Larissa Walker, Pollinator Program Director at Center for Food Safety
One in every three bites of food we eat is from a crop pollinated by bees. And over the past decade we have witnessed an alarming decline in honeybee and other pollinator populations around the world.
According to a government-sponsored survey, U.S. beekeepers reported annual hive losses averaging 51.1 percent over the winter of 2013–14, with 66 percent of them deeming the losses unacceptably high. Many beekeepers continue to report annual losses of 40–50 percent — and in some cases total hive failure.
The honeybee, which was brought to the U.S. by European settlers, is perhaps the best known pollinating species that food crops depend on, but North America’s many native species of bees and other insects are also essential to our food supply. Many fruits, vegetables and nuts rely on pollinators. Without these species, in fact, 70 percent of plants would be unable to reproduce or provide food.
An overwhelming number of scientific studies have linked the bee declines to pesticide use, illustrating the far-reaching impact that these toxic chemicals have on a wide range of environments. Bee-toxic pesticides have a wide variety of long-term detrimental effects and pose a growing risk to fragile ecosystems.
The chemicals most closely linked to the pollinator declines are a class of nicotine-based insecticides called neonicotinoids. They are the most widely used insecticides in the world, and unlike traditional pesticides that are typically applied to the surface of plants, neonicotinoids are systemic — meaning they are absorbed and transported through all parts of the plant tissue. Bees and other pollinators are exposed to these toxic chemicals through pollen, nectar, dust, dew droplets on plant leaves and in the soil where many native bees nest. Neonicotinoids interfere with the nervous system of insects, causing tremors, paralysis and eventually death. These chemicals are up to 10,000 times more toxic to bees than other insecticides, and their use can have both immediate and long-term effects.
Moreover, pesticides pose significant risks not just to honeybees but also to native bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects. While other factors such…