Honeybee die-off got a little worse this year, according to an ongoing federal survey. Colony Collapse Disorder, the still unexplained plague that compels bees to abandon hives and fly off to die, is forging ahead full force with no solution in sight. Bee die-off likely has a mixture of causes, such as parasites, viruses, bacteria and poor nutrition. But outrageously increasing rates of honeybee disappearance points to pesticides as the main culprit.
Almost all food crops are grown with some sort of anti-insect agent. Even products labeled "organic" are likely grown with pesticides, although they must be derived from natural, never synthetic, ingredients. (Click here for a list of requirements and prohibitions for organic farmers.)
The massive bee die-off is concerning, first of all because it signifies something very wrong and off-balance with the planet's natural processes. More specifically and immediately, bees gone missing are not around to pollinate the crops we eat, crops that make up about one third of our diets. Commercial beekeepers reported record losses this year, and have found themselves unable to fill orders from farmers in need of pollinators. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, two federal agencies and regulators from California and Canada found high levels of synthetic chemicals both in pollen and in hives, hives described as "laden" with pesticides. On the heels of the Environmental Working Group's publication of the most pesticide-heavy fruits and vegetables, it seems evident, even without a federal study, that bees would be adversely affected by chemicals that are dangerous to human beings.
On the brighter side, at least pesticides have been targeted as a probable (and significant) cause of colony collapse disorder. And if a large-scale disappearance of honeybees is linked to an immediate loss of revenue in agriculture, chances are the bees' plight will get attention beyond the scientific and environmentalist communities.
And finally, just last week the New York City Board of Health repealed the ban on beekeeping in the city. A meetup group has already formed around spreading the knowledge and practice of urban beekeeping. The first line of the meetup invitation reads in all caps: "WE'RE LEGAL IN NYC!"