The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Bee Research Laboratory has released the preliminary results of a survey estimating that honeybee colony losses nationwide “were approximately 29 percent from all causes from September 2008 to April 2009,” touching off speculation about the fate of the ubiquitous pollinator. Federal investigators reported that only 15 percent of all colonies lost during the 2008/09 winter apparently died of colony collapse disorder (CCD), leading USDA to emphasize “the urgent need for research” on general honeybee health. “It’s just gotten so much worse in the past four years,” USDA Research Leader Jeff Pettis was quoted as saying. “We’re just not keeping bees alive that long.”

According to media sources, apiary experts have blamed the honeybee die-off on a combination of viruses, bacteria and pesticide residues. In particular, beekeepers have cited a March 19, 2010, study published in PLoS One that reportedly identified at least one systemic pesticide in three out of five pollen and wax samples from 23 states. Although the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has apparently registered serious concern over the issue, a recent op-ed in The New York Times simply urged farmers to cultivate fewer crops that are entirely dependent on domesticated or wild bee pollination. “The paradox is that our demand for these foods endangers the wild bees that help make their cultivation possible,” maintain the writers, who explain that there aren’t enough domesticated bees to meet agricultural demand while taking up the slack for their wild cousins where it is needed most. “Thus a vicious cycle: Fewer pollinating bees reduce yield per acre—and lower yield requires cultivation of more land to produce the same amount of food.” See The Associated Press, March 24, 2010; The New York Times, March 25, 2010.