Surely, you’ve heard the news: bees are in trouble.
In the late 1990s, beekeepers started to notice the sudden disappearance of their bees. In fact, since 2006, 40 percent of North America’s bees have disappeared from commercial honeybee operations. And this is bad news for us—approximately one of every three bites of our food is pollinated by bees. Everything from fruits and vegetables to nuts, spices and the crops that produce cooking oils are thanks to these buzzing insects. So, what’s happening to bees and how can we save them from disappearing altogether?
What’s harming bees?
In the mid 2000s, the Pesticide Action Network, a Californian organization that works with farmers, farmworkers and rural communities, began studying the decline in bee populations. By working with farmers and beekeepers, they determined that pesticide exposure, in addition to other factors like habitat loss, lack of healthy food to eat, and the spread of new diseases, was driving bee population declines.
Many pesticides harm insects, but a specific class of insecticides called neonicotinoids (or neonics) is especially damaging. While other pesticides are sprayed in the air to cover a crop, neonics are applied directly to a plant’s seed. As the seed grows, the chemical is dispersed to every part of the plant, including the pollen and nectar. Studies show that ingestion of neonics can impede bees’ navigation, communication with other bees, and can ultimately lead to their death.
Legislation to protect bees
In early 2018, the European Union (EU) voted for a complete ban on neonicotinoids—a huge victory for bees, other insects and humans. Movement to ban these pesticides in North America, however has been slower. In December 2017, Health Canada introduced restrictions on the use of two neonicotinoids but stopped short of a total ban. And at a national level in the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency has temporarily halted the approval of new neonics until a full risk assessment can be completed. Individual states are encouraged to create their own legislation.
Honey for good
While legislation in North America is catching up with the EU, beekeepers are bees’ biggest protectors. Our honey suppliers don’t just provide us with the fabulously sweet sticky stuff, they’re also doing their part to improve the outlook for bees in North America. Bee Natural is one of our honey suppliers in British Columbia. Owner Scott Gordan is selectively breeding stronger, local and more disease-resistant queen bees that play an important role in conservation. And Jim Coneybeare of Coneybeare Honey in Ontario is working to bring awareness to the damaging effects of neonicotinoids on honeybees through published articles and letters to government.
When selecting suppliers for the honey we use in our cosmetics, our buyers look to apiaries that are working to protect and conserve bees. Our strict guidelines favor natural beekeeping methods for healthier hives. Buyer Yuliya Nakonechna explains there are several factors she considers when choosing a honey supplier: “We want to make sure the hives are located in areas with diverse and sufficient forage for the bees, and that the beekeepers leave enough honey for bees to survive over the winter season, rather than sugar-feeding them.” She adds that she’s absolutely against synthetic chemical and antibiotic treatment of the bees. “By creating an environment where bees use their natural physiology, they develop resistance to pests and diseases without human intervention,” says Nakonechna.
Bee part of the solution
Protection from agricultural pesticides and strong queen bees are important steps for bee conservation. But we can all contribute to a healthier world for bees. Consider creating a bee habitat by planting bee-friendly flowers at home, school and work. Refrain from using pesticides on lawns, advocate for and support organic farming practices, and contact your elected officials to voice your concern for bees. They’re counting on us!