Is the almond industry to blame for billions of bees dying?

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    Is the almond industry to blame for billions of bees dying? PHOTO: Shutterstock
    Is the almond industry to blame for billions of bees dying? PHOTO: Shutterstock

    We all should do our part to save the planet every single day. That’s why sustainable living is always a good idea! Adapting your lifestyle to follow a plant-based diet or even a flexitarian diet can also help with making Earth a bit happier.

    Although our intentions are right, a recent report by The Guardian shows that too much of a good thing might be more damaging that one would’ve thought.

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    Many animals are increasingly endangered due to climate changes. Even the tiniest insect, like the honeybee, can be impacted by this.

    According to the report, bee colony deaths surpassed all-time highs in 2019 with an average loss of 38% of honeybee colonies in the winter season.

    Beekeepers in the US blame one specific culprit for the death of up to 50 billion honeybees — more than one-third of commercial US bee colonies — during the 2018/2019 winter: the almond industry.

    Ripe almonds on the tree. PHOTO: Shutterstock
    Ripe almonds on the tree. PHOTO: Shutterstock

    Why the almond industry gets blamed

    “California’s $11 billion almond industry has grown at an extraordinary rate,” The Guardian reports. “In 2000, almond orchards occupied 500 000 acres. By 2018 that had more than doubled.

    “The average American eats 2lb (900g) of almonds every year, more than in any other country. US almond milk sales have grown 250% over the past five years to reach $1.2 billion, over four times that of any other plant-based milk.”

    And with almonds being so versatile, it’s hard to see a cap on growth at this point.

    So where do the bees fit in? These enormous orchards cannot function without bees. The bees will spend the whole of February fertilising almonds one blossom at a time.

    By doing so, the “bees are exposed to all kinds of diseases in California” because of the hundreds of thousands of hives from multiple beekeepers in one staging area.

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    Apart from the exposure to other bees, pesticides also play a huge roll in the declining numbers. Although the chemicals used on the almonds are not labelled as bee-toxic, it can make bees sick and weaken their immune systems, which means they may not last the winter or may take back substances that gradually poison the entire colony.

    The Guardian reports that on top of the threat of pesticides and exposure to diseases, “almond pollination is uniquely demanding for bees”. This is because bees have to start their work in the almond orchards during their winter dormancy — one to two months earlier than is natural.

    And because the demand for almonds, especially almond milk, has increased so much the past few years, the bees are overworking to get it all pollinated.

    The demand for almond milk and other almond products puts extra stress on honeybees. PHOTO: Shutterstock
    The demand for almond milk and other almond products puts extra stress on honeybees. PHOTO: Shutterstock

    Should the almond industry get all the blame

    Jennifer Sass, Ph.D., a senior health scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council in the US, told Good Housekeeping that the almond industry isn’t totally responsible for the decrease of honeybees.

    “(…) there’s an onslaught of pathogens and parasites found in nature, plus habitat fragmentation — which is ‘similar to a food desert for bees since they only forage for food in areas within one to two miles away. If they’re in an area that doesn’t have enough blooms, it’s a disadvantage — to worry about,” she told Good Housekeeping.

    But the popularity of almonds, and because of its versatility, has caused more stress, because almond farmers are “so reliant on the honeybee to pollinate their crops exclusively”.

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    A honeybee pollinating an almond blossom. PHOTO: Shutterstock
    A honeybee pollinating an almond blossom. PHOTO: Shutterstock

    What can you do to help save the bees? 

    Don’t worry that you have to abandon your love for almonds and almond milk now completely to help save the bees from extinction.

    You can do simple things at home, like keeping chemicals out of your gardens and off your blooms. Also, plant plants and flowers that bloom in autumn and winter — times of the year when flowers are scarce.

    Cutting back on your almond consumption can help, and always buy organic whenever you can afford it.

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