by Alex Mauthe, Food Campaigns Intern
Honey bees are a vital component of our food system because they pollinate many of the crops that humans consume. Over 100 vital crops in our food system are pollinated entirely or in part by bees. Some of these crops include: potatoes, broccoli, cotton, apples, beans, cherries, and tomatoes. Concurringly, bee colonies have noticeably declined in the past five years, as a result, agricultural production is suffering.
Heavy pesticide use is credited as the main cause of the plight of bees. Dr. Jonathan Lundgren, an entomologist who worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), documented a direct link between pesticide use and bee die-off. The USDA allegedly tried to suppress his research. The USDA plays a major role in regulating the on-farm use of pesticides and Lundgren’s research called into question many of its decisions. The USDA has been receiving a multitude of complaints about “scientific censorship” surrounding pesticide research. The USDA’s failure to address pesticide-linked bee deaths is impacted by the chemical industry’s influence in pesticide regulation.
Does this sound familiar? In 1962, marine biologist and conservationist Rachel Carson published her book Silent Spring. This book highlighted the detrimental effects of pesticides on the environment but received backlash from corporations and scientists in the agricultural chemical industry. People tried to discredit her work, but Silent Spring became widely acclaimed and is said to be a book that kicked off the modern environmental movement.
Similarly, Dr. Lundgren published his research about the highly toxic pesticide called neonicotinoids in the Journal of Pest Science and he has since been scrutinized by pesticide companies and other scientists. His research shows that neonicotinoids are the most widely used insecticide as a result of their long-term effectiveness against insects. Neonicotinoids are absorbed by the plant and can then be found in the nectar or pollen. So, if bees have direct contact, residue contact, or contact with contaminated nesting material or areas, they could be at great risk.
Many states, including Maryland and Connecticut, have established legislation to restrict the use of neonicotinoids, but the US government has yet to address this pressing issue. Bees are a necessity for maintaining our way of life. Bees and other pollinators are responsible for “providing one in every three bites of food we eat.” There is a “food chain” so to speak. It all starts with the pollinators that pollinate plants and the plants grow to become our food. If these harmful insecticides continue rapidly killing our pollinators, we could be looking at a food crisis. This would mean the loss of almonds, peaches, kiwi, avocados, and so much more.
But there is a solution. There are a lot of different ways that society can address this problem. One way to support pollinators is a home garden filled with lavender, poppies, geraniums, and/or aster. These flowers can attract pollinators, providing them with pollen and nectar.
Individual action is simple and all about using your consumer power. The best way to stop supporting the use of bee-harming pesticides is to purchase organically grown food and honey, and to avoid products produced with GMOs.
To push for a more bee-friendly system we need corporations to change their standards for food purchasing and for farmers to shift on-farm practices. You can take action against pesticide use by encouraging Kroger to phase-out the use of toxic pesticides in order to protect pollinators!