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Bringing the Bees Back

December 5, 2008

By David Thier

food_gathering_behavior_of_bees_full-1Any one paying close attention to the world’s population of bees probably heard about the massive die-offs last year, where huge numbers of bees were simply disappearing for unclear reasons in a grand, global murder mystery. Pesticides, mites and global warming were all thrown around as potential causes, but nothing was certain except that it seemed to almost definitely be our fault.

The implications for just about the entire world were dire – short of hand pollinating half of the world’s plants, loss of bees would have led to a catastrophic disruption of plant reproduction worldwide. In Europe, an estimated 1.25 billion dollars in agricultural revenue were lost due inadequate beeage.

Now, however, the European Parliament is making steps towards recovery. A recent resolution is dedicated to creating “bee havens” across the continent – essentially uncultivated land where flowers are allowed to grow freely.

“Compensation Zones” are also being created in a slightly more active effort to resuscitate the lagging bee population. In these areas, protein-rich flowers will be cultivated to make up for the poor nutrition that bees receive from monoculture crops – thought to be one of the causes in the population decline to begin with.

Buffer zones in between chemical agriculture and bee havens will also be a crucial part of this plan – countries like Switzerland already require “environmental compensation zones” of 1 or  2 percent to protect surrounding grasslands from contamination. Huge swaths of land have been made uninhabitable for bees because of pesticide application, and this regulation seeks to reduce the impact that farmers have on their surroundings.

The new measures are about more than just helping the lagging bee population – it’s an acknowledgement of the intersection between agriculture and nature, and an acknowledgment of the fact that human actions fit into a larger ecosystem. We aim not just to create an environment where bees will be happy and healthy, but we aim to create a healthy agricultural system that naturally includes bees.

According to the USDA, about one third of all food is dependent on bee pollination, one notable exception being wind pollinated grasses like corn. We need bees, and we need them badly. Europe has always been slightly ahead of America on issues like this, but we were the ones that noticed Colony Collapse Disorder in the first place. Perhaps the new administration will take Europe’s lead and spend a little more time thinking about bees.

Christian Science Monitor

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Ed Levi permalink
    December 6, 2008 11:36 pm

    Actually France had a similar thing going on some 6 or 7 years earlier. They didn’t give it a serious name (it was nick named “mad bee disease) and figured it was caused by systemic pesticides on sunflowers. About 4 or 5 years ago Spain experienced another similar disappearance of bees and figured it was caused by Nosema ceranae. When it first appeared in this country we called it Fall Dwindling Disease and later researchers decided to call it CCD. Naming something does not suddenly make it a reality…it is just naming it. We are still looking at the same pesticides and Nosema strains that France and Spain reported before it became big news here.


  1. Chelsea Green » Blog Archive » Save the Bees, Save the World

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