19 Jun Killer Instincts: Bees & the Future of the Food Supply
By Adrienne Gerard
I was recently invited by a friend to a Blessing of the Bee Ceremony at her home in Los Angeles. She was adding a third hive box to expand her home bee colony, and thought it nice to bless its future residents. “In many indigenous cultures,” she said, “it is believed that by making offerings, prayers, and even singing to the plants, animals, and elements we create a cycle of love that nourishes everything. This night is about blessing, honoring, and celebrating the bee.” I decided to attend more for the social aspect.
Personally, I don’t like bees. I’m terrified of them actually. I have never been stung by a bee before, and so when one comes around, I run away out of fear of what I imagine to be the excruciating pain of a stinger puncturing the skin. I’m always afraid to shoo the bee away also for fear of threatening it with a light brush of my hand. Who knows what will prompt a bee to end its life just to cause you pain for a brief instant. Nevertheless I attended this “blessing” of the bees that seemingly taunt me wherever I go. And what I learned altered my entire perception of these tiny, life-sustaining creatures.
Bees are the most fruitful free labor force the world will ever know. And, we are causing their extermination. Of the entire world food supply, pollinators are responsible for a whopping 30%. In the U.S. alone, bees add between $18 and $27 billion dollars to annual crop value.* In 2014, however, beekeepers reported loosing 42% of their colonies.** And the culprit…agricultural pesticides, specifically a type known as neonicotinoids which farmers, in an ironic twist of fate are solely responsible for. These pesticides are either sprayed directly on crops, or coated on seeds spreading throughout the plant into the nectar and pollen. Studies suggest the pesticides either kill the bee directly and/or affect their brains making them unable to work, and in some circumstances even causing them to kill their own larvae.***
Recently the U.S. Government, with the fervent support of President Obama, established a nationwide conservation effort to protect pollinators. Called the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge, the program serves as a call to action for schools, companies, homeowners and community groups encouraging them to grow their own pollinating gardens to help sustain and hopefully increase pollinator populations. While I applaud the sentiment behind the initiative, like many things these days, it remains a patchwork solution masking the bigger issue. Until the use of these pesticides is eliminated by Big Agriculture, a war of attrition will persist.
There are efforts I do believe have the potential to make a real impact. Re-education efforts by organizations like Xerces Society and Pollinator Partnership are working to teach farmers about the benefits of bees as they pertain to crop yield and plant diversity, as well as promote natural forms of pest control. Evidence suggests, for instance, that by simply allowing predator insects such as wasps, flies, and beetles to do their job (eating the bad bugs), crop-infesting pests will naturally decline with little to no reliance on chemical pesticides.****
Education initiatives needn’t stop with agriculture. As consumers, a dramatic reduction in pesticide use could be achieved by simply lessening the enormous amounts of food we as Americans waste. It is estimated that 25-40% of all food grown, processed and transported in the States (that’s 70 billion pounds worth), will go uneaten this year.***** Taking a simple supply and demand approach, wasting less food would trigger a natural reduction in food supply equaling a reduction in the demand and application of pesticides. Taking this same approach and applying it to the production and consumption of meat, 70% of U.S. grain production is currently used to sustain the amount of beef and pork that Americans consume.****** By reducing the amount of meat Americans consume, we would see a massive reduction in feed volume, also triggering a massive drop in pesticide application.
It seems silly to summarize it all with the “big problem needs big answers” catchall. So in the interest of making this read more meaningful and productive, I would urge anyone with a spot of lawn or patio to go ahead and make your pollinator garden to promote the survival of your communities’ pollinator populations. You may notice that in the following year there will be more flowers and a couple of new surprise vegetable patches that pop up in your yard, and around your neighborhood. And for us apiphobics (the technical term for someone who’s less than thrilled with the idea of being stung by one of these guys), I for one will think twice before going after the hive in my yard with a killer instinct. After all, we do have a lot to thank them for.