The honey dilemma

Many of the issues relating to energy in the world are far from power plants or oil wells. There is a workforce that is dwindling quickly, which is responsible for a third of the food on our plates every day. The pollination work honeybees do in a day is not something humans or machines could replicate. Unfortunately, Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) has plagued honeybees and they are dying at a much faster rate since the early 2000s. Could plumbers play a role in saving the bees?

CCD is a strange phenomenon. Bees have always been plagued by attacks from other insects, mites, weather and traditional pesticides. The difference with CCD is that the end result is an empty hive with only the queen bee left. The worker bees and drones, the other two members of a hive, and 99.9 percent of the total population, just fly away and don’t return. In the past, if a hive of bees fell prey to one of these threats, they would all die in or around the hive. CCD is a new peril and its specific cause isn’t easy to pinpoint.

Dr. Reese Halter has written extensively about bees, and warns that there is likely no smoking gun in the colony collapse. Cell phone signals and mites could even be part of the equation. However, the major issue may be new forms of pesticides.

In The Incomparable Honeybee & the Economics of Pollination, Halter states:

“Many pesticides are neonicotinoids, which synthetically mimic a plant compound found in tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, and tobacco. A neuro-active insecticide fashioned after nicotine, neonicotinoids poison nerves and prevent acetylcholine from enabling neurons to communicate with each other and with muscle tissue. In humans, for instance, these substances would trigger Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.”

In 2013, Forbes ran an article about bees with this quote:

“’Bees need help now! Time to up the ante,’ declares the Pesticide Action Network announcing its suit against the Environmental Protection Agency. ‘EPA should cancel all uses of neonics where they can lead to harm for bees and other beneficial insects, and chemical manufacturers like Bayer and Syngenta that make neonics should use their resources to develop less harmful alternatives instead of defending the neonics,’ writes Jennifer Sass of the Natural Resources Defense Council.”

In Europe, three major neonic pesticides have been banned for two years to monitor the bee population. These same pesticides aren’t up for reevaluation by the EPA in the U.S. until 2016. Halter’s book states that a leaked EPA memo in 2010 revealed that Bayer (One of the neonic pesticide manufacturers) had, “Incorrectly tested clothianidin in a flawed scientific study, which enabled them to register the neonicotinoids in 2003.” There’s an inconvenience there.

Why have we resorted to these genetically modified crops and their corresponding neonics? (These seeds can be planted in a fog of the neonic pesticide, often manufactured by the same company). Farming is weather and pest dependent, which makes crop yields inconsistent. However, our need for those crops is steadily increasing. Some farmers use these GMO seeds because they are touted as better resistant to drought.

Doug Gurian-Sherman has studied the drought resistance results Monsanto has had, and compared them to the standard process of naturally breeding stronger crops.

In High and Dry, Gurian-Sherman said, “That means traditional methods of improving drought tolerance may have been two to three times as effective as genetic engineering, considering the 10 to 15 years typically required to produce a genetically engineered crop. If traditional approaches have improved corn’s drought tolerance by just 0.3 percent to 0.4 percent per year, they have provided as much extra drought protection as Monsanto’s GE corn over the period required to develop it.”

When I see numbers below 1 percent drought resistance per year, I can’t help but think plumbers could make better use of water than genetically engineered seeds. While cutting-edge plumbing technology may be implemented in some areas, wildly spraying water into the air still has a fairly firm grasp on the irrigation methodology. For example, putting together a drip irrigation system with polypropylene fusion pipe, ECM pumps, and flow-balanced manifolds would be a basic way to start using water more effectively on farms.

The other major driving force for GMOs is mono-crop farming. This is the strategy of growing one crop on the same land year after year. Rotating crops is a sustainable practice that has been in use for thousands of years. However, in the U.S., we have a high demand for high fructose corn syrup. We need to grow lots of corn to keep up with the foods that are made with HFCS. Everything from soda to bread to salad dressing contains this substance. All corn syrup all the time isn’t good for our diets; and it isn’t great for our farmland. Corn is thirstier than other plants. If we eat less GMO corn, we will need less water for irrigation, which may help the bees rebound.

What would happen without bees?

In 2012, Fox News reported, “The implications of the disappearance of honeybees are not just gastronomic; they are also economic in scope, and in that respect, the scale is significant. According to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), more than $15 billion worth of crops are pollinated by bees each year just in the United States alone.”

Apples, almonds, blueberries, cherries, avocados, cucumbers, onions, grapefruits, and oranges could disappear as options at grocery stores without the help of bees.

When I first heard the pros and cons of GMOs I leaned towards the idea of modifying crops. If you could alter a seed to produce much more on the same plot of land and need less water, you could feed more people. A huge portion of the world’s population will go to bed hungry, so having more food to go around would be great. However, the GMO and bee struggle is kind of a lose-lose situation.

Without GMO crops we may produce less food. Yet, if GMO seeds and the accompanying pesticides are hurting the bees, we may be trading 0.3 percent more corn per year for a myriad of other crops that could dwindle without bees. If root of this whole issue is drought resistance, maybe plumbers will be able to provide better solutions without the genetically modified baggage.

The movie Food Inc. begins with the following words:

"The way we eat has changed more in the last fifty years than in the previous 10,000."

Max Rohr is a graduate of the University of Utah. He is currently an outside salesperson at Shamrock Sales in Denver. He has worked in the hydronics and solar industry for 10 years in the installation, sales and marketing sectors. Rohr is a LEED Green Associate and BPI Building Analyst, and is RPA’s Education Committee Chairman. He can be reached at max.rohr@mac.com.

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