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America's Honeybee Population Is Collapsing At An Unprecedented Rate

Michael Kelley

A  mysterious condition has wiped out 40 to 50 percent of the hives needed to pollinate many of the nation’s fruits and vegetables over the last year,  commercial beekeepers told Michael Wines of The New York Times.

Colony Collapse Disorder  (CCD) first surfaced in 2005 — when annual  honeybee losses jumped from 5 to 10 percent to 30 percent  — and is now decimating populations at an unprecedented rate.

“They looked so healthy last spring,” Bill Dahle, who owns Big Sky Honey in Fairview, Mont., told the Times. "Then, about the first of September, they started to fall on their face, to die like crazy. We’ve been doing this 30 years, and we’ve never experienced this kind of loss before.”

A number have factors —  including  cell phone signals — have contributed to the decline, but a main culprit appears to be a type of commonly used pesticide.

Rebecca Morelle of the BBC reports that exposure to chemicals called neonicotinoids are " interfering with the insect's ability to learn and remember."

Since their introduction in the 1990s, neonicotinoids are used to treated 94 percent of all corn seeds in the U.S.  The problem is that the pesticide permeates corn plants and manifests in the  pollen, nectar, and water bees rely on as a key protein source.   

The Pesticide Action Network of North America, noting that bees often  bring contaminated pollen back to the hive,  claims that CCD symptoms first arose around the same time that  seed treatment with  neonicotinoids  increased five-fold.

“Honeybees are caught in the crossfire,” said Steve Ellis, owner of Old Mill Honey Co., told NBC Nightly News. “Honey bees, like mine, are subjected to increasingly toxic load of pesticides in corn fields.”

Wines notes that a quarter of the American diet — from apples to cherries to watermelons to onions to almonds — depends on pollination by honeybees, and fewer bees means smaller harvests and higher food prices.

Beyond that  many plants, including food crops, would die off without bees to pollinate them. 

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