Catastrophic Decline In Honeybees Will Hit Food Prices This Year

Saturday, April 13, 2013
By Paul Martin

By Leah Zerbe
Friday, 12 April 2013

Experts anticipate that the catastrophic decline in honeybees will hit global food prices this year.

Grocery bills are expected to climb as beekeepers watch honeybee hives continue to crash in catastrophic numbers. The connection between the troubled winged critters and your wallet? Honeybees offer upwards of $20 billion worth of free services to farmers each year as they pollinate fruit, vegetable, and nut tree crops, helping to increase yields. In fact, honeybees are responsible for 80 percent of crop pollination in America.

Unprecedented losses over the harsh winter and throughout 2012 have erased up to half of the hives farmers need to pollinate favorites like blueberries, cherries, and apples. The growing consensus is that neonicotinoids and bees don’t mix. Neonicotinoids, a powerful class of systemic insecticides, are chemicals often used to coat seeds, including genetically engineered corn, to kill pests by affecting their neurological functioning. The problem is these chemicals travel inside the plant and disperse into its pollen and nectar, creating dangerous exposures for honeybees foraging on the plant.

A growing number of laboratory and field studies show that when honeybees come into contact with these sublethal levels of neonicotinoids, they experience behavioral chances that make it hard for them to survive, including decreased foraging ability, memory loss, a compromised navigation sense, and learning problems. “The main reason that honeybees have difficulties of winterization is likely due to the sublethal exposure to neonicotinoids,” explains colony collapse disorder researcher Chensheng Lu, PhD, associate professor of environmental health at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Other studies suggest sublethal pesticide exposure could shorten the longevity of adult honeybees while damaging their immune systems, making them more susceptible to pathogen infestations, such as mites.

As farmers continue to shell out more money for pollination, Americans can expect the honeybees’ plight to have an impact on food prices. “This extra cost would be absorbed by the consumers,” Lu says.

His previous research found a link between the neonicotinoid insecticide imidacloprid and colony collapse disorder, finding that it isn’t just large exposures to the insecticide, but ones similar to field conditions, too, that can cause widespread harm to honeybees.

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