(NaturalNews) For the first time, Japan has been hit with a large-scale collapse of honeybee populations like that experienced in other countries around the world.
"There have been small-scale honeybee losses for many years, but a massive collapse like they had in the U.S. is very unusual," said Kiyoshi Kimura of the National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science. "We must investigate the situation in Japan."
The phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder, in which large numbers of worker bees simply vanish, was first identified in the United States in 2006. Since then, it has also been reported across Europe and, most recently, in Taiwan.
In Japan, the Japanese Beekeeping Association undertook a survey of its 2,500 members and determined that 25 percent of all beekeepers had "experienced sudden losses of honeybees" on some scale.
"The number of beekeepers to lose large numbers of bees was more than we expected," Kimura said.
Although most honey in Japan is imported, honeybees play a critical role in the pollination of a wide variety of fruit and vegetable crops in the country. According to Osamu Mamuro, owner of a company that supplies beehives to farmers for pollination purposes, populations of the insects have dropped so drastically that he expects to have to cut his deliveries by more than 50 percent this year.
"If this keeps up," he said, "it'll be the end of my business."
A wide scale collapse of bee populations might also mean local food shortages. At the very least, it would probably mean rising prices as farmers turn to hand pollination and retailers turn to importation to make up for lessened domestic production.
"From now on," said the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, "it is possible that it will be increasingly difficult to secure honeybees for the purposes of pollinating eggplant, melon, watermelon and other produce plants."