Let’s talk about your organic mattress and how it relates to the birds and bees. Well, just the bees.
A report by the Organic Center suggests that practices used by organic farms (such as organic cotton farms) promote the health of pollinator bees, whose populations have been in decline since the identification of Colony Collapse Disorder in 2006.
What is Colony Collapse?
While researchers can say what Colony Collapse Disorder means for bees, they can’t say exactly why it is happening. Over the past ten years, bee keepers have lost more than a third of their hive populations (two Naturepedic employees who raise bees have been impacted by this decline). With CCD, adult worker bees disappear from hives in winter, sometimes leading to a total collapse of the bee colony.
No one factor has been found to be the total cause of CCD. Rather, researchers are finding a variety of factors that likely contribute. Such factors include viral and parasitic infections, reduced motor coordination of bees induced by pesticides, malnutrition from reduced diversity of food, habitat destruction, and the combined effects of low level exposure to pesticides and other biological stressors.
Pesticides and Bees
According to the report, a recent study identified 161 different pesticides found in pollen, wax and honey in beehives. While many of the pesticides could pose a major risk to bees, researchers are also looking at how sub-lethal levels of pesticides, particularly a class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids, can adversely affect bee populations. Neonicotinoid exposure has been implicated in adverse effects on the behavior, learning ability, and overall functioning and motor coordination of bees.
The complex interplay between low-level but long-term pesticide exposures and other factors may be leading to an overall increase in bee susceptibility to illness and infection. The idea, which is gaining support from research, is that it’s similar to a person who is somewhat sleep deprived and not eating well. While the lack of sleep in itself itself doesn’t make a person sick, it does put the person in a weakened state that is less able to fight off infections.
How Does Organic Farming Benefit Bees?
Organic farming allows for greater biodiversity while not using synthetic pesticides. Many organic farmers also plant insectaries providing habitat and increased food sources for pollinators.
The combination of increased food variety, increased habitat and decreased pesticide exposure (particularly the avoidance of neonicotinoids), can lead to an overall healthier bee, and a healthier bee will be better equipped to fight off naturally occurring pathogens and parasites. Additionally, organic farming practices that allow for non-crop plants to grow could mean more nutritious honey for the hive.
And Why Does It Matter?
Even if you’re not a personal fan of bees since getting stung back in fourth grade, those buzzing little creatures are tremendously important for our food. In fact 75% of all foods we eat rely on pollinators, and primarily bees. Honey bees themselves are responsible for about $12.4 billion worth of crops per year in the U.S, and native bees an additional $4 bil.
While my son probably wouldn’t lament the loss of broccoli (a bee-pollinated crop), he would miss apples, berries, vanilla, oranges, and the many other crops that need bees. After all, without bees, no pumpkins, and without pumpkins, no pumpkin pie.
Read or download the complete Organic Center report The Role of Organic in Pollinator Health.