As we've all been hearing for several years, honeybee populations in the U.S. and Europe are dwindling due to what's called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), and scientists and farmers have been at a loss about what to do about it. It's long been suspected that bees are sensitive to pesticides and are succumbing to increased exposure to them, but a new study from the University of Maryland and the US Department of Agriculture suggests that the cause is complicated, and not just related to one or two products.
The study found as many as 21 agricultural chemicals in single samples of pollen collected from east coast bee colonies, and on average each sample contained around 9 different pesticides and fungicides. When scientists fed the pollen to healthy bees, those bees showed a much greater susceptibility to infection by a parasite known as Nosema ceranae, which has been implicated in colony collapses. Specifically, eight different chemicals were implicated in this increased risk, and fungicides especially were found to triple bees risk of getting the parasite.
Thus far, while farmers have tried to avoid spraying pesticides when bees were present, they had no such warnings about fungicides.
Anyway, it's all very sad, and it becomes all the clearer that if industrial, monoculture farming practices don't change, the entire honeybee population could be at risk. As it stands, 60% of the nation's current honeybee population is being used to pollinate a single crop, California almonds, which is a crop worth some $4 billion annually. An estimated 10 million bee colonies have died over the past 6 years due to CCD.