American commercial beekeepers are at a loss — their hives continue to shrink each year, and they're not getting any closer to pinpointing a cause or finding a solution.
Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) has been the bane of beekeepers since it first started killing off bees in large numbers in 2005, a phenomenon that was first brought to the attention of Congress by beekeepers David Hackenberg and David Mendes.
But this past year, it was especially bad; whereas a typical year's losses due to CCD would hover around 33 percent, last year, beekeepers lost anywhere between 40 to 50 percent of their hives.
Prior to the onset of CCD, most beekeepers would normally only lose about 5 to 10 percent of their hives each year.
Although pesticide manufacturers emphasize that there is not yet any conclusive evidence, some beekeepers and scientists suspect a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids may be to blame. These pesticides are not sprayed but absorbed by the plant through its roots, and trace amounts show up in subsequent generations.
Bees, then, are exposed to "sublethal doses" of this pesticide which accumulate over time, as one theory goes. Bret Adee, owner of Adee Honey Farms of South Dakota, explained it this way to The New York Times: "If you have one shot of whiskey on Thanksgiving and one on the Fourth of July, it’s not going to make any difference. But if you have whiskey every night, 365 days a year, your liver's gone. It's the same thing."
What does this mean for consumers? One possibility is increasing food prices — according to the Agriculture Department, bee pollination is responsible for fully one-fourth of the food Americans eat. The cost of renting bees this season? Two hundred dollars per hive.
Will Budiaman is the Recipe Editor at The Daily Meal. Follow him on Twitter @WillBudiaman.