Collapse of Honey Bee Colonies May Cause Serious Health and Economic Issues in Pennsylvania

Byline: Ashley Wetzel

Posted: May 13, 2010

Fourth of July weekend, a holiday coming up on our calendars, is usually characterized by what we eat. From the grilled food to the corn on the cob to the infamous apple pie, it is a holiday centered around the table. Unfortunately, this holiday may not be the same in a couple of years. That infamous apple pie or the watermelon we enjoy during the heat of the holiday may not be part of the holiday at all.

100 commercial crops dependent on honey bees

Over one hundred commercial crops are dependent on honey bees for pollination. Among these crops are some of the United States’ most loved fruits including apples, blueberries, peaches, pears, and watermelon. Imagine a holiday like the Fourth of July without apple pie, blueberry cobbler, or even a simple chunk of watermelon. The absence of these favorite dishes may be something we’ll be forced to get used to.

Colony Collapse Disorder plagues bee colonies

In the last four years, beginning in 2006, honey beekeepers began reporting heavy losses in their hives. Within those years, beekeepers reported losses of anywhere from 30 -90% of their hives. This phenomenon, whose cause is still not known, is called Colony Collapse Disorder. According to Dennis vanEngelsdorp, the acting State Apiarist for Pennsylvania and the Senior Extension Associate in Entomology at Penn State University, “Over 60 variables have been tested to determine the cause of CCD, but no single measure has emerged as a most-likely cause of CCD.”

Why is this important?

Honey bee pollination is responsible for approximately $15 billion USD in crop value each year. In Pennsylvania particularly, the apple harvest is the fourth largest in the nation and is worth $45 million USD in crop value each year. The apple harvest is important economically to the state of Pennsylvania and is also important to the food production industry across the United States and the globe.

Continued collapse will cause huge price increases

With such drastic honey bee loss already, continued loss could lead to both incredible economic loss and also huge price increases for the produce needed in our everyday life. The typical cost of $1-S3 per pound of produce could sky rocket. A survey ran from April 29, 2010 to May 5, 2010 asking the Wilson College community how much they are willing to pay for produce garnered results implying that people are unwilling to pay more than $4 per pound of produce.

CCD could lead to serious health and food crisis

“Three out of four food bites are the direct result of pollination,” said Christine Mayer, the Program Manager at the Fulton Center for Sustainable Living and the current caretaker of Wilson College’s five bee hives, when asked how honey bee loss could impact what we eat. With such a large amount of the food we eat being dependent on honey bees, there could be serious health repercussions due to the loss of fruits and vegetables. In response to a survey question asking how honey bee colony collapse could affect individual lives, one participant expressed concerns for their health: “It (continued collapse) would make buying produce more expensive and I would be forced to cut down on my daily intake of fruits and vegetables which could impact my life on a health and fitness level.”

What can people do?

While the cause of CCD is still unknown, the public can still help honey bees. One way communities can prevent bee loss is by using pesticides sparingly. As well, not using pesticides mid-day during the time when bees are most active can prevent both honey bee losses and the loss of other natural pollinators like wasps, bumblebees, carpenter bees, butterflies, moths, and flies. In addition, people can plant plants like clover, roses, blueberry bushes, and various edible crops which are good nectar sources to prevent the starvation of honey bees. The public is not in this alone, because organizations like the Wilson College Fulton Center for Sustainability are also getting involved in protecting hives. The Fulton Farm currently has five hives which are being maintained organically, without the use of pesticides. Over the winter months of 2009 and 2010, arguably the worst in years, no hives were lost at the Fulton Farm.

Last Updated: September 21, 2011

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