What on earth is killing the world’s honeybees?
In “Silent Spring” (1962) environmental pioneer Rachel Carson warned that uncontrolled use of synthetic pesticides threatened to decimate the world’s population of song birds, the book’s title implying that people would one day wake to eerily silent mornings. Carson also foresaw a day when humans would experience a “fruitless fall,” because there would be “no pollination and there[fore] … no fruit.” Today, the prospect of a fruitless fall no longer seems far-fetched, as honeybee hives have recently been ravaged by an AIDS-like syndrome called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), which has killed billions upon billions of bees since being discovered in 2006.
In “Fruitless Fall: The Collapse of the Honeybee and the Coming Agricultural Crisis” (Bloomsbury), Rowan Jacobsen examines the potential causes of CCD, including pesticides, mystery viruses, and even “lifestyle issues” such as stress and diet. Along the way, Jacobsen takes care to convey the importance of honeybees to maintaining our lifestyle, as they not only produce honey, but pollinate most of the fruits, nuts, and vegetables that are vital to maintaining human health.
As “Fruitless Fall” makes clear, CCD poses a significant threat to America’s managed honeybee industry, but the unfair trade practices of foreign competitors also call into question its continued viability. Of particular concern is so-called “honey laundering,” in which honey from China (frequently tainted by chloramphenicol and other antibiotics), is illegally diverted through other countries to avoid protective tariffs, taxes, and import fees.
With this frightening assortment of issues in mind, Failure recently interviewed Jacobsen about the past, present, and future of the honeybee. Along the way, we learned a lot about CCD, the life of a fully-employed honeybee, and where not to buy honey.