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From June 11, 2001

Growing Shortage of Bees Threatens Agriculture

Environmental biologist Peter Kevan, a professor from the University of Guelph in Canada, said it is a fact that, due in part to pesticide use, there is a growing global scarcity of bees and insects, and that these pollinators are required to produce most of the world's fruits, nuts, grains and vegetables. It seems logical, then, that crop production and world commodity markets would be affected by the lack of pollinators and that it would be possible to attach a dollar amount to the losses. "Nonetheless, there is little information on how the shortage is affecting the costs of food production," he said. "There must be economic implications, and we should be able to figure out what it is costing the consumer, who is benefiting from the losses and who is not."

So Dr. Kevan, along with professor Truman Phillips of the department of Agricultural Economics and Business, developed a model that can be used to measure some of the economic effects of pollinator deficits on traded commodities such as fruits and vegetables. The model was introduced in a paper published by Conservation Ecology. The model is complex and takes into account variables such as the product, whether the country is an exporter or importer, trade situations and market conditions. The researchers were able to make some preliminary tests of the model by using data collected from several different commodities. Although the costs varied depending on the data, and in some instances, producers actually experienced gains when there were crop declines resulting in higher prices, the bottom line was clear, Dr. Kevan said. "The economic impact of pollinator declines show that, in all cases, the consumer is hurt."

"These are just the minuscule beginnings. There simply aren't the data or information out there to really show what the economic impacts are. But those we do have indicate that serious problems for world food supply, security and trade could be in the offing if current declines in pollinator abundance, diversity and availability are not reversed."

The world's pollinator shortage is the result of a series of complicated factors that go beyond a simple lack of bees, he said. But that is where the problem starts. "The changes in agricultural styles, chemicals and pesticides have taken a tremendous toll. And even if the pollinators survive, there are fewer and fewer places for them to live. Most of their natural places - holes, logs - have been cleaned up. Their natural habitat was gone a long time ago."

Dr. Kevan said he hopes the model he and Phillips developed will at least prompt some interest and further investigation into both the lack of pollinators and the economic effect of the shortage.