How to save the world food chain

Hebrew University’s Triwaks Bee Research Center, founded in 1976, focuses on bee foraging behavior, secretions and mite control.

By HAROLD GOLDMEIER
June 30, 2013 22:38
4 minute read.
Honey bees in Israel

Honey bees in Israel 370. (photo credit: Reuters/Amir Cohen)

 
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Socially responsible investors will want to look at a nascent hive of activity where governments and the private sector are lumbering to save the world food supply threatened by mass crop displacement. The survivability of the tiny, nuisance bee is one key to that monumental task.

Bee populations around the world dropped by some 30 percent to 50% over the past seven years, suffering Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Fruits and vegetation such as alfalfa feed for dairy and beef cattle depend on bee pollination. Fewer bees mean higher consumer prices and less inventory.

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The US consumes 400 million pounds of honey every year, but production fell below 150 million pounds in 2012, and prices rose 14% in one year. The price for healthy worker beehives jumped from $75 to over $150 per hive over the past few years.

No research yet pinpoints a single cause of CCD, but the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) identifies four possibilities: pathogens, parasites, management stress and environmental stress.

A pathogen (infectious agent) load of viruses and bacteria are suspect as a culprit in CCD. Environmental stress such as droughts and polluted water sources are likely causes. Exposure to widespread use of pesticides in lethal doses is a factor. At the end, the queen bee has only a few adults to service her before the colony totally collapses, and the bees die or disappear. Cellphone transmission waves are not believed to be a significant factor in CCD.

Developing nations heavily rely on bee pollination for their food supply. India has nearly 10 million hives. The US has 2,400,000 hives and nearly three million fewer bee colonies (down from five million to 2.4 million) today than several decades ago.

Every third bite of food an American takes, according to the USDA, is dependent on honeybee pollination. They add $15 billion in value through their pollination of US fruit crops, while CCD caused a $75b. loss to agriculture worldwide over the past several years. One hundred crop species provide 90% of our food worldwide, and 71 of them are pollinated by bees.



Israel produces more than 2,500 tons of honey each year worth $12 million from 100,000 hives. One thousand five hundred tons of honey is imported each year to cover demand shortfall in “the land of milk and honey.” Inconsistent rainfall and rapid land development are eliminating natural habitats of open fields of flowers, so the Jewish National Fund plants up to 100,000 nectar-producing saplings each year to enhance bee population growth.

Investigator Ahmen Jabril, reporting for Thomson Reuters, links CCD threats to national defense. Food shortages and high prices have spurred riots and brought down governments before (think France, bread riots in Egypt and Russia). The European Commission is likely to outlaw certain pesticides this December because of the devastation to European honey production over the past few years.

Shortages of bee byproducts are driving up the costs of vitamins, medicines and cosmetics. Propolis, a sticky sealant bees make from sap to seal their hives, is effective for antibiotic and antifungal use, against immunostimulant effects and skin-burn treatments. Candle making, polishes, food coatings and pharmaceuticals that depend on beeswax are also casualties.

Treatment for CCD is a $1 billion to $3b. global market. The US Department of Defense is testing military technologies in CCD research. The USDA, the Environment Protection Agency and the European Union are committing resources.

However, Prof. Chancing (Alex) Lu, of the Harvard School of Public Health, recently told me momentum has slowed since early 2012, with no dramatic research findings, and the resignation at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of the person dedicated to this problem. “EU might be the first political entity to take some meaningful action to mitigate the losses of honeybees by restricting the use of neonicotinoids [a group of chemicals used as insecticides],” he said.

Hebrew University’s Triwaks Bee Research Center, founded in 1976, focuses on bee foraging behavior, secretions and mite control. In 2009, Israeli professors identified Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus (IVAP) as a possible leading cause of CCD. It was found in imported bees from Australia and jelly from China. The work led to a commercial start-up company founded in September 2011.

Monsanto Corporation acquired Israel’s Beeologics, based in Rehovot and Miami, whose Remebee® is sold as an antiviral bee treatment awaiting FDA and EPA approval as an intervention method in the fight against IVAP. Some say the purchase is to study and improve the pesticides Monsanto sells that allegedly cause CCD.

BeesFree, Inc. (BEES), based in Florida, is “Saving hives. Saving Lives” with an all-natural approach. Its stock is barely hanging on at 20 cents with almost no activity. BeesFree claims carbohydrates, essential amino acids, lipids, essential oils, minerals and antioxidants strengthen the bees, enabling them to withstand greater environmental toxins and stress, promote brood rearing, control infestations and helps prevent CCD.

The USDA recommends the public help by eliminating pesticides, especially mid-day when bees forage for nectar and store pollen. Home owners should plant pollinator plants such as red clover. In these lazy, hazy hot summer days, don’t swat that pesky bee. Killing a bee is a danger to the food ecosystem. Our problem, according to Drs. Seuss and Lu, is that “Our old bee-watching man just isn’t bee-watching as hard as he can... The thing that we need is a Bee-Watcher Watcher.”

Dr. Harold Goldmeier is the managing partner of Goldmeier Investments LLC and an instructor of business and social policy at the American Jewish University, Aardvark Israel, in Tel Aviv.

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