“Please Buzz for Assistance”: What’s Killing the Bees?
by kohearn on October 7, 2016 - 8:21pm
(Image source: https://www.honeycolony.com/article/bees-dying-by-the-millions/)
It’s difficult to imagine life without bees. About three-quarters of food crops worldwide depend on insect pollination, but stresses like parasites and pesticides have dropped their populations to worrying levels in recent years (Stokes, 2016). However, new Ontario regulations restricting use of a group of pesticides called neonicotinoids has caused a rift between farmers and beekeepers. According to an article in the Globe and Mail, the pushback against these restrictions has mainly been from seed and pesticide distributors and farming organizations (Atkins, 2015). During the 2016 growing season, farmers had to submit pest assessments for approval to use neonics on more than 50% of their crops, and for the 2017 season, will need one to use any neonics at all (Atkins, 2016). The regulations came into effect following the results of studies linking exposure to neonics to a decline in honeybee health, but some argue the factors responsible for colony collapse are more complicated (Atkins, 2015).
This conflict between farmers and beekeepers weighs reduced crop yields against pollinators’ benefits to about $900 million worth of crops (Atkins, 2015). Monocrops of corn and soybeans have substantially reduced wild bee habitats, but pollination also contributes substantial economic benefits through canola and flowering fruits and vegetables. Then, there is the question of who should pay to maintain bee populations: some feel these regulations will shift most of the costs to farmers, such as pressure to plant bee-friendly species on their land (Denys, 2015). Denys (2015) suggests this will place Ontario farmers at a disadvantage to farmers in countries permitted to use neonics. Underlying these valuation conflicts is uncertainty surrounding the main influence on declining bee populations. Some studies demonstrate that neonics cause harm to bees (Atkins, 2015), while others show minimal effects (Denys, 2015), but interactions between different factors make it difficult to determine what approach would be most effective to prevent colony collapse. Design of studies has played a role in the conflicting evidence, as methods of pesticide exposure and control of variables can skew data in one way or the other (Denys, 2015).
While lack of certainty is no reason to delay preventative measures, the unequal distribution of cost and benefits in this management approach highlights areas for improvement. First, there is a need for consultation and compromise between affected groups—these regulations place the management costs on farmers, without providing subsidies or other benefits to encourage cooperation. The new system operates on a certain level of trust for implementation (Atkins, 2015), and resentment among farmers may make them unwilling to cooperate for these and future conservation efforts. Second, we need a more comprehensive approach to address factors like parasites and disease. Stokes (2016) suggests more stringent regulations on the import and export of bees could reduce the spread of disease among colonies. Public education campaigns are another viable option, allowing citizen involvement through planting bee-friendly flowers or building “bee hotels” to house solitary bees (Holland, 2015). Third, there should be updates to beekeeping regulations and practices to ensure healthy habitats and homes for their colonies. Offering training courses for new beekeepers could help increase hive health, while Yirka (2013) suggests restricting the use of processed syrup in bee diets to increase their resistance to pesticides.
While corn and soybean producers might resent shouldering the cost of keeping bee populations healthy, it’s important to remember they aren’t the only crops we consume. Through pollination, bees sustain not just flowers, but many of the fruits and vegetables that provide variety for our meals. While many staple crops don’t require insect pollination to flourish, you might get tired of eating corn every night.
Atkins, E. (2015, June 9). Ontario restricts use of pesticides blamed for decline of bee populations. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/ontario-unveils-first-restrictions-on-class-of-pesticides/article24874268/
Denys, S. (2015, June 17). Bee policy sting: Why farmers will suffer under Ontario’s new regulations. Financial Post. Retrieved from http://business.financialpost.com/fp-comment/bee-policy-sting-how-farmers-will-suffer-under-ontarios-new-regulations
Holland, J. (2015, May 24). 9 Ways You Can Help Bees and Other Pollinators at Home. National Geographic. Retrieved from http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/05/150524-bees-pollinators-animals-science-gardens-plants/
Stokes, C. (2016, May 29). Ban the bees: Local beekeeper says imports too risky. CBC News. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/honey-bee-import-disease-western-australia-1.3601061
Yirka, B. (2013, April 30). Researchers find high-fructose corn syrup may be tied to worldwide collapse of bee colonies. Phys.org. Retrieved from http://phys.org/news/2013-04-high-fructose-corn-syrup-tied-worldwide.html