What if honey bees became extinct?

Crop-less farms, unfed cattle, failing meat and dairy industries – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg

Honey bees are one of the most important species on the planet, but their future is in jeopardy

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A third of our food depends on bees

For thousands of years, humanity has lived alongside honey bees. As farms expanded, portable beehives enabled colonies to be transferred from field to field to pollinate fruits and vegetables. Gradually, wild pollinators were replaced by managed honey bee colonies and now almost a third of our food depends on these insects.

 

 

 

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Thousands of bees begin to vanish

In 2006, migratory beekeepers in the United States began reporting missing colonies – thousands of bees were vanishing. The cause of this major crisis, called colony collapse disorder, is still unknown, but every year a third of the honey bee population in the USA doesn’t survive the winter.

 

 

 

 

 

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Supply doesn’t meet demand

Bee-pollinated biofuel crops already cover the countryside in the UK and Europe. These expanding businesses increase the demand for honey bees beyond the now dwindling supply. If demand for food and fuel continues to rise, more land will be turned over to farming, replacing the natural habitat of wild pollinators.

 

 

 

 

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Colony collapse disorder spreads to Europe

As farms expand, the use of pesticides often increases, and the number of hives required to pollinate the crop goes up with it. This leads to increased travel times that stress the bees, bringing many to harm. Meanwhile, bees suffer continued exposure to pesticides and diseases from other hives. Both major effects produce a deadly cocktail.

 

 

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Farms struggle to pollinate crops

If Colony Collapse Disorder continues at the current rate, and farms continue to expand in the way they have been, at some point the demand for pollinators will outstrip supply. As farms begin to dramatically struggle to pollinate their crops, the cost of hiring beehives will go up, and food prices will begin to rise.

 

 

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Empty farms and failing meat industries

Without the European honey bee, an estimated 30 per cent of crops would be dramatically affected. Fields would remain unpollinated, dying back without bearing fruit. Farmers and their livelihoods would be at dire risk. There would be no alfalfa to feed the cows over the winter and the meat and dairy industries would also struggle. This would lead to even more food shortages and panic begins to set in.

 

 

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Food shortages

Small farms rely on wild pollinators like bumblebees, or hand-pollination. The foods once pollinated by bees are now delicacies, expensive to produce and hard to obtain. The damageto food industries beyond this, could be dire. The foods once pollinated by honey bees, from cherries to lemons, watermelons to cucumbers, are now delicacies, expensive to produce, and difficult to source. Instead, the shelves are stocked with wind-pollinated crops, like wheat, rice, and corn.

 

 

 

 

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Photograph: Karunakar Rayker