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Gardeners Beware of Bee-Killing Plants, Insecticides, and Seeds

  • By Timothy Brown, Susan Kegley, and Lisa Archer
    Friends of the Earth and Bee Action, August 2013
    Straight to the Source

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's All About Organics page and our Honey Bee Health page.

I. Introduction and background 

Bees in trouble


Bees are essential to the production of one out of every three bites of food we eat. In fact, 71 of the 100 crops that provide 90 percent of the world's food-from almonds to tomatoes and strawberries-are pollinated by bees. Honeybees, in particular, contribute nearly $20 billion to the U.S. economy and $217 billion to the global economy. Yet evidence is mounting that the health and productivity of these critical pollinators, along with many wild pollinators, is declining rapidly.   

In the mid 1990s, beekeepers in France, then in the U.S. and elsewhere experienced high colony losses, both overwintering losses and colony collapse during the spring and summer, when colonies should be thriving. In the U.S., beekeepers noticed their colonies mysteriously collapsing, with adult bees disappearing and leaving the queen, honey and capped brood in the nearly empty hives. This phenomenon has been dubbed "Colony Collapse Disorder" or CCD.

In the winter of 2012-2013, beekeepers from Texas to California consistently reported colony failures of between 40-50 percent, a 78 percent increase in losses over the previous winter. In July 2013, 37 million bees were reported dead across a single farm in Ontario. Some farmers are facing shortages of bees necessary to pollinate their crops, and the cost to farmers of renting bees for pollination services has increased by up to 20 percent in some cases. Bumblebees, as well as many other wild pollinators have also recently experienced dramatic declines. 

These die-offs are adversely affecting all of us, not just beekeepers, with the food supply dependent on honey bees and other wild pollinators. With roughly 80 percent of all flowering plants reliant on pollinators to reproduce, bee losses could contribute to losses of a host of other important species.     


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