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Bee Colony Collapse Could be Devastating to Food Companies

Thursday, August 28, 2008 by: David Gutierrez, staff writer
Tags: honeybees, health news, Natural News

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(NaturalNews) The ongoing phenomenon of mysterious honeybee deaths is starting to raise alarm in the food industry, which depends heavily on bees to pollinate many critical crops.

"Honeybee health and sustainable pollination is a major issue facing American agriculture that is threatening our food supply and endangering our natural environment," said Diana Cox-Foster of Penn State.

Honeybees pollinate 130 different crops, which supply $15 billion worth of food and ingredients each year.

In late 2006, beekeepers in the United States began to notice that unusual numbers of honeybees were dying during the winter. Beekeepers reported losing between 30 and 90 percent of their bees, in contrast to the usual 20 to 25 percent.

The phenomenon, which appears to be continuing through the current winter, remains unexplained. Some of the potential reasons being investigated for the honeybee die-off are poor nutrition, invasive mites, diseases or toxins, or another mysterious phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder, in which bees abruptly desert their hives and die.

While the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and a number of institutions are currently researching the causes of the die-off, the food industry is now entering the fray as well. International ice-cream giant Haagen-Dazs has announced a new program to fund and encourage research into the problem, with the hopes of staving off a crisis for its own business.

"Haagen-Dazs ice cream is made from the finest all-natural ingredients, and the plight of the honeybee could mean many of the ingredients used in our top flavors, like Vanilla Swiss Almond and Strawberry, would be difficult to source," said Haagen-Dazs brand manager Josh Gellert.

Nearly 40 percent of Haagen-Dazs' ice cream flavors include bee-dependent ingredients.

"These are among consumers' favorite flavors," brand director Katty Pien said. "We use 100 percent all-natural ingredients like strawberries, raspberries and almonds which we get from California. The bee problem could badly hurt supply."

The "Haagen-Dazs Loves Honeybees" (HD loves HB) campaign includes the creation of a board of bee scientists to help guide research into the problem, a $150,000 grant to honeybee-related programs at Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences and a $100,000 grant to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honeybee Research Facility at the University of California-Davis

"Honeybees are in trouble," said Walter Leal, professor chair of the UC-Davis Entomology Department. "One-third of our nation's food supply depends on bee pollination, but bees are vanishing in massive numbers. This gift will help us to rebuild and revitalize our honeybee program."

The Laidlaw program suffered greatly from budget cuts and faculty retirements during the 1990s, before colony collapse emerged as a problem. The Haagen-Dazs grant will go toward a postdoctoral researcher's salary and toward funding research into colony collapse disorder and sustainable pollination.

At Penn State, the grant money will help purchase equipment that will be used to analyze samples and more effectively detect and identify viruses, pesticides and other potentially harmful substances. It will also fund small student research grants.

Money for the grants will come from the sales of all Haagen-Dazs products that depend on honeybee pollination for one or more ingredients. These products will be marked with a "HD loves HB" logo. In addition, all proceeds from the company's new Vanilla Honeybee flavor will go into the "HD loves HB" program.

To date, the honeybee crisis has not yet affected the food supply outside of the United States, but the industry is cautious.

"This is not an issue for us in the United Kingdom, as we source ingredients for our natural flavors in Europe, Africa and the Middle East," said Irish flavor company Mastertaste. "But we could eventually find ourselves in a situation where we would have to supply our own business in the United States with flavors and/or ingredients if the honeybee problem becomes more serious."

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