Honey bees have an important role in our wellbeing. They are responsible for 80% of pollination and 90% of the world's nutrition. Their waggle dance is the most complex form of communication after ours on the planet. And in the most beautiful collaborative choreography they create honey to feed their young and then the whole hive through the winter.
But, as you know, bees are in trouble. Entire hives are mysteriously disappearing, a phenomena that has wiped out 10 million bee hives in the last six years. And it seems that the widespread use of pesticides is at the heart of the problem. I have become interested in what this sensitive insect that lives and works so closely to our food is showing us about the impact of these chemicals.
Neonicotinoid pesticides disrupt the way the bee's brain works so that they have difficulty with memory and with orientating and feeding themselves. This affects the nutrition of the whole colony and its resilience to parasites and disease. The bees don't die straight away. The pesticide affects their brains and nervous systems and those of young bee larvae as they are developing so that it's not the first generation that is exposed that shows signs of difficulty but the third or forth generation. It's not one chemical, one virus and it doesn't happen straight away. It's much more complex.
So if pesticides are having this effect on bees what effect are they having on us? Children are the most susceptible to the effects of chemicals because, gram for gram they take in more food, water and air than adults. Because they are growing so quickly, even very low levels of pesticide exposure can affect and even derail a child's neurological and behavioural development. These chemicals are everywhere, affect every animal and plant, and become more concentrated as they move up the food chain.
We have no option but to face this problem and there are things we can do. The Environmental Working Group is a non profit organization that conducts environmental health research. It has a great website with consumer guides to help you minimize your exposure to pesticides. My favourite is the list of fruit and vegetables - the dirty dozen and the clean fifteen. They have residue data for 51 fruits and veg so you can see which treated produce are safe to eat and which it's best to buy organic. To my surprise apples have retain the highest levels and onions hardy any!
The World Wildlife Fund also has information about avoiding exposure to toxic chemicals, from avoiding buying food wrapped in plastic and storing food in ceramics to water filtering and eating from lower in the food chain, i.e. less meat and dairy.
There are lots of resources on the internet. If you find something interesting please share it. I'd love to hear from you. The more we know the better equipped we are to work with this problem and look after ourselves, our children and our world.