You might say my wife, Gena, has a bee in her bonnet.
For a while now, we have been raising honeybees on our Texas ranch. We are among the estimated 115,000 to 125,000 beekeepers in the United States, the vast majority of them hobbyists like us. We know the value and importance of bees. As far as important species in this world go, they are top of the list.
As the great Naturalist John Muir once said, "When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world." Bees are at great risk right now and that is what has Gena (and me) so worked up. As they go, so goes the world's food supply. In 2007, the United States was struck by a phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder. Worker bees that left the hive in search of food would simply not return. A third of all honeybee colonies in the US were wiped out. To a great extent, hobbyists (beekeepers with less than 25 hives) are what have been keeping honey bees alive. For years, Colony Collapse Disorder was not fully understood. At the same time, the global bee population continued to decline; some say by as much as 40 percent a year.
Also over the past couple of years, the reasons for this decline have become clearer.
In a recent report, the federal government has finally admitted neonicotinoids, systemic agricultural insecticides resembling nicotine, shoulders much of the blame for the catastrophic bee deaths that have occurred over the last decade. Neonicotinoids are now the world's most widely used class of insecticides. For many years now, honey bees as well as wild bee populations have been exposed to dangerous levels of neonicotinoids in pollen and nectar from pesticide-treated fields. The vast majority of the world's bee species are wild solitary bees and, in many ways, the uncertain future of wild bumblebees and solitary bees is considered even more alarming than the honeybee death toll, since beekeepers are able to restock their honeybee hives each year.
In April of this year, the European Union took the bold move to vote to ban the use of three controversial neonicotinoid insecticides on all crops grown outdoors. This action followed comprehensive scientific review concluding that the insecticides posed a high risk to wild bees and honeybees.
In this country, the Environmental Protection Agency is about to conduct a risk assessment of neonicotinoid insecticides that could potentially lead them to take action to restrict or limit the use of the chemical by the end of this year. Public comment is now being accepted in regards to such action. We hope the public will recognize the need to weigh in and support the effort to safeguard bees. We also ask that you visit change.org and sign their petition asking for the ban of the sale of neoniconitoid products in question.
If you need further convincing, consider this: of the food that you eat, bees one way or another provide a significant proportion of it.
Throughout history, mankind's survival has been completely linked to bees. Bees have co-evolved with flowering plants over millions of years. Cave drawings dating back 20,000 years depict images of honey hunting. The ancient Egyptians transported their hives along the Nile to pollinate crops and buried their pharaohs with containers full of honey to sweeten the afterlife. The Bible is full of references to honey, such as Proverbs 24:13 — "My son, eat honey, for it is good..."
Bees are responsible for pollinating approximately one-sixth of the flowering plant species worldwide and approximately 400 different agricultural types of plant. Bees helped produce approximately $19 billion worth of agricultural crops in the U.S. alone in 2010; an estimated one-third of everything we eat. The US Department of Agriculture estimates that honeybees accomplish 80 percent of insect crop pollination.
Without help from bee pollination, our everyday food supply would look much different. Many of the staples we have come to rely on would no longer be available. Broccoli, asparagus, cantaloupes, cucumbers, pumpkins, blueberries, watermelons, apples, cranberries, and cherries — these are just some of the foods no longer available. The almond crop is entirely dependent on honeybee pollination. The production of most beef and dairy products consumed in the United States is dependent on insect-pollinated legumes such as alfalfa and clover.
Let us not forget the great gift of honey, the taste of sweet goodness as it was once described. We love our harvest of honey. It is 100 percent natural. We need to stop for a moment and just think of the utility of what honeybees produce. A completely natural ingredient used in cooking, baking, candle making and beauty products from oils, to lip balms, soaps, face creams and lotions.
The honeycomb itself is a remarkable feat of nature. It consists of what is called propolis. Propolis is essentially a kind of "bee glue" that honeybees produce used as a sealant for unwanted open spaces in the hive. It has been championed for years, along with honey, for its immune-boosting, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory properties.
Bees are easily amongst the most important insects on Earth to humans and they are dying at an alarming rate. They need our protection.
The ban of neonicotinoids is just one needed step in safeguarding bees. Dave Goulson, a biologist at the University of Sussex in Brighton, recently warned in a Science Media Centre statement, that if neonicotinoids are replaced by similar compounds, or more harmful ones, we will be caught in an all too familiar cycle. The statement goes on to conclude: "What is needed is a move towards truly sustainable farming methods that minimize pesticide use, encourage natural enemies of crop pests, and support biodiversity and healthy soils."
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.