Get to root of honeybee troubles in U.S. and Europe

Articles
May 26, 2009

Get to root of honeybee troubles in U.S. and Europe

Despite warnings by European and American experts about honeybee shortages, new research indicates a healthy worldwide picture for these hard-working crop pollinators. Therefore, the risk to the worldwide food supply seems to be far less than beekeepers in Europe and the U.S. would have us believe. Their challenges are certainly real, and their food production is certainly vital, but on a grander scale, queens won’t be losing their thrones anytime soon, these researchers suggest. Indeed, the report released this month in Current Biology, by Marcelo Aizen of Universidad Nacional del Comahue, Argentina, and Lawrence Harder, University of Calgary, Canada, said that farmers worldwide had tripled their reliance on domesticated honeybees over the past half-century to pollinate plums, raspberries and cherries. Over the same time frame, the global population of managed honeybee hives has increased approximately 45%, according to data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. That gain was primarily driven by increased demand for honey rather than an increased need for pollinators, the study added. Besides, most agricultural crop production doesn’t depend on pollinators, the report emphasized.

Despite warnings by European and American experts about honeybee shortages, new research indicates a healthy worldwide picture for these hard-working crop pollinators. Therefore, the risk to the worldwide food supply seems to be far less than beekeepers in Europe and the U.S. would have us believe.

Their challenges are certainly real, and their food production is certainly vital, but on a grander scale, queens won’t be losing their thrones anytime soon, these researchers suggest.

Indeed, the report released this month in Current Biology, by Marcelo Aizen of Universidad Nacional del Comahue, Argentina, and Lawrence Harder, University of Calgary, Canada, said that farmers worldwide had tripled their reliance on domesticated honeybees over the past half-century to pollinate plums, raspberries and cherries. 

Over the same time frame, the global population of managed honeybee hives has increased approximately 45%, according to data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. That gain was primarily driven by increased demand for honey rather than an increased need for pollinators, the study added. Besides, most agricultural crop production doesn’t depend on pollinators, the report emphasized.

“The honeybee decline observed in the U.S. and in European countries including Great Britain, which has been attributed in part to parasitic mites and more recently to colony collapse disorder, could be misguiding us to think that this is a global phenomenon. We found here that is not the case,” the researchers said.

However, the situation has grown dire enough in the U.S. for Wyman’s of Maine, a blueberry grower-marketer, to import 5 million honeybees to guarantee pollination of its crop this year. That’s about 10,000 hives that will pollinate more than 7,000 acres of wild blueberry crop in Maine and on Price Edward Island.

In Europe, meanwhile, the international beekeeping body Apimondia warned that Europe’s beekeeping industry could be wiped out in 8 to 10 years “as bees fall victim to disease, insecticides and intensive farming,” a Reuters report noted.

While about 35% of Europe’s food crops rely on bees to pollinate them, last year proved fatal to about 30% of Europe’s 13.6 million hives, Apimondia told the news service. Other losses: 50% in Slovenia and up to 80% in southwestern Germany.

SupermarketGuru.com urges the U.S. government to take the baton from the European Union, which recently voted to phase out the most toxic pesticides. Our federal watchdogs also ought to assemble all available research and develop a strategy that gets to the root cause of our domestic honeybee losses and protects the delicate and essential balance of Nature. We feel that importing honeybees could be a stopgap measure (with the right safety precautions) until a viable long-term solution can be put in place.