Bees and hunger: a link we can’t ignore

We must protect bees because they feed people

Photos by Ephraim Payne

No child should feel hunger pangs and no family should have to face the prospect of not having enough food to make it through the week. Because so much of the food we eat depends on bees and other pollinators, pesticide-related bee die-offs can directly lead to food scarcity and rising food prices.

Imagine you are a hard working parent struggling to put enough food on the table for your family. Despite your best efforts, sometimes your young children go to bed hungry. Now imagine that healthy fruits and vegetables start to become scarce on the shelves of your local grocery store and food prices creep steadily up.

Last year, 238,000 Oregonians didn’t have to imagine food insecurity – the lack of reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. One in seven Oregonians, including a staggering one in five kids,  really didn’t always get enough to eat.

If bee populations plummet, the problem will get even worse. Bees alone pollinate a third of the food on our plates. And it’s not news that bees, and other pollinators, are under attack from pesticide poisoning and other environmental issues. It’s time to deal with neonicotinoids, also known as neonics, the biggest chemical threat to our pollinator pals.

There is no excuse for children going hungry in a state that prides itself on its agricultural traditions and progressiveness. We must protect the bees and other pollinators Oregon’s ecosystem, farms and families depend on for most of our food.

We need your help to accomplish this.

Hunger has been a real issue in our state for some time. While Oregon no longer ranks as the hungriest state in the country as it did in 2000, we’re still near the top of the list at number 14. And the burden of hunger is not shared equally.

Hunger is an environmental justice issue. Poverty is a key indicator of food insecurity and communities of color face a disproportionate share of hunger.  The Latinx or Hispanic community makes up about twelve percent of Oregon’s population and has a hunger rate over 30 percent, more than twice the rate of white Oregonians. Similar statistics are true for Native American and Black families too.

While we all know about the plight of honey bees, threats to wild pollinators are even more dangerous for our environment and our food supply. As the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization points out, “the vast majority of pollinators are wild, including over 20,000 species of bees.” And wild pollinators may be twice as effective at pollinating crops.

Franklin’s bumble bee (Bombus franklini) is in imminent danger of extinction, according to the Xerces Society.

Like wild pollinators everywhere, Oregon’s wild bees are under grave threat. “Experts believe around 500 species might live in the state, but no one knows for sure,” Northwest Public Broadcasting reports. “Which is a problem, because we could be losing bee species at an alarming rate.”

That’s why we need your help to get neonic pesticides off of store shelves in Oregon. Neonics are the world’s most commonly used insecticides. They are systemic pesticides; neonics travel through roots and leaves and invade every part of a plant, virtually assuring harm to every pollinator that comes into contact with them.

Neonics are devastating to pollinators. In 2013, for example, a neonic pesticide applied to trees in an Oregon shopping mall killed up to 25,000 Bumblebees. Neonics kill bees, butterflies, birds and beneficial creatures at very low doses and they can poison the good microbes in our soil for years. They pollute our rivers and streams – poisoning dragonflies, mayflies and harming the fish that depend on them.

Overwhelming scientific evidence shows neonics and other systemic pesticides harm key species and send rippling impacts throughout entire ecosystems. We must take action now to save Oregon’s vulnerable native bees and the beneficial insects at the core of the food chain, and everyone who depends on them.

That’s why Beyond Toxics is introducing strong new policy initiatives to solve this problem with support from our friends in the Oregon Pollinator Protection Alliance. Taking neonic pesticides off of store shelves is a top priority for our work in the 2019 legislative session in Salem.

Currently, anyone in Oregon can buy neonics, often unwittingly. Pesticide products commonly used in home gardens often have no warnings – so home gardeners can apply neonicotinoid ingredients at much greater rates than is considered safe in commercial agriculture practices.  Shockingly, some of these products recommend drenching the soil every six weeks, causing repeated exposures for all nearby creatures.

With your help, we keep the highly toxic, systemic chemicals out of our rivers, streams and gardening soils to protect Oregon’s native bees and other pollinators. Please donate today to support our work. Together, we can ensure that the most vulnerable members of our community don’t have to feel increasing hunger pains brought on by food insecurity from collapsing bee populations.

Ephraim Payne, Development Director
Beyond Toxics