Get AlterNet's Headlines Newsletter:
Email: 
no thanks
Environment

20 Popular Foods We May Lose If Bee Populations Continue to Decline

Hundreds of North American bee species are in decline due to pesticides and habitat loss, putting the food supply at risk.

Photo Credit: Khakimullin Aleksandr/Shutterstock

Due to climate change, the increased use of pesticides and a range of other causal factors, bee populations have decreased steadily over the past years. Now a new report from the Center for Biological Diversity has found that population levels of more than 700 North American bee species are in decline due to habitat loss and pesticide use. This decline threatens the food supply and public health.

The first-of-its kind analysis involved a systematic review of the status of all 4,337 North American and Hawaiian native bees. Among the key findings:

  • Among native bee species with sufficient data to assess (1,437), more than half (749) are declining.
  • Nearly 1 in 4 (347 native bee species) is imperiled and at increasing risk of extinction.
  • For many of the bee species lacking sufficient population data, it’s likely they are also declining or at risk of extinction. Additional research is urgently needed to protect them.
  • A primary driver of these declines is agricultural intensification, which includes habitat destruction and pesticide use. Other major threats are climate change and urbanization.

"These troubling findings come as a growing body of research has revealed that more than 40 percent of insect pollinators globally are highly threatened, including many of the native bees critical to unprompted crop and wildflower pollination across the United States," note the report's authors.

One in every three bites of food consumed around the world depends on pollinators—bees in particular. Without these hard-working insects, most of our favorite foods would not exist. Bees are also responsible for the reproduction of alfalfa and clover, which feed cattle and other grazing animals, so without them we would lose a significant portion of our meat, milk, cheese, butter, yogurt and ice creams.

The thought of losing so many basic foods is scary. But there's an even more frightening reality. With the decline of bees, not only would many of the foods we love disappear, but also the food we need. Some of the most vitamin- and mineral-rich foods are dependent on insect pollination.

Deficiencies in these nutrients can have devastating effects on human health, with an increased risk of diabetes, cancer and heart disease, as well as malnutrition and mortality in less-developed regions.

In a world without bees, our food would not be as tasty, nutritious or plentiful. Some of our favorite foods would disappear completely, while others would be scarce and expensive.

Below are three GIFs created by Fairmont that show what our food looks like with the amazing work of bees, and what they would be reduced to without bees.

Here's breakfast:

(image courtesy Fairmont)

1. Almonds (granola)

Almond blossoms rely entirely on pollination by bees, and it is not just the almonds that need the bees for survival; the bees need almonds. The blossoms provide the first good pollen in California (where 80% of the world’s almonds are harvested), and this source is hugely important for the bees as it gives them valuable strength at the start of the season.

2. Blueberries

Ninety percent of all blueberry crops are pollinated by bumblebees and blueberry bees, which means that scarcity would drive skyrocketing prices for these antioxidant-packed super berries.

3. Coffee

The coffee plant is self-pollinating but still needs cross-pollination from bees to develop healthy yields. The flower of the coffee tree is only open for pollination for three or four days, and if it does not get pollinated in that short window, the crop will become weaker and more prone to disease. Although coffee would likely exist without bees, it would become very expensive and rare.

4. Orange juice

Ninety percent of orange trees depend on pollination by bees. There are, however, some varieties that are self-pollinating, such as the navel orange.

5. Pumpkin seeds (granola)

Pumpkin seeds contain high levels of magnesium, which is beneficial for blood pressure and can help prevent sudden cardiac arrest, heart attack and stroke. These nutritional power seeds are heavily dependent on squash bees and it is estimated that 90 percent of crops would disappear without them.

6. Rapeseed/canola oil and spread

Rapeseed (including canola) oil and spread are at risk from the decline of bees. The furry pollinators benefit vastly from the nutrition of these bright yellow flowers, but sadly the crops are often heavily treated with pesticides.

7. Raspberries

Raspberries require insects to ensure pollination as the crops otherwise would be misshapen, smaller and fewer. These powerful berries can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes.

8. Strawberries

Bee pollination is not essential, but many farmers use bees to complement wind pollination as insect pollination can help produce berries of higher quantity and quality.

9. Sunflower spread, oil and seeds

The heavy and sticky character of sunflower pollen requires it to be carried by bees and other pollinators rather than wind. If you are using sunflower spread on your sandwich or eat granola with sunflower seeds, you might need to switch to an alternative if bees die out.

Here's lunch or dinner:

(image courtesy Fairmont)

10. Cucumbers

Without bees, the majority of cucumber crops would not exist, so no more pickles on your veggie burgers. It has been reported that cucumber farmers have already seen a significant decrease in their crop yields.

11. Mustard

One third of all mustard plants require bee pollination, meaning a significantly smaller dash of mustard to go with your meal. Mustard is not solely used as a condiment; the seeds can help treat inflammatory conditions such as arthritis.

12. Onions

Onions are harvested before blooming and only require pollination when grown to produce seeds. Fewer bees would make it difficult and expensive for farmers to acquire seeds, which would result in a diminished supply and increased prices.

13. Peppers

Bees are not entirely necessary to pollinate peppers as wind tends to circulate the pollen, but the quality and quantity is significantly improved when pollinated by insects. Today, bees are often used to pollinate peppers growing in sheltered locations or greenhouses, which means we are able enjoy locally-sourced peppers, even out of season. That would change without bees.

14. Potatoes

Although the potato plant does not require bee pollination to produce, it needs to be pollinated in order to breed, which means supply would most likely decrease significantly.

15. Sesame seeds

More than 80% of all pollination is performed by insects, and bees comprise nearly 80% of the total insect population. Due to their rich nutritional value, sesame seeds play an important role in many people’s diets. A decline in bees would not only result in seed-free bread for your burger, it could, more importantly, lead to increased malnutrition in some of the world’s poorest countries.

16. Tomatoes

While most tomato types are self-pollinating, bees can help increase fruit production and quality significantly. Hence, without bees, the supply of one of our best-loved vegetables would diminish.

Here's dessert: 

(image courtesy Fairmont)

17. Apples

Apples are heavily reliant on cross-pollination and are one of the foods that would suffer most if bees disappeared. An absence of bees would result in a drastic price increase as well as a lower quality of crop, taste and nutrient profile.

18. Blackberries

These delicious summer berries are dependent upon bees for pollination. If bees died out, the effectiveness of pollination would drop and plants would produce significantly fewer seeds.

19. Kiwi

Bumblebees are especially effective pollinators of kiwifruits as their large and furry bodies carry a great amount of pollen. Without bees, these vitamin C rich fruits are at risk.

20. Pumpkins

It is estimated that 90% of pumpkin, squash and gourd crops would disappear with the bees, as they are massively dependent on pollinators. That means no pumpkin carving or pumpkin pies. 

From fruits, vegetables and nuts to meat and dairy products, our food system runs on the work of bees and other pollinators. If they go, what will happen to us?

Jennifer Forbes is a London-based marketing professional with a passion for healthy foods, yoga and environmental issues.

Sign Up!
Get AlterNet's Daily Newsletter in Your Inbox
+ sign up for additional lists
[x]
Select additional lists by selecting the checkboxes below before clicking Subscribe:
Activism
Drugs
Economy
Education
Election 2018
Environment
Food
Media
World