We’ve known for years that bee populations all across North America and Europe are collapsing at an alarming rate. Though science has yet to settle on a single cause for the bee deaths, the most likely culprit seems to be some of the pesticides we use on our crops; though it’s just as likely that there are multiple reasons for colony collapse disorder, and most of them are caused by human activity.
Obviously, this is a huge threat to our food supply. One third of all the food we eat comes from plants that are pollinated by insects, and 80% of those crops are pollinated by bees. This has big implications for our meat supply as well, since animal feed like alfalfa is pollinated by bees. If this mass bee die off continues unabated, we’re going to have a serious food crisis on our hands in the near future.
Unfortunately, it isn’t just the bees that are in danger of disappearing. They get the most attention since they’re responsible for the most pollination, but the truth is, there are multiple pollinating species that are dying off all over the world.
The UN recently released a report on the subject, explained that not only bees, but butterflies and pollinating birds are also threatened on every continent. Two in five species of insect pollinators are threatened, as are one in six bird pollinators.
The report attributed several reasons for the population declines of these species, including urban sprawl, diseases, neonicitinoid pesticides, and of course, no UN report is complete unless climate change is blamed for something.
“The report confirms the overwhelming majority of the scientific opinion regarding pollinator health — that this is a complex issue affected by many factors,” said Christian Maus, of Bayer pharmaceuticals in a statement to AP. “Protecting pollinators and providing a growing population with safe, abundant food will require collaboration.” Bayer produces neonicotinoid pesticides.
Research has linked the use of neonicitinoids on certain crops to declining honeybee populations. The report points to agricultural pesticide management as a key area of concern for pollinators.
“Pesticides, particularly insecticides, have been demonstrated to have a broad range of lethal and sub-lethal effects on pollinators in controlled experimental conditions,” said the report.
The report also highlights monoculture agriculture, with wide swaths of farmland supporting a single crop, as another source of woe for pollinators. In England, the government pays farmers to plant wildflowers in their hedgerows, British scientist Robert Watson told AP. In the United States, the newly formed Pollinator Health Task Force is also looking into ways to encourage farmers to diversify plants grown on agricultural lands.
When you really break it down, the most significant threat to these pollinators, is modern agricultural techniques. The only way to prevent this disaster, is to return to traditional farming in at least some capacity. The world may have to look towards organic farming for inspiration. And that’s a big problem, because for all its faults, modern agriculture is able to feed a ton of people.
There’s no denying the fact that organic farming is also capable of producing high yields, but unlike industrial farming, it takes a lot more time and effort before a piece of land is fertile enough to produce a significant abundance of organic food. So regardless of whether or not most of the farmers in this world stay on their current course, or if they move to save these pollinators by switching to more traditional agricultural techniques, the global food supply is probably going tighten in the near future.