A World Without Bees
The world’s bee populations have been under stress in recent years, fueling concerns over the future of agriculture. The combination of colony collapse disorder—the cause of which remains disputed—and expanded use of certain classes of pesticides have fuelled sharp die-offs in bee populations in Europe and the United States. In response, the European Union imposed a temporary ban on neonicotinoid pesticides believed to be harmful to bee populations, and researchers at Washington State University of proposed a bee sperm bank to attempt to preserve the genetic line of bee populations. In the meantime, bee populations continue to fall.
What many people don’t realize is how dependent we are on bees for agriculture. In an effort to illustrate the scope of the problem posed by the loss of bee populations, the University Heights (Rhode Island) Whole Foods Market store temporarily removed produce dependent on bees for pollination services. In total, 237 of the 453 products normally stocked—some 52 percent of their normal product rotation—were removed. Before and after photos are posted below. Among the products removed were almonds, apples, avocados, cantaloupe, cauliflower, carrots, eggplant, honeydew, leafy greens, lemons, limes, mangos, onions, summer squash, and zucchini.
The problem is that the pollination services provided by bees are essential for the production of these crops. According to one study, the value of the pollination services provided by bees to the 100 crops they are the primary pollinators for was around $30 billion in 2012. Blogging at Huffington Post, Todd Woodley described the “beemageddon” starkly:
If that sounds scary, it is. Take almonds. California harvests more than 80% of the world’s almonds. But you can’t grow the nut without honey bees and it takes 60% of the US’s remaining colonies just to pollinate that one $4 billion cash crop. If the death toll continues at the present rate, that means there will soon be barely enough bees to pollinate almonds, let alone avocadoes, blueberries, pears or plums.