Reducing excessive pesticide use and protecting bee habitat can help both pollinating bees and the supply of food.
Bees need help.
About 75% of agricultural crops depend on bees and other wildlife for pollination. But bees — the workhorse of bringing fruits, vegetables, honey, nuts and seeds to our plates — have been declining in numbers for years. According to the Bee Informed Partnership, beekeepers have been losing 40% of their colonies annually.
Bees face a variety of challenges. For example, beekeepers lose up to 25% to 30% of their hives each year because of varroa mites, which carry viruses deadly to bees. Last week, Science Daily reported that a variant of the fatal deformed wing virus, which causes bees’ wings to atrophy, is on the rise worldwide.
That makes it all the more important to help bees — and by extension, us — wherever it is possible.
One important step would be to reduce pesticide use, which harms or kills bees. Last year, the journal Science reported that the toxic impact of pesticides on bees and other pollinators had doubled in a decade. That puts agriculture at risk.
Pesticide use, of course, is key to productive farm fields. But overusing pesticides can be counterproductive.
The Illinois Public Interest Research Group is calling for a ban on excessive use of insect-paralyzing pesticides called neonicotinoids, also known as neonics, which have been linked to bee die-offs. Similarly, Environment Illinois is calling for banning consumer use of neonicotinoids in states across the country. In 2018, the European Union expanded its ban of neonicotinoids. According to Environment Illinois, neonicotinoids are neurotoxins that poison bees’ brains, making it harder for them to find food or even navigate their way home.
Over the last year, Massachusetts, Maine, New York and New Jersey have banned the consumer sale of neonicotinoids. Environmentalists also are supporting the proposed federal Saving America’s Pollinators Act, which would require the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to establish a Pollinator Protection Board to develop an independent review process for pesticides that pose a threat to pollinators and their habitats.
Another helpful step would be to protect bee habitats. Wild bees are important pollinators of plants. Planting wildflowers and other plants that benefit bees, and protecting bee habitats, can keep bees buzzing as well.
According to Illinois PIRG, bees pollinate 71 of the top 100 crops that provide 90% of the world’s food.
People might not notice it right away if bees dwindle to smaller and smaller numbers. But it’s important to take action anyway — because we will notice it when flowering plants and food crops are suffering for want of pollination.