In the winter of 2006/2007, more than a quarter of the country’s 2.4 million bee colonies — accounting for tens of billions of bees — were lost to CCD, Colony Collapse Disorder. This loss is projected have an $8 billion to $12 billion effect on America’s agricultural economy, but the consequences of CCD could be far more disastrous.
The role honeybees play in our diet goes beyond honey production. These seemingly tireless creatures pollinate about one-third of crop species in the U.S. Honeybees pollinate about 100 flowering food crops including apples, nuts, broccoli, avocados, soybeans, asparagus, celery, squash and cucumbers, citrus fruit, peaches, kiwi, cherries, blueberries, cranberries, strawberries, cantaloupe, melons, as well as animal-feed crops, such as the clover that’s fed to dairy cows. Essentially all flowering plants need bees to survive.
Last Friday in the Emerging Issues in Food Law class, Dr. Jeff Pettis, one of the lead scientists featured in The Silence of the Bees addressed the class via teleconference. As research leader of the USDA-ARS Bee Research Laboratory in Beltsville, Dr. Pettis leads a team effort to improve colony health by limiting the impact of pests and diseases on honey bee colonies. His research areas include; IPM techniques to reduce the impacts of parasitic mites and disease, effects of pesticides and pathogens on queen health and longevity, host-parasite relationships and bee behavior. Additionally, he serves as the lead coordinator for a new 5-year ARS Areawide program to improve colony health. Dr. Pettis received an undergraduate and MS degree from the University of Georgia and his doctoral degree in Entomology from Texas A&M University in 1992.
Dr. Pettis narrated his PowerPoint presentation on CCD and pollinator health overall and answered questions from the class. It was an informative and fascinating discussion, albeit one that raised many concerns about the future and how to best protect critical pollinators.