Einstein was right – honey bee collapse threatens global food security

The bee crisis has been treated as a niche concern until now, but as the UN’s index of food prices hits an all time-high, it is becoming urgent to know whether the plight of the honey bee risks further exhausting our food security.

Image: USDA

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard
Telegraph

Almost a third of global farm output depends on animal pollination, largely by honey bees.

These foods provide 35pc of our calories, most of our minerals, vitamins, and anti-oxidants, and the foundations of gastronomy. Yet the bees are dying – or being killed – at a disturbing pace.

The story of “colony collapse disorder” (CCD) is already well-known to readers of The Daily Telegraph.

Some keep hives at home and have experienced this mystery plague, and doubtless have strong views on whether it is caused by parasites, or a virus, or use of pesticides that play havoc with the nervous system of young bees, or a synergy of destructive forces coming together.

The bee crisis has been treated as a niche concern until now, but as the UN’s index of food prices hits an all time-high in real terms (not just nominal) and grain shortages trigger revolutions in the Middle East, it is becoming urgent to know whether the plight of the honey bee risks further exhausting our already thin margin of food global security.

The agri-business lender Rabobank said the numbers of US bee colonies failing to survive each winter has risen to 30pc to 35pc from an historical norm of 10pc. The rate is 20pc or higher in much of Europe, and the same pattern is emerging in Latin America and Asia.

Albert Einstein, who liked to make bold claims (often wrong), famously said that “if the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, man would have only four years to live”.

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