Green Living: How to Save the Bees

UNEP Report Buzzes With News of Honey-Bee Decline

Earlier in the week the UNEP released a report that created a few new buzzes. Their report highlighted the global nature of bee colony collapse. They have also highlighted several causes including pesticide use, biodiversity loss and climate change that have contributed towards colony collapse.

There have been reports of declines and sudden collapses of bee colonies in Western Europe, North America and Japan during the past few years. This trend with growing inflation to food prices is a dangerous combination. According to the UNEP report, "of some 100 crop species which provide 90% of food worldwide, 71 of these are bee-pollinated."

Pollination is said to contribute $14bn to the US economy alone. In a number of countries, there are projects supported by the government aimed at giving bees an additional lift. In the UK, for example farmers are encouraged to mix bee-friendly plants along the edges of their fields. Several buildings like the Tate Modern gallery house 'bee-hotels' on their roof. Still others like the California Academy of Sciences encourage bees through green-roofs.

In addition to this, a number of European countries have banned neonicotinoid pesticides that is believed to contribute towards bee decline. Addition of antibiotics to the feed is also said to accelerate colony collapse. Organic bee farmers opine mass-produced bees are more susceptible to environmental stress that result in collapse rather than wild species. As an ethical consumer, what can you to do ensure that the honey you consume is bee friendly?

Fairtrade, local, organic

Look for brands that are Fairtrade or organic. Locally grown honey is also a good bet because you may have the chance to buy directly from the bee-keeper which means you can have an idea of how the bees are treated. The true-source initiative in the US tackles illegally sourced honey thereby protecting American bee-keepers. Also keep in mind other bee-related products - Royal Jelly, bees wax etc. When you buy these or products containing these ingredients make sure that it is organic.

Packaging

The most environmentally friendly option is to buy honey in glass jars. Look for a high recycled glass content. Many brands now sell honey in squeezy plastic bottles - check if these can be recycled or are manufactured with recycled content.

Honey-Bee Welfare

Many vegans eschew honey because it is still an animal product. According to the Vegan Society, bees "can go through routine examination and handling, artificial feeding regimes, drug and pesticide treatment, genetic manipulation, artificial insemination, transportation (by air, rail and road) and slaughter." Queen bees can be routinely culled every two years as their egg production declines. Many commercial beekeepers also 'trick' queens into laying more eggs by adding wax cells to the hive that are larger than those that worker bees would normally build.

Both environmental and man-made stress has resulted in the decline of bees. The situation has now reached an alarming new level and it is necessary for consumers to educate themselves and be aware of the choices they make.

Photo Credit: Akhila Vijayaraghavan ©