Saturday, March 3, 2007

More bees in our Times

Two days after landing on the front page of the New York Times (see previous post), the intrepid honeybee has flown to the Times' op-ed page.

In an excellent and well-timed article, May R. Berenbaum, head of the department of entomology at the University of Illinois and author of Buzzwords: A Scientist Muses on Sex, Bugs and Rock ’n’ Roll, says what everyone should know about bees:

A decline in the numbers of Apis melllifera, the world’s most widely distributed semi-domesticated insect, doesn’t just mean a shortage of honey for toast and tea. In fact, the economic value of honey, wax and other bee products is trivial in comparison with the honeybee’s services as a pollinator. More than 90 crops in North America rely on honeybees to transport pollen from flower to flower, effecting fertilization and allowing production of fruit and seed. The amazing versatility of the species is worth an estimated $14 billion a year to the United States economy.

Berenbaum calls for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to step up to the plate and at least start counting bees accurately, giving the same attention the department gives to pigs and unhatched eggs.

USDA is probably going to have to do a whole lot more than that if bees -- and our food supply -- are to survive.

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