Robot Bees Are Coming -- Be Afraid

By Chuck Norris

June 22, 2018 6 min read

Last week I discussed a movement now afoot — one that my wife Gena and I support — calling for the ban of certain agricultural insecticides known as neonicotinoids that scientific review has shown bear much of the blame for the catastrophic global loss of bee populations over the last decade. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, of the 100 crops that account for 90 percent of the food eaten around the globe, 71 rely on bee pollination.

I ended this report with a quote by Dave Goulson, a biologist at the University of Sussex in Brighton, cautioning people not to let the elimination of one insecticide bring on the replacement by a similar or more harmful compound. This is a cycle that has become all too familiar. Goulson's concluding recommended action bears repeating — to make this a call for a movement toward farming methods that minimize pesticide use, encourage natural enemies of crop pests and support biodiversity and healthy soils.

Moving forward, it seems the petrochemical industry and at least one retail giant have a different direction in mind.

If these two have their way, appearing soon over a crop near you will be an army of bees that are bots. Monsanto, for one, is currently supporting a project by the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences calling for the design of robotic bees as a replacement for honeybees, a population that is now dropping like...I guess you could say bees. In the year period that ended in April 2016, 44 percent of the overall commercial bee population died.

Setting billions of years of evolution of the planet aside, industry's solution to a problem that they to a great measure created in the first place, are robotic bees made from plastic and titanium programmed to pollinate genetically engineered crops. What they will not be able to satisfy is the U.S. consumption of honey that averages out to be around 1.3 pounds per person, per year.

According to Newsweek, in March, to get ahead of this technology, Walmart filed a patent for a "Pollination Drone" intended to pollinate flowers and crops similar to the way a bee would. According to CB Insights, the Pollination Drone was one of six patents filed by Walmart. All patents focus on farming as a strategic move to help the company compete with Amazon in the fresh food market. Also patented was machine to try track pests and monitor crop health. The drones would then be able to spray pesticides and fly by birds to scare them away. These advances were made possible by a discovery last year by Japanese researchers who created an ionic liquid gel capable of grabbing pollen. This allows robotic bees to mimic the stiff hairs and pockets on a bee's legs that allow them to collect pollen.

Bees are among the most important and hardest working creatures on Earth. They are incredibly efficient at what they do. Pollinating bees tend to focus their energies on one species of plant at a time. By visiting the same flowers of a particular species in one outing, much higher quality pollination occurs. Rather than spreading among many plants, all plants of one species get an even distribution of vital pollen from others of its same species. It is nature's way of creating abundance. A link in the forces that control what happens in the world. It is also a natural process that needs protecting.

Minimizing pesticide use wherever possible, for the protection of living things, needs to be prioritized and incentivized. As one recent study shows, farms today could significantly cut chemical use and still produce as much food. The research goes on to suggest that chemical treatments could be cut on a majority of farms without affecting farm profits.

The research, published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Plants, analyzed the pesticide use, productivity and profitability of approximately 1,000 farms of all different types across France. Comparing similar farms using high or low levels of pesticides, the scientists found that 94 percent of farms would lose no production if they cut pesticides and that two-fifths of these farms would actually produce more.

Using lower levels of insecticides (in particular) would result in more production in 86 percent of farms and no production would be lost on any farm studied. The research further indicated that 78 percent of farms would be equally or more profitable when using less pesticide of all types.

It was noted that the farmers using low levels of chemicals employ methods of pest control such as rotating crops, mechanical weeding and carefully managing sowing dates and fertilizer use.

Instead of trying to replicate a bee, a miraculous creation of nature, the agricultural and food industry should commit to doing a better job of safeguarding them. Focus technological advances elsewhere, such as automated harvesting equipment and other advanced technology now available to perform repetitive tasks such as pruning, seeding and weeding. Robotic machinery is now being tested to harvest apples and other crops.

These advances help to address the serious issue of farm labor shortages.

These innovations will alter the traditional way growers operate. So will steering away from pesticides. Both are moves in the right direction.

Write to Chuck Norris ([email protected]) with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook's "Official Chuck Norris Page." He blogs at http://chucknorrisnews.blogspot.com. To find out more about Chuck Norris and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

Photo credit: at Pixabay

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