The USDA estimates that honey bees are worth $15 billion a year in agricultural value. The bee is responsible for as much as one in every three mouthfuls of food that we eat.
Because of the honey bee’s importance, many agriculture officials and farmers are alarmed by something called colony collapse disorder, a phenomenon where bee colonies suddenly die off in huge numbers. In a new issue of New York Magazine, David Wallace-Wells explains why bees are dying off en masse.
“It’s a tough life,” Wallace-Wells says. “Imagine being transported around the country all year on a truck, never being able to eat a balanced diet, and being sprayed with chemicals all the time that are designed to kill you.”
Up to 90 percent of honey bee colonies are transported in trucks, as he describes, from one industrial farm to the next. Once they arrive, they’re let out of their cages so they can pollinate the local crops. Once they’ve done their jobs, they’re scooped up and sent to the next farm.
“They’re not well suited to this life. This is not what they were evolved to do,” Wallace-Wells says. “So all of these strange conditions that they’ve been put in sort of freak them out. Some scientists have found they respond to the stress by foraging earlier and earlier, which they’re really bad at. Then when they come back without much food, (and) the whole colony sort of freaks out and collapses.”
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