Are Bees Pests?

Published on 19th April 2018

            Bees are an essential part to the Earth’s ecosystems, and more specifically human’s food sources, however the bee population is declining at a rapid rate due to the impact pesticides have on bees. About a third of the crops on planet Earth rely on insect pollination. Bees are the dominating insect pollinators, and are responsible for pollinating a large mass of the existing crops. This potential loss poses a great threat to humans, and could potentially destroy the food chain and make obtaining fruits and vegetables much more difficult for humans. The loss of bees is occurring worldwide; in the past few years the bee population has lowered incredibly, at terrifying rates. To date, there has been no formal initiative made ending or lowering the rate at which the bee population is declining (Bees in Decline). Due to the importance and potential emergency associated with the decline of bee populations, a policy must be made and enforced by the United States government. In order to decrease the rate at which bee populations are lessening, The US must enforce policies on the types of pesticides used, including the eradication of the pesticide neonicotinoid, and when the pesticides can be applied.

            Both pollination and the application of pesticides are deemed crucial to modern agriculture. Pollination is the transfer of pollen grains from the stamen to the stigma, the movement of the male sex cells to the female organ (“Pollination,” Missouri Botanical Garden). This leads to the fertilization of plants, ensuring that the plant will produce a viable set of fruit and seeds. (“Pollination," Pollinator Partnership) Bees are cross pollinators, meaning the flower is pollinated by the pollen from another flower, creating stronger and healthier flowers. Bees pollinate flowers when they are search for nectar. They often slip and cover themselves with pollen, and then when they land on another flower, searching for nectar, the polls from the previous flower will touch the stigma, pollinating the flower (“Pollination,” Missouri Botanical Garden). Pesticides are a series of different chemicals, that are applied to crops, to perform specific functions such as maintaining growth, preventing insects, and protecting the crop from fungus. In the agricultural field, pesticides are deemed necessary in order to guarantee that a quality product is being consistently produced. Insecticides, the pesticide responsible for pest control, is the main source of the decline in the bee population. Insecticides often leave a trace amount of toxicity that harms bees (Rohrich). Neonicotinoids, the insecticide that has been found to be the most harmful to bees, have the ability to impact the nerve receptors of insects. Their popularity is rooted from their ability to be applied to the soil and picked up by the plants. Neonicotinoids were originally advertised as having no impact on beneficial insects such as bees, however recent research has proven despite their lack of extensive toxicity they still maintain the ability to harm the beneficial insects ("What is a Neonicotinoid?”).

            Thirty five percent of the land on Earth that is free of ice, is dedicated to agriculture; the industrialization of agriculture has reached new heights, and continues to grow, making the use of pesticides and the harming of bees inevitable (Bees in Decline). The pesticides used on crops have been found to be very harmful, even lethal, to the bees that pollinate them. When a pesticide is applied while a bee is on the crop or flower where it is being applied, the bee is likely to die immediately. Research has shown that certain types of pesticides including neonicotinoids, have long term impacts on the mental health of bees, which ultimately impacts their ability to pollinate. Bees who are mentally impaired due to pesticides struggle to remember the smell of flowers they are meant to pollinate and to make the connection between the scent of the flower and ability their to pollenate. This type of pesticide has also been found to make the bee act at an overall slower pace. Neonicotinoids in combination with other types of pesticides, can even have impacts on the reproduction of bees. In a study it was found that, bees exposed to a combination of pesticides have less offspring than those not exposed at all (County). The decline of the bee population is a global issue. In the United States from the months of January to March in 2016 there was an 8 percent loss of honeybees in operations with five or more colonies ("Honey Bee Colonies"), and in some countries in Europe there has been a 20 percent decrease in population size in just one year (Bees in Decline).

If this problem continues to worsen bees may go extinct. The complete loss of bees would damage the food chain immensely. Without bees many crops would not be pollenated, resulting in the potential loss of that crop. That loss would then impact animals, who eat that crop, this then impacts the animals that eat that animal, this pattern continues all the way up the food chain. The loss of specific crops could also damage the economy, making food prices increase, and shattering the agricultural industry as a whole ("What Would”). Commercial bee farmers have been very public about taking a stance on this issue. Many of them have witnessed the decline first hand and run tests on the health of the bees to find the cause of the decline, which they have found to be pesticides. The United Sates government is at fault for the continuation of this issue. The decline of bees has been observed for years but, an initiative to end the decline has not been made. The Environmental Protection Agency initially refused to acknowledge the harmful impacts of neonicotinoids. Since then, the EPA has been sued by commercial bee farmers for allowing them, and they are now looking into safer ways to use pesticides so it doesn’t harm the bees (Grossman).

            The agriculture industry is reliant upon bees, as it provides an accessible and free way to pollinate crops. If the decline of the bee population continues to grow, alternate solutions for pollinating crops would be expensive, and could potentially harm the agriculture industry.

In fact, the pollination provided by bees and other natural pollinators has been estimated by Greenpeace to be worth $117 billion dollars a year worldwide. However, an investment from the United States government to enforce initiatives and policies that would slow and end the decline of bees would save money and end an issue that possesses a serious threat to the economy in the long term. (Bees in Decline). The only way to slow the global decline of the bee population is to ensure that this issue is closely monitored and watched. The government must ban the use of neonicotinoids on plants, as they have been found to cause bees long-term health issues.

Because neonicotinoids are picked up by the plant, they are especially dangerous, as the pesticide is riddled throughout all parts of the plant (Rohrich). Regulations of when pesticides can be applied to plants must also be put into action. When bees are on a plant that is being sprayed with pesticides, the bee is likely to die immediately (County). Thus, pesticides must only be allowed to be applied during the evening. Bees tend to forage for nectar during the day, so there will be less risk of a bee being on a plant when the pesticide is applied. Applying pesticides in the evening will also ensure that there is less toxicity remaining on the plant the next day to harm the bee. Lastly, crops such as melons, pumpkins, squash, and cucumbers have flowers that only open for one day (County). Crops such as these, must not have pesticides applied to them the day on which the flower is blooming. The pollination of these crops, takes place on the flower of the crop, so if no pesticides are applied that day, bees who are pollinating them will not be subjected to toxicity. Along with creating regulations, the United States government must also invest money into research of this issue. This problem poses a threat to human’s food sources, and the environment as a whole. Research could help find a way to slow or stop the bee population from declining, which will ultimately lead to a better environment and save the United States from a crisis.

            Despite what seems like an easy fix, there is a large mass of people who do not see a clear problem or relate the decline of bees to pesticides. Many farmers view pesticides as beneficial, and often link them with the increase of crop production. The ban of pesticides and immense regulation is not realistic for the government or for farmers, without them there could be about a 30 percent drop in the yield of crops. Pesticides ensure the products that farmers grow are good and usable (Brandon). There are also many people who do not believe that the decline of bees is directly related to the use of pesticides. They relate this drop to colony collapse disorder (CCD). Every few years scientists notice a large drop in bees, bigger than previous years, as a cause of CCD. Colony collapse disorder happens when something such as an infestation occurs, the adult bees go missing from the hives, leaving the younger bees to do the work, soon there is not a sufficient number of bees to complete the work they must do, and the population of the colony drop ("Bees &”).  There has currently been a large increase in CCD. In January of 2015 there were 5o thousand bee colonies in operations with less than five colonies, and by July of 2015 that number had risen to 52 thousand ("Honey Bee Colonies). Though pesticides have some benefits, the negative impact accompanied with them are too vast for regulations to not be made. Pesticides are toxic, and there are even correlations between neurological damage in farmers who have had long-term exposure to pesticides. If pesticides are bad for the health of farmers how could they not be bad for the health of bees? While colony collapse disorder is very prominent in current times, it is not the main cause for the decline in bee population. The decline that is currently being observed has been occurring consistently for years, disqualifying it as only CCD ("Farmers &”). In cases of CCD, there is always a clear cause, in the 1980’s there was a large drop in the bee population due to an infestation of varroa mites ("Bees &”).  However there are not currently any apparent causes that could start such a large case of CCD, and explain the drop in bee population being observed ("Farmers &”).

            Bee populations are declining globally, threatening the survival of humans and many other animals in the future. The main cause for the decline in bee colonies is the use of pesticides. To end this terrifying issue, the United States must place regulations on the use of pesticides, banning neonicotinoids, and limit application to evening hours and times where flowers are not in bloom. Pesticides that are applied to crops and flowers, often leave a trace amount of toxicity. When bees go to pollinate a plant they are subject to this toxicity, which is leading to long term health effects in bees. These health issues decrease the rate at which bees are able to pollinate plants and often lead to death. Bee populations decline up to twenty percent a year, a pattern that continues to occur. Despite this continuing issue, regulations have not been created or enforced. The United States must create regulations to slow the decline of the bees. The government must also make an initiative to conduct research on this dilemma that has the potential to plague the entire world. A small investment from the United States Government will save a lot of money in the future, as well as prevent both a food and economic crisis. If the decline of bee populations continues to be ignored, there are mass consequences for the entire world. The complete loss of bees could lead to, the crash of the agricultural field, an economic crisis, the collapse of the food chain, famine, and even the extinction of many species. At the rate bees are declining year to year, the global bee population is heading towards extinction, and if nothing is done to call attention to, or end this issue, the entire world will have to face the lasting impacts.

Works Cited:

"Bees & Agriculture." The Nature Conservatory, Accessed 27 Nov. 2016.

Bees in Decline. Pdf ed., Amsterdam, Greenpeace International.

Brandon, Hembree. "Doing a World of Good: Benefits of Pesticides." Delta Farm Press, 3 May 2002, Accessed 27 Nov. 2016.

County, Bruce. "The Harmful Effect of Pesticides on Honey Bees." Hive and Honey Apiary, Accessed 16 Nov. 2016.

"Farmers & Pesticides." Science Update, performance by Bob Hirshon, Science Netlinks.

Grossman, Elizabeth. "Declining Bee Populations Pose A Threat to Global Agriculture." Environment 360, Yale University, 30 Apr. 3013, Accessed 25 Nov. 2016.

"Honey Bee Colonies." United States Department of Agriculture Economics, Statistics and Market Information System, United States Department of Agriculture, 12 May 2016, Accessed 27 Nov. 2016.

"Pollination." Missouri Botanical Garden, 2009, Accessed 25 Nov. 2016.

"Pollination." Pollinator Partnership, Accessed 26 Nov. 2016.

Rohrich, Jenny Dewey. "What Are Pesticides, and Why Do We Use Them on the Farm?" The Huffington Post, 11 Aug. 2014, Accessed 26 Nov. 2016.

"What is a neonicotinoid?" Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center, Accessed 26 Nov. 2016.

"What Would Happen If Bees Went Extinct?" BBC, Accessed 26 Nov. 2016.

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