By Chris Jadallah — CFJC Food Policy Research Intern
My interests in ecology, sustainable food systems, and environmental protection led me to pursue a major in Conservation and Resource Studies at UC Berkeley. While seeking out research opportunities relevant to my studies, I stumbled across the Urban Bee Lab through an undergraduate research apprenticeship program. My work there this past year has opened my eyes to the exciting world of California’s diverse native bees, a group of insects consisting of more than 1,600 species of all shapes, colors, and sizes. I’ve spent time pinning and labeling collections in our lab, tending to our experimental garden with more than 150 flowering plant species, and visiting farms in Brentwood to sample native bee populations. I am particularly interested in how they can contribute to resilience in agro-ecosystems. My newfound fascination with native bees has only contributed to my belief that protecting pollinators ought to be a critical policy priority to promote both biodiversity and agricultural vitality.
There is no doubt that pollinators are important- in fact, necessary- for the production of many food crops. In turn, they help ensure economic prosperity for farming communities and healthy, varied diets containing a variety of fruits, nuts and vegetables. Bees provide pollination services: by visiting crop flowers, they facilitate plant reproduction, creating food products for us to eat. Without bees visiting their flowers, crops like almonds would not produce nuts. Fewer pollination services could mean lower agricultural yields, potentially leading to increased unemployment for farmworkers and decreased revenue on farms. They could also lead to higher food prices, making healthy food options even more unaffordable for low-income people.
There is also no doubt that pollinator populations are in trouble. While Colony Collapse Disorder plagues honey bee hives, other important pollinators like monarch butterflies and wild bees also face population declines (Potts et al. 2010). On top of creating problems for agricultural producers and consumers, this could spell trouble for native flora and fauna as pollinators play key roles in ecosystem function and health. Ecosystems provide us with food, water, air, raw materials, energy, and much, much more. Healthy wetland ecosystems, for example, assist with water purification, flood protection, shoreline stabilization, and groundwater recharge. Protecting pollinators is critical to protecting these ecosystems and thus ensuring human well-being.
Any comprehensive plan aiming to tackle pollinator health issues must take firm action on neonicotinoids. To not do so would be ignoring strong scientific evidence linking the chemicals to bee neurotoxicity and pollinator health declines. Governmental bodies like the European Union placed a temporary ban on neonicotinoids in 2013 due to this scientific evidence despite the objections of large agrochemical companies like Bayer and Syngenta who market these products to farmers and gardeners and have a vested interest in maintaining sales. To truly protect the health of pollinators, then US policymakers must take heed of this research and follow the EU’s lead by taking stronger action on neonicotinoid pesticide use. CFJC Partners like Pesticide Action Network (PAN) and Food and Water Watch (FWW) have already called for decisive action on this issue: immediate precautionary regulation on neonicotinoid pesticide usage.
Luckily, there are simple actions that you can take to help bees and other pollinators. Contact your local legislators expressing your views over pollinator health and neonicotinoid pesticide use. Plant bee-friendly flowers and adopt other beneficial gardening practices that will also brighten up your yard or patio. Learn more from our partners atPAN and FWW so you can spread the word and others can join the movement to protect pollinators.
Potts, S. G., J. C. Biesmeijer, C. Kremen, P. Neumann, O. Schweiger, and W. E. Kunin. “Global Pollinator Declines: Trends, Impacts and Drivers.” Trends in Ecology and Evolution 25.5 (2010): 345-53. ScienceDirect. Web. 10 Nov. 2014.