Some toxins that are commonly used in agriculture disorient bees, endangering their lives and making them unable to pollinate plants. But not only does it harm the bee population — it harms us because bees are involved in producing the majority of the food we eat.
In response to the problem, Aldi Süd, the German branch of the Aldi chain, has become the first major European supermarket to ban pesticides that harm bees from its product line.
More: Amazing honeybee facts
Bees are amazing creatures. They are capable of abstract thought and have sophisticated learning abilities, allowing them to solve complex problems. They can distinguish between human faces. Bees can be optimistic or pessimistic and can even have different personalities. They are incredible engineers, building their hives in the most efficient formations possible (the honeycomb). There’s also evidence to suggest that the nanoparticles in their venom can kill HIV.
The insects are massively cool in their own right but they are also integral to the lives of us humans. The U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organisation estimated in 2010 that, of the 100 varieties of crops that provide the world with 90 percent of its food supply, bees are involved in producing 71 of them.
Bees are essential pollinators for the human food supply and our survival. However over the last few decades there have been devastating drops in the number of bee colonies worldwide. Problems such as habitat loss, invasive species and the use of pesticides have even led to the extinction of some species.
Recently Aldi Süd announced that it will require its suppliers to phase out the use of pesticides which threaten bee populations. Even though the E.U. has strict restrictions on the use of some pesticides Aldi’s move will be more comprehensive in protecting bees.
The move is important and hopefully other companies will follow suit. Without bees humans may be able to pollinate some crops themselves (which has happened already in apple plantations in Central China) although it is an intensive, slow process. Certainly humans would not be able to pollinate all types of crops and it would be a major technical and scientific challenge to replace bees. Food prices would probably soar, as research from the University of Reading has shown that bees contribute £651 million to the U.K. economy each year.
A decreased and more costly food supply could also cause geopolitical instability. With scarcer resources there would be considerably more anxiety over how to feed the world’s population.
In order to cultivate a better future, there are choices you can make to help protect bees:
- Consider organic options. Research from the University of Oxford in 2014 found that organic farms support 34 percent more plant, insect and animal species. They also had 50 percent more pollinator species, including bees. While the study did not include details on tropical farms (and therefore has limited implications for buying produce such as bananas and cocoa beans) it points to the potential benefits of organic produce for encouraging greater biodiversity.
- Avoid using particular pesticides. Some household pesticides can be damaging for bees. You can check the toxicity of different chemicals by consulting this list.
- Have a bee-friendly garden. Very little is required in a garden to support bees. You can plant their favourite flowers, which, in the U.K., include varieties such as crocus, snowdrops, honeysuckle and many others. (A huge list is available here). It can also be helpful to have places that are protected from the wind and rain and a water supply, such as a birdbath.
- Consider beekeeping. If you have the space and time, beekeeping is a hobby that helps bolster the bee population while also potentially providing a source of honey.