AUSTIN - Pumpkin pie, cranberry sauce, green beans and more of the foods that make Thanksgiving dinner so special are possible through the work of bees. But bees are at risk. So this holiday season, chefs, beekeepers and environmental advocates are speaking out to protect bees and help stop them from dying off at alarming rates.
“We’re thankful for bees this Thanksgiving,” said Luke Metzger, Director of Environment Texas. “Without bees, Thanksgiving dinners in Texas would look and taste different. No bees means no pumpkin pie.”
Honeybees, bumblebees, and other bees are critical both to the environment and our food supply. Bees pollinate many of the world’s most common crops, including Thanksgiving favorites such as cranberries, green beans, carrots, brussel sprouts and pie fillings from pumpkin to apple. Bees also pollinate coffee, chocolate and the alfalfa eaten by dairy cows.
"I think many people take for granted the positive impact pollinating bees have over some of the most simple pleasures and comforts in life,” said Austin Chef Jacob Weaver. “It is certainly true that our holiday traditions would be abruptly disrupted without our bees behind the scenes pollinating some of America's favorite crops and foods. As a chef this is particularly important as I would be forced to drastically change or eliminate 75% of my menu at Juliet Italian Kitchen if our bee pollinated crops began to disappear. We must take immediate action to escalate sustainability efforts for our bee populations. With the increase in attention to what we eat and where it comes from, now is the time to take action as a society through legislation and our daily practices."
Unfortunately, millions of bees are dying across the U.S. every year. Beekeepers report they are losing an average of 30% of all honeybee colonies annually. Not only are honeybees are in danger; native bees, including bumblebees, are also at risk. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service added the first bee in the continental U.S., the rusty patched bumblebee, to the endangered species list earlier this year. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has classified 17 native bee species as “Species of Greatest Conservation Need.”
Scientists point to several reasons why bees are dying off, including global warming, habitat loss, parasites and a class of bee-killing pesticides known as neonicotinoids, or neonics.
Sharing some of the same chemical properties as nicotine, neonics are neurotoxins that can kill bees immediately and also can disorient bees, making it harder for them to pollinate plants and get back to their hives. Despite the fact that the science is clear on the dangers, neonic use has dramatically increased over the past decade. A recent study found that 86% of North American honey sampled contained neonics.
In February, Environment Texas joined with Environment America to launch the Bee Friendly Food Alliance, a national network of over 240 chefs, restaurant owners and other leaders in the food industry working to protect the bees.
Together, chefs and restaurant owners are educating their customers and the public about the problems facing bees and the food supply and making their voices heard to protect bees. Working with Environment Texas, chefs and restaurant owners are working to get governments and corporations to stop the use of bee killing pesticides. In 2015, Home Depot announced it would phase out the use of neonics on plants in its garden stores. In 2016, the city of Austin agreed to stop using neonics on city golf courses. In the 2017 legislative session, Rep. Farrar introduced HB 1536 to prohibit use of neonics along state highways. The bill was left pending in the House Agriculture and Livestock Committee.