If You Like To Eat, Thank The Bees and Butterflies
If you have even been stung by a bee, you know what a painfully unpleasant experiences that is. For a few people with certain allergies it can even be fatal, especially if there are multiple stings. So there are some people who might not care if the bee population dwindles or dies off. Butterflies are such pretty and delicate little things that they are much easier to love, and besides, they never sting. But anyone who eats needs to care about both the butterflies and the bees.
I love to watch these little critters flying around in my garden because I know that every move they make from one blossom to the next carries pollen with it. Bees and butterflies pollinate about 75% of the world's food, both for human beings and for the animals who also become our food. Without them, supplies of fruits and vegetable can collapse. We need to be paying attention to the butterflies and the bees – they bring us life!
But these vital pollinators are dying at an alarming rate. A recent report from the US Department of Agriculture says that the bee population dropped by at least 8% in 2015. Other research shows results that are even more serious. In fact 40% of the species of insect pollinators are in serious danger of extinction.
Many factors are contributing to this die-off of insect pollinators: higher temperatures and loss of natural habitat have their serious effect. These are very difficult to change. However, there is one major factor in the die-off that could be changed more simply, thus reducing the effect of the other factors on the lives of bees and butterflies – that factor is the use of neonicotinoid pesticides (often shortened to “neonics”). This chemical family of pesticides has been around for a little over 20 years, and one of them, imidacloprid, has become the most widely used pesticide in the world. The neonics came into use because they supposed to have less harmful effects on birds and mammals than some of the older pesticides. However, they have much more serious effects on things like bees and butterflies - the insects that pollinate about 75% of the world's food.
In the United States almost all commercially-raised corn and at least 1/3 of soybeans are treated with one of the neonics. While these plants are not particularly attractive to bees or butterflies, their effects in the air can go well past the commercial corn fields. At this point, at least 40% of the commercial bee hives in the US have collapsed. We might notice this first at the grocery store as we look at the rising price of honey, but the effects will be felt far beyond that as many kinds of fruits and vegetable suffer from inadequate pollination.
Because these products came into use before current Environmental Protection Agency rules came into effect, it was necessary for the EPA to call for a second review. This was done at the urging of many environmental groups, but the findings of this review are not due until 2018 – several more years of the loss of these vital insects. The companies that make neonics include some of the largest and most powerful corporations in the world, including Monsanto, Dow, Sygenta and Bayer (Yes, they make a lot more than aspirin.) These companies have poured millions of dollars into fighting against any kind of laws restricting the use of these pesticides, even to the extent of funding a research center that is supposedly studying the cause of the collapse of beehives – but they are studying anything else that might have some effect and not ever looking at the use or misuse of their chemicals.
Despite this big push, the State of Maryland has recently passed the nation's first law restricting the use of neonics. However, since these chemicals are permitted by the EPA this state law is sure to be challenged in court, and probably defeated. What is needed is a national action to stop the use of these chemicals on our food until it can be proven that they are safe, not allowing them to be used until it can be proven that they are harmful. State laws won't be enough – national action is needed if we are to continue to have bees to pollinate our vegetables and fruits. It is time for the EPA to ban these dangerous products.
I have seen such a decline in how our garden is being pollinated. The whole situation is very sad. Last year, when the Culver's Root was blooming, the flowers were covered with pollinating bees and helpful insects. This year I can count them on one hand. The change also can be contributed that bees and other pollinating insects have a hard time with this extremely hot weather. I make sure there are small ground water pools in which they can drink just water. My only thought is that if all countries decided together to stop using pesticides (neonics) and make a joint effort, we might be able to increase the population of pollinators. I sometimes live in a Faerie dream-like world that people and people who own and run corporations don't care about being so wealthy at the expense of the rest of us. Sadly, it is just a dream. Even if some states would consider banning neonics, the winds of destruction still carry the vapors to other states and farmlands. We have to get companies that make this poison to stop and do more organic fertilizers. Yes, I want to eat, but I also not want to eat poisoned food. We try to do our part, but we are just a speck in this whole situation. At least we are doing our part.
Juliana C. Cooper