agricultural crop that uses bees, and without
bees, there would be no almonds.”
Darren Cox, a Costco member and bee-
keeper with 5,000 hives in Utah, California
and Wyoming, was recently named Beekeeper
of the Year by the American Honey Producers
Association. His award was given
largely because of his devotion to
seeking solutions and public rec-
ognition for CCD. “This winter
 we experienced the larg-
est die-off of bees in the history
of the United States,” Cox says.
“The bees fly out, but they don’t
come back. This is a worldwide
The total number of man-
aged honeybee colonies in the
U.S. has decreased from 5 mil-
lion in the 1940s to only 2. 5
million today. “Meanwhile, the
need for hives to provide polli-
nation services continues to
increase,” according to Tim
Tucker, vice president of the
American Beekeeping Federation, a national
education and support organization. This
means honeybee colonies are being transported over longer distances—some are
trucked to California from as far as Florida
and the East Coast—in huge tractor trailers,
with up to 11 million bees in each, to supplement the shrinking number.
By Irene Middleman Thomas
MILLIONS OF UNPAID migrant workers toil
in up to 12-hour shifts and travel thousands of
miles in cramped trailers. Without them, foods
such as cherries, blueberries, alfalfa and
almonds would not exist. And for the past several years, these laborers have been dying,
alarmingly, in huge numbers.
Tiny, gentle and highly intelligent, honeybees pollinate one-third of our foods. And now
these incredible creatures are in
crisis—and so are we.
Known by beekeepers and
scientists as colony collapse disorder (CCD), the worldwide disappearance of honeybees was
first noted during the winter of
2006 to 2007, when many beekeepers reported unprecedented
losses—from 30 to 90 percent—
of their hives. Worker bees disappeared suddenly, with very few
dead bees found near the colony.
The queens and brood remained,
and the colonies had relatively
abundant honey and pollen reserves. But
without worker bees, the hives couldn’t sustain themselves and eventually died.
If the bees go, many foods go
Imagine many of the foods you need and
love simply vanishing. Without bees, hun-
dreds of vital crops would soon die out (see
“Crops bees pollinate” on page 102). Even
some livestock, which depend on alfalfa,
could die off without the humble honeybee.
Millions of hives are shipped around the
United States to pollinate $15 billion to $20
billion worth of crops each year. In California,
the almond industry requires up to 1. 6 million colonies (about 60 percent of all managed U.S. honeybee colonies). Robert Curtis,
a Costco member, is associate director of
agricultural affairs for the California Almond
Board, and has been in the industry since the
1970s. “We are very concerned with bee
health,” he stresses. “Almonds are the largest
How does that affect us?
Many honeybee colonies are now
transported hundreds or thousands
of miles to try to fill in the gaps
created by colony collapse disorder.
KYLE ANDERSON, AMERICAN HONE Y PRODUCERS ASSOCIATION