Finally, some (sort of) good news about honeybees

A mysterious affliction is killing large swaths of bees. But according to the USDA and economists, it's not the beepocalypse. Plus, what role does Monsanto have in all this?
Written by Janet Fang, Contributor

Sadly, bees are dying in large swaths from a mysterious affliction called colony collapse disorder (CCD). For yet another year, nearly one-third of U.S. honeybee colonies didn’t make it through the winter -- which is bad news for crops that rely on them for pollination.

But, in a rush to identify the culprit, the media may have made exaggerated claims about the impacts of the disorder. Calm down, there’s no "beepocalypse," Quartz reports.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture:

  • Honeybee colony numbers are stable; they have been since before CCD hit the scene in 2006.
  • Colony numbers were higher in 2010 than any year since 1999 because commercial beekeepers have actively rebuilt their colonies in response.
  • U.S. honey production has shown no pattern of decline either. In 2010, honey production was 14 percent greater than it was in 2006.

After sifting through economic measures on the state of honeybees, economists Randal Rucker and Walter Thurman arrived at this conclusion: CCD has had almost no discernible economic impact.

However, average winter mortality rates have increased from what they were before 2006, but beekeepers have been able to adapt to these changes and maintain colony numbers. Rucker and Thurman wrote: “The overblown response to CCD in the media stems from a failure to appreciate the resilience of markets in accommodating shocks of various sorts.”

What about prices?

  • Commercial queen breeders can rear large numbers of queen bees quickly, putting little to no upward pressure on bee prices following CCD.
  • The cost of CCD on almonds, one of the most important crops from a honeybee pollinating perspective, is trivial. The implied increase in the shelf price of a pound of Smokehouse Almonds is 2.8 cents.
  • Although, pollination fees that beekeepers charge almond producers have more than doubled in recent years -- a portion of this increase is attributed to the onset of CCD. The fee offsets the costs of rebuilding lost colonies.

Meanwhile, Monsanto (yep, the herbicide and GM seeds maker) is developing a new weapon to battle the disorder: RNA molecules that kill parasites by disrupting the way their genes are expressed, Technology Review explains.

[Via Quartz]

Images: Jack Dykinga (top), Rob Flynn (bottom) / USDA

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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