Bees are dying at unprecedented rates, with real consequences for our food supply, environment and economy.
Three-quarters of all honey worldwide is now contaminated with pesticides known to harm bees, according to a study published in the journal Science earlier this year. One of the study authors summed up this finding perfectly, saying “there’s almost no safe place for a bee to exist.”
And in recent years, beekeepers report they’re losing an average 30 percent of all honey bee colonies each winter, twice the amount considered sustainable.
While this is certainly bad news if you’re a bee, it’s also bad news for our food supply. We rely on bees to pollinate most of the crops that provide 90 percent of the world’s food — everything from strawberries to broccoli to the alfalfa used to feed dairy cows. In the United States alone, honey bees pollinate an estimated $15 billion worth of crops every year.
Imagine no almonds, less coffee and chocolate, fewer apples and strawberries, less ice cream and milk … the list goes on. Simply put, no bees means no food.
Scientists point to pesticides as one of the main factors causing bees to die off in alarming numbers, in particular a class of bee-killing insecticides known as neonicotinoids (or neonics), which are at least 5,000-10,000 times more toxic to bees than DDT.
Yet right now in the U.S., we’re spraying 46 million pounds of bee-killing pesticides on our homes, gardens and public spaces every year.
It’s absurd that we’re spraying chemicals that are known to kill bees just as we’re in the midst of an unsustainable die-off in bee populations. We don’t even need to spray these chemicals, since we have commonsense alternatives like altering the time of planting and watering, and planting more native species.
For the past several years, U.S. PIRG and other groups have asked the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ban these pesticides nationwide, and the agency has failed to do so. We’re not waiting on the EPA any longer. Now, to protect bees and our food supply, we’re calling on states to act.
Maryland is leading the way, passing a bill last year that would ban the use of bee-killing pesticides. More states must follow Maryland’s example.
Our strategy is this: If enough states take action, it will send a strong signal to large chemical companies and the federal government that the public won’t stand for the use of bee-killing pesticides or any chemical that threatens our health, directly or indirectly.
If we succeed, we can eliminate the use of more than 40 percent of insecticides used in this country. That’s a lot of bees that we can save — bees that will pollinate our food.