This past December, a leaked EPA document revealed that the agency allowed the widespread use
of pesticide known to be toxic to honeybees, despite warnings from EPA scientists. The hive-killing pesticide—clothiandin, a Bayer-produced compound used on corn and other crops—may be the main culprit in the U.S., but it's not the only problem. It can't be, according to a UN report that claims the decline in bees is a problem around the world, even in places where clothiandin isn't used. And that's a big issue for all of us—of the 100 crops that provide 90% of the planet’s food, over 70 are pollinated by bees.
The UN study, entitled Global Bee Colony Disorders and other Threats to Insect Pollinators (PDF), claims that beekeepers in North America, Western Europe, China, Japan, and Egypt are all reporting dramatic declines in population. The problem can be blamed on a number of factors, including chemicals like clothiandin, virulent fungal pathogens that are accidentally transported via trade, the loss of bee-feeding plant species, air pollution (it can disorient bees), and even climate change, which alters rainfall patterns and shifts the flowering times of plants, affecting nectar supplies.
There are immediate actions that can be taken to mitigate the crisis. Namely, farmers can reject systemic insecticides like clothiandin and set aside unploughed farmland to grow vegetation that supports pollination. All of these problems, however, need to be addressed on both the national and international level—and they will, at the UN's Rio+20 environmental summit next year.
"Rio+20 is an opportunity to move beyond narrow definitions of wealth and to bring the often invisible, multi-trillion dollar services of nature, including pollination from insects such as bees, into national and global accounts," said Achim Steiner, the Executive Director of the UN Environment Program, in a statement.
In the meantime, savor your fruits and vegetables while you can—they may not be so plentiful for much longer.