This One Animal Could Send Food Prices Soaring

Bees Could Send Food Prices SoaringBefore It’s News – by Monday Morning

On Tuesday morning, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced it will provide $3 million to help the one animal that will make or break U.S. food prices: bees.

Commercial honeybees pollinate an estimated $15 billion worth of the nation’s agricultural produceeach year, as reported by The Associated Press on Tuesday. Bees and other pollinators account for one out of every three bites of food Americans consume.  

But over the last five years, around 30% of the U.S. honey bee population has vanished. Nearly one-third of the nation’s honey bee colonies have disappeared.

If the USDA’s move doesn’t start mitigating the current, drastic rate of bee loss, Americans will see higher food prices and decreased food availability.

“Honey bee pollination supports… more than 130 fruits and vegetables that are the foundation of a nutritious diet,” USDA Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said with Tuesday’s announcement. “The future security of America’s food supply depends on healthy honey bees.”

Bees’ Dramatic Decline

Farmers in the United States rely on commercial bees (raised on farms and shipped to farms) and their wild counterparts to naturally pollinate an estimated 80% of all food crops; they are additionally responsible for around 30% of the world’s crops.

But pesticide use, habitat loss, and a phenomenon called “colony collapse disorder,” in which honeybees disappear or die suddenly without explanation, have taken their toll on U.S. honeybees.

Many studies say pesticides containing neonicotinoids, which came into use in the 1990s due to their various benefits, are the main cause of bee population loss. Bumblebees exposed to the chemical in the lab, then released to forage in the field, experienced sharply reduced colony growth rates and produced 85% fewer queens to start new colonies. The chemical caused confusion in 30% of tested free-ranging honeybees, and they failed to return to the hive.

Another major pressure on the U.S. bee population is there are fewer wildflower fields and other natural habitats for them. More of that land is being used to grow fruits and vegetables – the very crops that need pollination – to meet increasing food demand.

So just as rapidly as the pollinator population declines, the demand for foods that depend on bees for pollination rises.

Professor Marcelo Aizen at the National University of Comahue in Buenos Aires, Argentina “was taken aback by the sixfold increase in growth rate of crops that depend on domesticated bees for pollination” while conducting research on bee populations, according to Scientific American.

One study by the University of Florida showed that almond producers in California plant ever-increasing acres of almonds every year, while honeybee populations have steadily declined over the same period. By 2012, California almonds were estimated to have needed 2 million out of the 2.5 million colonies present in the U.S. just to be pollinated adequately, leaving the apple, citrus, berry industries, and more in a pollination lurch.

And the bee decline is expensive.

How U.S. Food Prices Will Suffer

As of 2011, the global economic cost of the bee decline was estimated at as high as $5.7 billion per year, according to Natural Resources Defense Council. Since 2011, that number has only gone up, especially in the United States.

Bee loss has triggered a price war in the pollination industry, resulting in growers paying higher rent prices for bee colonies. In 2013, bee brokers were “paying record high prices of $225 and higher” – around a 20% cost increase – to obtain commercial bees for crop pollination, according to Woodbridge Bee.

Bees Could Send U.S. Food Prices Soaring

“If you got a beekeeper that shows up with hives, pat yourself on the back because some guys didn’t have that luxury this year,” one almond grower said.

This is why the USDA is taking action.

The USDA’s plan to provide $3 million in technical and financial assistance for qualified farmers and ranchers is targeted to five Midwestern states: Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.

The USDA focused on these states because from June to September the region is the resting ground for more than 65% of the commercially managed honey bees in the country. The monetary assistance goes toward implementing conservation practices that will provide safe and diverse food sources for honeybees.

Since 2006, when heightened numbers of honeybee colony losses were officially reported, the USDA has made significant progress in identifying and understanding the factors that are associated with Colony Collapse Disorder and the overall health of honeybees. Tuesday’s aggressive action is a good sign the USDA is proactively pursuing solutions to the multiple problems affecting honeybee health.

Bottom line: Save the bees, save U.S. food prices.

5 thoughts on “This One Animal Could Send Food Prices Soaring

  1. Before anyone else points this out, an insect is NOT an animal.

    “But over the last five years, around 30% of the U.S. honey bee population has vanished. Nearly one-third of the nation’s honey bee colonies have disappeared.”

    And I’m not too sure about the 30% figure either, lowest estimate I’ve seen to date. I do know that it’s been estimated that 50% to 90% of Europe & N. America’s bee population has ‘disappeared’, and THAT is an extremely disturbing number.

      1. I caught it as soon as I spotted the article, Cathleen. I knew without a doubt if I didn’t make the obvious distinction, it wouldn’t have taken someone else very long to correct it for me.

        Din’t ‘zackly jus’ fall off’n the turnip truck, don’cha know. 🙄 😆

  2. OMG! (slapping myself on the forehead and shaking my head in disbelief) 😯

    The author thinks a bee is an animal. How the hell did the author even pass kindergarten? I would have failed him and sent him back to preschool.

    Man, I can’t believe how bad our education has deteriorated if we don’t even know the difference between an animal and an insect.

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