Pollinators on Trial


by Richard Hawkins

There is a crime in progress. Bees and other pollinators around the globe are rapidly disappearing. Many suspects have been identified, but in some areas, including here in the U.S., the suspects are free and unrestricted. They are innocent until proven guilty.

Some of the prime suspects in the massive die-off of beneficial insects (in time we may determine the benefits of all insects) are chemical pesticides, particularly a group derived from nicotine know as neonicotinoids. The use of these products has been suspended in the U.K. and the European Union, as the danger to essential pollinators is becoming known. In the U.S., it is believed that there is not enough evidence to implicate the use of these products.

You may have heard a news story in late June where 55 trees in a Target parking lot in Oregon were sprayed with a “safe,” popular, unregulated insecticide called Safari, a widely used product in the neonicotinoid family. The trees were in bloom, and, almost immediately, bumblebees were found dead under the tress. In short order, an estimated 50,000 wild bumblebees, along with honey bees, ladybugs and other insects, were counted amongst the carnage.  Biologists believe the bumblebees represent the death of 300 wild colonies. Pretty strong evidence here.

The rate of bee decline keeps increasing. U.S. beekeepers lost an average of 45% of their colonies last winter. In years past, 5-10% winter losses were normal, with the colonies naturally replaced in the spring. The new higher rate of loss is unsustainable, and the overall numbers are decreasing rapidly.

Natural systems are dependent upon the job our pollinators do. We are dependent on them also. A recent study estimated that of the 100 crops providing 90% of the world’s food, 71 are pollinated by bees. There is a real possibility that we soon may not have enough pollinators to effectively pollinate the plants needed for our food supply. Does this cause enough concern to bring the culprits to trial?


We have a pattern of pushing new technologies into the natural world without really understanding the long-term consequence of using them. Have we forgotten the consequences of the use of DDT, organophosphates and pyrethroids? It takes a long time to undo the damage we unleash on the natural world when we do not fully understand everything that they will do.

Products like the “low-impact” pesticides, along with the proliferation of genetically modified crops dependant upon them, have been introduced on a vast area of our planet. Nature takes time to evolve, but we push forward with technology much faster than nature can keep up. We continue to take the short cuts leading to profits without proper regard as to how they can be sustained.

Throughout my life, I have enjoyed watching the myriad of bees, wasps, moths, butterflies, beetles and other six-legged creatures working on flowers to sustain their species and ours. Can we take steps to insure the future of these wonderful animals? The jury is still out.

localecopiaLocalecopia is a nonprofit organization based in Palm Beach, Florida focused upon bringing businesses, producers, educators and government organizations together for the purpose of lessening our carbon footprint by supporting local product consumption, helping operations better utilize waste and bringing together individuals to help achieve sustainable business practices. For information about Localecopia, please visit www.localecopia.org.

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