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How Important Are Honey Bees? Was (Fake) Einstein Right?

honey bees

There is a famous quote about honey bees, attributed to Einstein, that goes:

“If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live.”

The trouble is, it seems he most probably didn’t say that. In any case, as a recent article in The Telegraph (which attributes the quote to Einstein) points out, there is still reason to be quite seriously concerned about declining populations of bees around the world.

Let me say here that I’m by no means an expert on the declining bee population, so if you have anything you’d like to add or say, please feel free to do so in the comments. I’m interested in learning more about this honey bee situation, and also knowing how you feel about it.

As the above article points out, with the UN’s world food price index at an all time high, it is important to know about the state of the honey bee. Further, if the situation continues, and world human population reaches 9 billion by 2050, things are not going to get any better.

Even if it doesn’t impact food prices and our overall food supply, shouldn’t we be concerned about the plight of other species anyway, especially if it may be something we are doing that is impacting their very existence?

Apparently, a third of global farm production depends on animal pollination, by insects, birds, bats, butterflies, ants and others. Bees are the main pollinators of the group.

Animal pollination is essential for nuts, melons and berries, plays a key role in citrus fruits, apples, onions, broccoli, cabbage, sprouts, courgettes, peppers, aubergines, avocados, cucumbers, coconuts, tomatoes and broad beans, coffee and cocoa.

Farm food production supplies us with around 35 percent of our calories, minerals, vitamins and anit-oxidants. The problem is that bees have been declining at an alarming rate, and losing bees would have repercussions throughout the food chain.

Bee colony collapse disorder is a situation is which worker bees from a beehive or colony abruptly disappear. It has led to unexplained and sometimes dramatic declines in commercial bee colonies, especially in the United States. In the U.S. pollinated crop production has quadrupled since 1961, but bee colonies have halved. Farmers have been managing until now, but the question is: how long can this go on? How far can this situation be stretched?

May Berenbaum, Chair of the National Academy of Sciences, which documented the crisis among North American pollinators, has been quoted as saying,

“They are so integrated into so many different markets that I imagine there would be all kinds of collapses,” …“To illustrate how pervasive the honey bee is, consider a Big Mac. All beef patties, the pickles, onions, lettuce, the cheese, the sesame seeds on the bun – that’s a lot.”

She said that if honey bees disappeared, the price of food would immediately go up. If all bees disappeared worldwide, food would be in short supply, as fruit, nut and vegetable crops failed to be pollinated. The consequences on the world economy would be massive.

A positive out of all this is that there does seem to be widespread concern about this problem, including rising public concern, so perhaps the necessary research and steps will be taken to solve this problem of the decline of honey bees.

In Sichuan, China, some crops are now pollinated by hand using feather brushes – incredibly labor intensive. Germany, France and Italy have banned some pesticides that harm the memories of bees. The British Beekeepers’ Association has called for an urgent review of chemicals. U.S. beekeepers have been making similar calls. It is feared that certain chemicals being used are toxic and may pose long-term risks to bees.

When was the last time you saw a bee? I”ve seen some bees since, but I snapped the above image when I was staying at a beach house on holiday a couple of months ago. The bees seemed to love those flowers – 6 bees on one flower!

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