Why Is It Important That Honey Bees Are Dying?

important-honey-bees-dying Credit: Kees Smans/Moment/Getty Images

Honey bees do much more than make honey, and many crops throughout the world depend on their pollination. In fact, the USDA estimates that honey bees add over $15 billion to the value of crops in the USA. That kind of natural "service" can't be replicated, which is why it's important that honey bee populations are disappearing.

A USDA study claims that nearly one in every three bites of food in your diet comes directly or indirectly from honey bee pollination. That includes many types of food: berries, nuts, vegetables and many more. Almonds alone use about 60% of the country's surviving bee colonies.

Most farmers don't have honey bees on-hand when they need their plants pollinated, so many of them "rent" bee colonies from bee farmers. Beekeepers physically pack and transport their colonies around the country (or the world) to different farms, and that's how many crops get pollinated.

Threatening this supply chain is a phenomenon called Colony Collapse Disorder - when an entire colony's worker bees either disappear or die, leaving behind a queen, hive and young underdeveloped bees.

Scientists still aren't sure why it happens, but it's been a threat since the growth of large scale agricultural farming. The most likely culprit of Colony Collapse Disorder is a combination of pesticides and fungicides, which honey bees ingest over time, leaving them susceptible to illness.

In 2014, a survey estimated that nearly 40 percent of bee hives died during that year. Many deaths occurred during the summer, which was a surprising rarity - similar to flu season being bad or worse during the summer months.

For now, the threat is just economic. In other words, farmers will need to spend more time and money maintaining their bees, and this cost will be passed down to the consumer who buys the food. Honey bee extinction likely isn't a possibility, but it would be disastrous for food production on a global scale.

As of May 2015, President Obama created a task force to tackle the honey bee issue. Its plan is to reduce colony losses by restoring land and supporting efforts to preserve bee colonies across the country.