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(Credit: Greenpeace / Fred Dott)

The Collapse of the Bees... And How To Save Them

Two new reports—one alarming and the focused on solutions—take focus on the deep crisis facing the world's best, but most threatened, pollinators

Jon Queally

Two new reports this week provide key evidence that back a growing call that the destructive use of large-scale chemical agriculture must be halted in order to give the global bee population a fighting chance to regain their strength as the world's most prolific and effective pollinating species.

The first, a scientific study (pdf) conducted by researchers at Harvard University, found further proof that the wide-scale agricultural use of neonicotinoids—a volatile class of insecticide (neonics for short)—is a leading contributor to what has become known as Colony Collapse Disorder (or CCD).

“The only solution for the global bees decline and the current agriculture crisis is a change towards ecological farming." —Matthias Wüthrich, Greenpeace

The second report (pdf), issued by Greenpeace International, focuses on solutions to the bee crisis by releasing its report that shows how the widespread expansion and re-introduction of ecological farming practices--as opposed to the chemically-intensive agriculture that now dominates—is the most efficient and surfire way to save the world's bee population and the food system they support.

For the Harvard researchers, their study specifically looked at how exposure to various kinds of neonics impacted the ability of colonies to survive winter hybernations and found that "Bees from six of the 12 neonicotinoid-treated colonies had abandoned their hives and were eventually dead with symptoms resembling CCD," while those not exposed to the chemicals survived with inverse rates.

"It is striking and perplexing to observe the empty neonicotinoid-treated colonies because honey bees normally do not abandon their hives during the winter," the report contined. "This observation may suggest the impairment of honey bee neurological functions, specifically memory, cognition, or behavior, as the results from the chronic sub-lethal neonicotinoid exposure."

The Greenpeace report—titled "Plan Bee--Living without Pesticides: Moving Towards Ecological Farming"—picks up where the science against chemical herbicides and pesticides leaves off by showing that the implementation of "ecological farming is feasible and in fact the only solution to the ever increasing problems associated with industrial agriculture" that is destroying both natural systems and proven, non-toxic farming practices.

Ecological farming, according to the report, includes "organic agricultural methods, promotes biodiversity on farmland and supports the restoration of semi-natural habitat on farms as ecological compensation areas for bees and other wildlife. Ecological farming does not rely on the use of synthetic chemical pesticides and herbicides and, thereby, safeguards bees from toxic effects of these agrochemicals."

And Matthias Wüthrich, ecological farming campaigner and European bees project leader at Greenpeace Switzerland, adds: “The only solution for the global bees decline and the current agriculture crisis is a change towards ecological farming."

The Greenpeace report supports the environmental group's ongoing campaign to fight bee decline in Europe, North America, and elsewhere by highlighting farmers and others who are showing that these alternatives exist and are working.

By applying and promoting ecological and bee-friendly farming methods, argues Wüthrich, forward-thinking farmers, experts and entrepreneurs in the food industry "are ensuring healthy food for today and tomorrow, are protecting soil, water and climate, promote biodiversity and do not contaminate the environment with chemicals or genetically engineered organisms. Policy makers need to hear these experts who live by and champion the solution."

As part of their "S.O.S Bees" campaign last month, Greenpeace released this video to show that if people don't rapidly deploy solutions to the crisis, the bees will have no other choice but to rise up themselves against humanity's neglect:

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