Food prices could rise as bees die off

Theories about why the insects are suffering from a fatal disorder keep surfacing, but the impact on agriculture is clearly becoming acute.

By Bruce Kennedy Apr 1, 2013 7:21AM

Honey bee pollinating flower (© Flickr Open/Getty Images)

The term "colony collapse disorder" might sound like something out of science fiction, but it's a growing problem with widespread economic consequences affecting one of the more beneficial insects to mankind: honeybees.


Whole colonies of honeybees have been dying off for years now, and no one seems exactly sure why. And if you think dead bees don't affect you, think again. As The New York Times notes, those bees are essential for pollinating much of America's fruit and vegetable crops.


"The Agriculture Department says a quarter of the American diet, from apples to cherries to watermelons to onions, depends on pollination by honeybees," says The Times. "Fewer bees means smaller harvests and higher food prices."


As an example, the newspaper points to the nation's valuable almond industry -- valued at around $3.4 billion in 2011. Most of America's almonds are grown in California on about 800,000 acres. And to pollinate that acreage, farmers need at least two beehives per acre, or about two-thirds of all commercial hives in the U.S. The Times says the bee shortage has pushed the cost of renting hives up 20% from normal prices, to around $200 per hive.


Experts have been looking at a number of possible causes for the bee die-off, from ongoing drought conditions across most of the country to pesticide-resistant bee mites to viruses. Last year, researchers at Yale University found genetic evidence that decades of exposing domestic bees to the antibiotic oxytetracycline may have weakened the insects' ability to fight off disease.


"It seems likely this reflects a history of using oxytetracycline since the 1950s," one of the study's lead authors told Voice of America. "It’s not terribly surprising. It parallels findings in other domestic animals, like chickens and pigs."


But some agriculture industry observers are looking closely at a group of widely used, nicotine-based pesticides called neonicotinoids as a possible culprit. Neonicotinoids are less toxic to mammals and became commercially available in the 1990s. Usage of the chemicals has reportedly soared over the past eight years, from large farms to backyard vegetable patches. And scientists are discovering neonicotinoids can build up in a bee's system and become toxic.


"If you have one shot of whiskey on Thanksgiving and one on the Fourth of July, it’s not going to make any difference," Bret Adee, co-owner of Adee Honey Farms of South Dakota and one of the nation's largest beekeepers, told The Times. "But if you have whiskey every night, 365 days a year, your liver’s gone. It’s the same thing."


In January, scientists with the EU's European Food Safety Authority said they had identified some risks posed to bees by neonicotinoids, "with particular regard to: their acute and chronic effects on bee colony survival and development."


Several European countries have banned some uses of neocnicotinod insecticides. But two major producers, Syngenta (SYENF) and Bayer Crop Science, part of Germany's Bayer (BAYZF), are disputing the EU's findings.

More on moneyNOW

Apr 1, 2013 8:51AM
I guess the author could be held liable for libel, if he printed the truth that Bayer is killing the bees.

It will not let me give links, but you can google bayer kills bees. Seems it is the chemical that Bayer and Monsanto have developed to fight rootworms.

The leaked document () was put out in response to Bayer's request to approve use of the pesticide on cotton and mustard. The document invalidates a prior Bayer study that justified the registration of clothianidin on the basis of its safety to honeybees:

Clothianidin’s major risk concern is to nontarget insects (that is, honey bees). Clothianidin is a neonicotinoid insecticide that is both persistent and systemic. Acute toxicity studies to honey bees show that clothianidin is highly toxic on both a contact and an oral basis. Although EFED does not conduct RQ based risk assessments on non-target insects, information from standard tests and field studies, as well as incident reports involving other neonicotinoids insecticides (e.g., imidacloprid) suggest the potential for long-term toxic risk to honey bees and other beneficial insects.

The entire 101-page memo is damning (and worth a read). But the opinion of EPA scientists apparently isn't enough for the agency, which is allowing clothianidin to keep its registration.

Apr 1, 2013 10:16AM
Apr 1, 2013 9:45AM
@michael coats, I have to agree with you.  I believe the cause is also this class of pesticides.   I have also read research pointing to pesticide in GMO genetically modified seeds--especially corn.  This pesticide is built into the DNA of the corn plant.  When the bee touches the pollen the pesticide is ingested and the bee's sense of direction(radar) is destroyed.
Apr 1, 2013 10:51AM

Who sold Hitler the phosgene gas to kill 6,000,000 Jews? Wasn't  it Bayer


Isn't it ironic that Obama signed a bill the other day giving Monsanto the right to sell generically altered corn to people with no consequence.

Thank you for mentioning the name of the  insecticide providers. Special attention should be given to the lawn care industry applying different insecticide chemicals since 2001. The French government stopped the distribution of certain chemical types since INRA , the French National Institute for Agriculture has proven the danger to natural insects like bees. This has been contested by Bayer for years ('98-'03) but at the end of the long dispute they withdrew the products! Surprised the US has still not taken similar actions.
There should be "no trust" in regards with the position of Ag. chemical companies. Bees are essential for the global food supply! No bees no seed for many species and no pollination of flowers of fruit trees.
Please do not stop to your research on this critical issue for long term live support.
Apr 1, 2013 12:34PM

Did anyone beside me notice that Monsanto escaped scrutiny here? Widespread use of the herbicide glyphosate could be largely to blame here and it gets a free pass. BT pesticide crops are not mentioned either. Nearly 50% of the monarch butterfly population has been wiped out too.


As far as pesticides go

98% are misapplied and do no good.

The same percentage of the world's food supply is destroyed by pests as before the use of these poisons.

This stuff eventually ends up in your drinking water and municipal water systems are not designed to remove it 


Good luck out there

Apr 1, 2013 11:27AM
Excellent again V_L Kill Monsanto SAVE the BEES .Question V_L Other than spreading the truth as we are doing does the general world population want to hear it do they care do they have the "CLEAR EYES" and intelligence to SEE and do they want to change for the better and evolve to a cleaner wiser healthy WORLD or maybe they FEAR the truth. I personally hope the people want a better world and they are ready and will work towards a better world
Apr 1, 2013 2:58PM

The "green revolution" is not sustainable. The term "Green revolution" was invented to make the public think that this would be environmentally beneficial agriculture. It was just a marketing ploy on the part of Monsanto. It should have more accurately been called the "black revolution of slow death ". 

The farmer was promised that if he would sign on the dotted line, Monsanto would take care of all his worries. There would be huge yields, no weeds, no pests, and less work. What they didn't mention was the fine print. That the Monsanto agreement  made the farmers that signed up for it virtual slaves to Monsanto. Monsanto would be the sole provider for all the inputs to the farm. With this control Monsanto could raise the input costs to the point that the farmer could barely earn a living no matter how hard he worked. In poorer countries like India Monsanto's input costs have driven farmers into so much debt that suicide is the only way out, and hundreds of thousands have taken that option. In the U.S. farming has gotten so bad that we will not be replacing farmers as they retire.

The end result can only be no farmers, no farms, and no food at any price. Don't worry though, the environment will be made so toxic from the poisons splashed on the farms that you probably won't make it long enough to starve.

Apr 1, 2013 1:18PM
It may be due to pesticides, but the pesticides they're trying to blame have only been used in the 2000's, yet bees have been dying off since the 90's.  Just like the tobacco companies in the 60's and 70's, it appears the makers of the real culprits are trying to distract people by pointing the blame elsewhere.
Apr 1, 2013 11:24AM
Help by stop using the problematic pesticides.

I'm getting rid of imidicloprid!

read the labels.

See my post at the website.
Apr 1, 2013 4:12PM

By the way, that looks like a bumblebee on that purple flower in the photo in the article. Honeybees are different looking and have different habits. Where I live we have a bumper crop of bumblebees but they show very little interest in pollinating our vegetable garden. Last year we tried planting a row of nothing but flowers in an attempt to attract honeybees. I saw 1.
Apr 1, 2013 4:05PM
It's a catch 22. chemical herbicides, pesticides, antibiotics (in animals) and fertilizers allow farmers to grow and harvest huge volumes of crops to feed the humongous human population that exists on Earth right now. Only problem is these chemicals leak into the watershed and end up in the oceans damaging the food chain, make us vulnerable to resistant bacterial infections and are killing off the best food plant pollinators that exists (honey bee's). I have a large garden every year and we now have to hand pollinate our beans with paint brushes or else we wont get any beans. I saw 1 honey bee last year when 10 years ago we would have 1,000's

Apr 1, 2013 12:06PM
Thank you Michael Coats, pocket protector and Gary Rondeau.  I have also heard chemicals are a leading suspect on causes of colony collapse disorder.  Prior to CCD in the 1990s, honeybees were suffering from varroa mites and tracheal mites.  Much more research is needed to revive the honeybee population in the USA and globally.
Apr 1, 2013 11:12AM
Let's not forget the alien Kudzey vine taking over the south and killing a bunch of natural bee foods off.
Apr 1, 2013 10:42AM
Cell phones and other wireless devices are to blame.......... JMHO.
Apr 1, 2013 12:21PM

Too bad bees have to have stingers.I`ve been stung for no good reason.I guess because

I`m so sweet.

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