We've been hearing a lot about bees in recent weeks, and while it can be easy to dismiss stories about collapsing bee colonies as yet another agricultural problem that somebody else will find a solution for, it is important to understand how crucial bees are to our agricultural sector, and the ramifications should the mass die-off of bees not be solved.
Albert Einstein once said that if the bee were to disappear from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live.
That is quite a statement, and one that we should all reflect on as we cruise the produce section of the local grocery store, or while preparing meals for our families.
More than 100 food crops rely on bees for pollination. Bees provide invaluable unpaid labour to our farmers by cross-pollinating food crops. While grains like wheat, corn, or rice utilize wind to spread their pollen, most of the other food crops count on bees. Bees help farmers to provide us with everything from berries to apples to squash, onions, carrots and a host of other dining table staples.
Imagine 100 fruits and vegetables disappearing from store shelves should bees be allowed to collapse into extinction. Then imagine all of the processed foods that could no longer be produced without many of those 100 food crops. We'd be walking into a hollow shell of a grocery store, our farmers would be devastated, and ultimately if we didn't all starve to death, our diets would at the very least need to be severely altered.
So when alarm bells are being sounded about the state of bee populations, we should all sit up and take notice.
It is perhaps somewhat ironic that what is suspected of killing the bees is a substance that the farmers who rely on those very bees for pollination have been applying to their crops. If they haven't been applying neonicotinoids to their crops themselves, they have been purchasing seeds that have been coated with neonics.
That is not to say that farmers are at fault. Farmers like the rest of us embrace a wide range of new products each year that in time we discover aren't exactly healthy for us. We all rely on governments and scientific studies to ensure that new chemicals brought to the marketplace are safe, and that guidelines for use are established. If there is blame to be assigned in the case of neonics, it falls squarely on our federal government, and Health Canada.
The advent of neonicotinoids meant better pest control for farmers who are constantly trying to find new ways to increase crop yields, and reduce the amount of crop lost to pests.
The ever-growing mountain of evidence that this substance is harmful, not only to bees, but to all pollinators needs to be taken seriously by all levels of government, as well as by food producers and consumers.
This year alone more than 140 cases of bees dying from apparent poisoning have been reported, but what nobody seems to know at this time is how much worse the problem will become.
Local beekeeper Richard Elzby lost 10 of his 30 colonies over the winter, and when he replaced those bees he was helpless as he watched those bees die as well. Bee boxes that should contain as many as 40,000 bees in Elzby's operation contain just a tenth of that number.
While Elzby's losses are stunning, other beekeepers have reported bee losses in the tens of millions.
In a word, the situation is frightening.
Health Canada says that they are continuing to monitor the impact of neonicotinoids on the bee population, but with as much evidence, circumstantial as it might be at the moment, Health Canada shouldn't simply be monitoring the situation, they should be taking action. Health Canada should be pushing for at minimum a temporary ban on the use of neonicotinoids until exhaustive studies can be completed in order to verify if neonics are the problem, and if found to be the source of the bee devastation, they should be banned outright.
They may be tiny, and they may seem insignificant, but bees help keep us alive, so we should treat any destruction of the bee population with the utmost urgency.