Bees, Like Humans, Are Overworked

It was called Colony Collapse Disorder, CCD, and was a description of the alarming decimation of bee colonies throughout the U.S. and the world. About a year ago we were very obsessed about it, fearful that the bees' demise was the canary in the coalmine of the irreversibility of global warming. What happened to that story? Was it just one of many soundbites of hype that briefly occupied our ADD minds? Or was it not as bad as we expected?

The answer is that we do have ADD and the bee losses are bad, but perhaps not as bad as expected. A virus is to blame for much of the bees' demise, but also a kind of karoshi, overwork. Now to the part I did not know anything about: the business of pollination. Did you know that bee pollination is a $15 billion dollar industry in the U.S., that approximately 1,000 commercial beekeepers own 90% of the country's 2.4 million bee colonies, that far more lucrative than honey production is the pollination of almond trees, a $1.9 billion dollar business (compared to honey's paltry $160 million and double even Napa Valley's wine production)? As food prices increase and the need to pollinate more and more acres of cotton, fruits, vegetables, and nuts, the value of the beekeeper's services increase. Like the chickens overfed and forced to live on 20-hour days so that they lay more eggs, honeybee colonies are driven around the country from one crop to the next to provide their indispensable services. This week almonds, next week, blueberries, the week after, alfalfa, and so on. In short, the bees are overworked, dropped into neverending fields of pornographically titillating flowers, and on top of this many are given hormones to stimulate their busy bee behavior so that they gather (and disseminate) more and more pollen. It's a fascinating topic, and I could go on, but you'd better get it from its source instead. If our planet is to survive, bees, too, will need shortened work weeks, guaranteed vacations, and much less stress.
blog comments powered by Disqus