Why bees matter

Amanda O'Brien
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I’ll be the first to admit that I love honey. In fact, I have it just about every other day on top of toast with natural peanut butter or served up Greek style mixed with plain yogurt with occasionally some nuts.

A bee pollinates a flower in a garden in Chelsea, Que. — Photo by The Canadian Press

I can’t imagine my cupboard without honey. To me, a world without it would be anything but sweet.

Now, imagine our island never producing another blueberry. More drastic yet, picture the grocery store void of nearly all produce, from apples to zucchini, and in addition to this no coffee, chocolate and almonds. What the heck am I talking about? It’s a glimpse into our possible future of food without bees.

Over the past decade, numerous colonies of bees have declined

or, worse yet, been decimated throughout the world. The exact causes are unknown, but there is much speculation. The David Suzuki Foundation notes that, ironically, much of it relates to agricultural practices. Modern methods of growing food are killing one of our biggest helpers in food production. Colony collapse disorder has wiped out millions of hives over the past decade, with pesticide use, parasites and poor nutrition eyed as likely culprits.

Bees are nature’s main pollinator. It’s estimated that one quarter of the food we eat relies on pollination. Einstein is known to have said, “If bees disappeared, man would have only four years to live.”

It’s not just about the fruits and veggies. Some crops used as fodder for meat and dairy production would also be affected by declining rates of insect pollinators. A world without bees means a less nutrient-dense diet, dismal produce in grocery store shelves, higher prices for foods — not just no honey or beeswax.

It’s not just we humans who could starve. It affects the whole food chain. Many birds and mammals feed off berries and seeds which rely on bee pollination. Larger animals that eat the smaller birds and mammals would also need to try and find alternate food sources or risk starvation.

It’s not just about food either. Conventional and alternative medicines may come from flowering plants.

The declining population of bees is an epidemic buzzing from beehive to beehive all over the planet. Interestingly enough, it’s not so much the case here on our beautiful island. According to a report from CBC last September, we are actually becoming one of the last places in the world where honey bees are thriving. It’s thought to be because of our lack of pests, abundance of wild flowers and relatively low levels of commercial farming.

Even if we aren’t as affected here, there are still things you can do. Be friendly to bees. I used to always be wary that they would sting, but in fact I’ve learned that many don’t and they usually will only sting if they are provoked.

You can also plant flowers, fruit and vegetable plants in your garden this summer. In areas where there are few agricultural crops, bees will rely on garden flowers for a diverse diet of nectar and pollen. Buy

local honey. Paradise Farms Inc. (www.beenatural.ca) is a honeybee farm located in Paradise with a “Bee Natural” line of products, including specialty honeys available across the province.

They note that our island is one of the few areas in the world that does not have the mites that are affecting the bees, hence no pesticides, drugs or chemicals are used

 Finally, try and learn more about bees and the important work they do.

Share this article with family and friends, visit one of the two bee farms on the island, or consider watching the documentary “More than Honey” to learn more.


Amanda O’Brien is a registered dietitian in St. John’s. Contact her through the

website www.recipeforhealth.ca.

Organizations: David Suzuki Foundation, CBC, Paradise Farms

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