Ending Our Insane Chemical 'War On Weeds' Would Let All the Pollinators Keep Keeping Us Alive

Click Here to hear Professor of Entomology Claudio Gratton's explain the essential role native bees play in our continued survival.

The huge numbers of European Honey Bees that died in all the 'developed' countries this past winter [about 1/3] has been directly tied to industrial agriculture's expanding use of pesticides, especially the neonicotinoids, by studies in both the US and Europe. Europe has already enacted new regulations to protect their pollinators, the US and Canada are, as usual, listening to the pesticide industry lobbyists and refusing to call for a ban.  

Neonicotinoid pesticides have been known for years to be deadly not only to honeybees but to all insect pollinators. There are at least 1000 different species of native bees in North America and 1000's of other species of pollinating insects too. All types of pesticides have been found to harm native and imported bees as well as the others, including fungicides, herbicides, acaricides, rodenticides, and of course the ubiquitous insecticides. Bats are important pollinators too, as are birds, particularly hummingbirds, honeyeaters and sunbirds. Other vertebrates, such as monkeys, lemurs, possums, rodents, lizards and humans have been recorded pollinating some plants as well.

As Cornell entomology professor Bryan Danforth says in explaining the importance of native bees, "The honeybee has hogged the pollination spotlight for centuries, but native bees are now getting their fair share of buzz: They are two to three times better pollinators than honeybees, are more plentiful than previously thought and not as prone to the headline-catching colony collapse disorder that has decimated honeybee populations. An individual visit by a native bee is actually worth far more than an individual visit by a honeybee." Danforth added. "Honeybees are more interested in the nectar. They don't really want the pollen if they can avoid it. The wild, native bees are mostly pollen collectors. They are collecting the pollen to take back to their nests."

Danforth goes on to say, "In the past, the attitude has always been, 'Well, you have the crop, and you have the honeybee, and that's all you really need.' But nobody has ever bothered to ask, well what about all these other bees that are out there? The role of native bees in crop pollination has been largely unappreciated -- until colony collapse disorder created a crisis."

Honeybees are considered valuable because, unlike native species, they can be moved from farm to farm. For example, honeybees are critical in pollinating California almond fields in February when there are no native bees around. The thing that makes the honeybee valuable to agriculture is its ability to quickly pollinate large numbers of flowers over a wide area making it possible to grow mono-cultural crops like canola, or almonds. When you grow large fields or orchards of mono-cultured crops, natural pollinators can only pollinate a small percentage of the flowers in the short period of time that nature allots for this work. These industrial scaled honeybee pollinated crops are often luxury food items, like peaches, coffee, almonds, or vanilla.

An estimated one out of every three bites of food comes to us through the work of animal pollinators [more on that tomorrow], only a small percentage of that is pollinated exclusively by imported European Honeybees. Since native bees are closely tied to their food source, anything that destroys the food source—whether it’s a herbicide, a freeway, a lawnmower or a housing development—destroys the native insects that were dependent upon it.

Corporate/industrial agriculture because of its monoculture dependent pesticide addiction is killing itself by destroying the living soil beneath its feet and also by killing its only source pollination. They'll poison and kill us too if we let them. But if instead we realize the value of our native pollinators, if we stop our insane chemical 'war on weeds', if we silence the lawnmowers and learn to love the native flowering plants and recognize them to be our cousins and the main food source of the native pollinators we depend on, our food gardens will have plenty of native pollinators to keep us alive. If we don't, well we won't have to worry about climate change or our anything else.