Voice of the Journal Editors
Betrayal of the Bees: Implications for Business and Society
Eight years ago, when I wrote about the plight of the bees ("Next to Dogs, Man's Best Friend is Dying" AABJ, Volume 13, No. 2, September 2008), researachers had not yet found the causes for their disappearance and mysterious death. They simply called the problem "Colony Collapse Disorder" without establishing a relationship between cause and effect.
Today, however, the conundrum behind the dying of the world bees has been, to some extent, solved. The culprits have been identified as some toxic pesticides and insecticides used on plants.
For the economic value of the honeybees, it has been said anonymously that "If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man."
This apocalyptic prognostication summarizes the effects of dying bees on business and society. It is a clear and poignant indication of how important honeybees are to the world's agribusiness since a third of the food we eat is pollinated by bees. Without bees, at least 400 agricultural plant species/foods would not exist.
Therefore, the death and destruction of the population of these little creatures concerns all citizens of the world not just the beekeepers but the whole of societies around the world. The consequences are damaging industries in food growers and food processors that depend on the insects' survival and threaten to make the food we eat more expensive.
Undoubtedly, our planet without bees would be a barren and bleak place. In addition to providing us with our food supply, honeybees help in the growth of plants and flowers by pollination. (Basically, pollination is the transfer of pollen from the anther of the plant to the stigma. When this happens, a plant's fruit or seed or nut is formed for human and animal consumption). So, bees do more than just make honey. They fly around pollinating all sorts of fruit and vegetables, which end up on our plates.
As an example, let us see what the economic value of the bee is to UK. Their role in the food chain is so important that recently The National Audit Office collated research to figure out the value of honeybees to the UK economy. The value of the bees' services were estimated at £200m a year. The retail value of what they pollinate was valued closer to £1bn. That is a lot of money for a relatively small, albeit great, country.
Currently, if you add together the effect of the increase in the cost of honey because it is in shorter supply in UK and the increase because of the exchange rate, some honey products have doubled in price. Once the price goes up around the world, honey becomes like caviar --only the rich could afford to eat.
Inevitably, without bees, the costs of pollination would double. Against the backdrop of declining honeybee populations around the world, there seems to be only one other way of pollinating mass numbers of plants. It involves employing people to go round with feather dusters, brushing the insides of plants with pollen. A time-consuming, tedious, and labor intensive procedure to say the least.
This method would skyrocket costs of production to agribusiness and translate into high prices to the consumers. Since labor is cheap in some parts of the world, certain countries are already doing it. For example, in parts of China to pollinate pear trees in areas where the insects are extinct, laborers are hired to imitate the work of bees.
In addition to food production, bees tend to enrich the landscape in which they live. The impact on society, thus, is multidimensional. Studies have shown that bees are also loving creatures --although "loving" may sound a bit farfetched for this insect. However, this does not mean they kiss humans affectionately on the cheek! Here are a few examples of the notable characteristics of man's best friend:
Bees act like humans in some ways. Bees like the humans who take good care of them. In other words, they will not bite the hand that feeds them and this spells loyalty toward the bee caretaker. Like crows, bees also can detect human faces, which means they can recognize and build trust with their human caretakers.
Bees love their queen, until she gets old. When the bee colony decides that the queen bee is slowing down in laying eggs, they may begin to breed new queens by "divorcing" the old hag. The first new born queen that hatches must kill the old queen bee and all the other hatching queen bees. This is akin to ancient human royal families practice such as of the Hittite empire.
Bees have shown to have the Swarm Intelligence, which is the collective behavior of decentralized, self-organized systems, natural or artificial. The inspiration often is derived from nature, especially biological systems. The agents, the members of the colony, follow very simple rules, and although there is no centralized control structure dictating how individual agents should behave, local, and to a certain degree random, interactions between such agents lead to the emergence of "intelligent" global behavior, unknown to the individual agents.
Bees have the uncanny ability to communicate and cooperate with one another. They perform special dances ("ballets") to indicate the location and amount of food to other bees in the colony.
Bees are the reason as to why our romantic getaway pictures look beautiful. Due to bees, mother Nature dresses up in many awe-inspiring colors, smells, and ecstatically rare forms and shapes.
Over 1 out of 6 of the world's flowering plant species would not exist without bees. A single honeybee can pollinate tens of thousands of flowers in a day, and an entire colony of bees can effectively pollinate millions of flowers a day. In sum, bees are basically the reason why we live in a colorful, beautiful world full of charm and edible plants. Namely, without them, our paradise would turn grey and even be lost.
Although bee populations are still experiencing rapid declines, our government, our President (Mr. Barak Obama) dillydallying in taking drastic actions to save them by putting an end to bee-killing pesticides currently in use. The realpolitik of the zeitgeist in Washington, D.C. is not to ruffle the feathers of the powerful pesticide and insecticide manufacturers. Neonicontinoids are especially harmful for bees because they render the entire plant poisonous, including its nectar and pollen. Even small doses of these pesticides can kill bees in no time. Even if small doses of these pesticides cannot outright kill them, the poison would impair bees' ability to breed, forage, fight disease and survive the winter.
Like dogs, bees are man's best friend no matter from which angle we look at them. But unfortunately, politicians, businessmen, and society at large are standing by the side while our best friends are dying, while a worldwide forced-extinction is in rapid progress. If the world governments do not take any action soon to stop the application of toxic chemical warfare against the benign bees, the holocaustic killing would precipitate the sad end, constituting a bona fide case of betrayal of a close friend.
Z. S. Demirdjian, Ph.D.
Senior Review Editor
California State University, Long Beach
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