There is a big chance that you have consumed something today that would not have been there without the help of honey bees. Besides honey — their obvious product — honey bees help produce one third of the food humans eat every day, simply while they are out collecting their own sustenance of pollen and nectar. Everything from strawberries, to coffee to the alfalfa we feed our dairy cows is made possible by the work of bees, but this is changing.
Studies have shown that many of the pesticides used on crops have negative effects on honey bees. One of the strongest is Dow and Syngenta’s neonicotinoid insecticide which is applied to the soil at the base of a plant, or on the seed before it is planted. Friends of the Earth researcher Michele Simon reports that at a low level of infection, the neurotoxin attacks the nervous system, causing lower immune support and making the target insect more susceptible to disease and affecting their navigation, communication and memory capabilities.
Applying neonicotinoid insecticide directly to the plant base ensures that the toxins travel up the roots and through the plant’s system so that when an insect ingests any part it receives a lethal dose. The trouble with this method is that the pesticide reaches beneficial insects too, and after exposure inhibits a bee’s ability to navigate back to its hive and degrades their immune system. This is contributing to what scientists are calling Colony Collapse Disorder which was noticed taking effect on bees beginning about seven years ago with a rapid decline in population.
This problem is too important to ignore, which is why OSPIRG, the student advocacy organization on campus, is working to take the deadliest bee-killing pesticides off the market. This term I, along with other student volunteers and interns, are building public support to get Gina McCarthy, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, to put a nationwide moratorium on bee-killing chemicals.
Bees are essential pollinators in one out of every three bites of food we eat so it is in everyone’s best interest to support them. The European Union has already put a ban on these pesticides and in February of 2014, Oregon passed the Save Oregon’s Pollinators Act where the city of Eugene became the first city in the country to ban neonicotinoids.
A continued decrease in bee populations is going to cost billions of dollars, and should we lose bees entirely, our food supply would be in great danger. That is why OSPIRG is putting together an educational panel of experts on the issue. This will include a representative from the Department of Agriculture, a local beekeeper and farmer and a scientist who has worked closely on the effects of pesticides. The event will take place during the week of Earth Day on Thursday April 21 at 3 p.m. on Lane’s Main Campus. Students and non-students alike are encouraged to attend, learn about the issue, and connect with community members making a difference.
Whether you enjoy the honey directly from bees or a byproduct of their labor, they really are a huge part of life as we know it.