Not I’m all about buying organic, even though I know the farmers are still using pesticides on it (many people don't know that as long as farmers use pesticides derived from natural sources they can still be certified as organic). The reason I choose organic is because I consider it to be the lesser of the two evils. But enough about my supermarket purchases and more about the bees. Since organic produce still often uses pesticides, buying organic produce likely won’t save them.
The organic pesticide rotenone (yes organic pesticide) is controversial regarding its toxicity to bees. When neonicotinoids are used on crops, they get absorbed into the pollen and nectar of the plants, which is where the bees come in. The bees drink the nectar and the residue from the insecticide gets trapped on their hairy legs, and then they ultimately die. Some of them are merely intoxicated and they can no longer find their way back to their hives and then die. Others make it back to the hive but then they die there. The same thing can happen with rotenone. If buying organic won’t have the bees, then what will?
Global Change There’s been something wrong with the way we produce and eat food for a long time. We need global change, not just the simple banning of insecticides, to save the bees. Some people propose that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are the answer. But those theories involve protecting the bees from viruses and mites. Regarding pesticides, however, GMOs pose their own risk. GMOs contain their own insect resistant pesticides. While some studies have shown that GMOs are safe, there are other studies that show increased risk for health problem with the consumption of GMOs.
The problem comes down to the fact that we just haven’t had enough time with GMOs around to really know how they affect us, and yet most of the country is eating them, often without knowing it. But that's another topic for another day. What Can You Do? There are things that you can do to help save the bees that don’t involve standing in the supermarket aisle for an hour whispering to yourself, “Organic? Conventional? Organic? Conventional?” while holding two heads of lettuce.
They are: Planting flowers and bee-friendly plants. Plant them, water, and oh yeah, DON’T spray them with insecticide! Help keep bees healthy and not poisoned by having natural plants in your yard. Grow your own produce. Growing your own produce can be empowering and you won’t have to choose organic or non-organic because you’ll have LOCAL food in your backyard! If you don’t have a backyard, consider potting your vegetables. This can also minimize your weed pulling time.
Become a beekeeper. Ok, you don’t have to do this, but it would be awesome! Buy local. Buying local honey or produce can help you support your bee community and minimize your reliance on produce that’s been treated with insecticides. This will also support your local economy. Farmers Markets are growing in popularity all over the country. A simple Google search should help you find one close to home. Change won’t happen overnight for us or our bee friends, and buying organic may not be the answer, but we can all make small changes to help encourage the bee population. We can also raise our voices to let the farming industry know exactly what we think of insecticide usage on our food. Save the bees!