Countries currently affected include Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece. However, the most serious losses have occurred in the US. On the West Coast keepers have seen bee population losses in the 30 to 60 percent range. On the East Coast and Texas it gets as high as 70%. These are catastrophic drops for an industry that considers around a 20% population decline to be an off-season norm.
The importance of bees is significant. They pollinate more that 30% of our food and contribute £165m annually to UK agriculture. In the US that figure rises to $14bn.
Currently the government gives £200,000 annually towards bee research. The farming minister Lord Rooker said that 'if nothing is done about it, the honeybee population could be wiped out in 10 years'. He has also told the BBKA that the government could not find additional money to put into research. Tim Lovett, president of the BBKA, says Lord Rooker's position 'defies logic'.
The causes of CCD are thought to include GM crops and electromagnetic waves from mobile phone masts and electricity cables. GM in particular seems at fault. In the US, which has experienced the most severe bee losses, 40% of the corn is now a GM insect-resistant strain. One study into the effects of GM crops on bees took place at the University of Jenna from 2001 to 2004. The researchers used a GM maize variant named 'BT corn' that includes a gene from a soil bacterium in order to make it insect-proof. At first the study seemed entirely positive. No discernible negative effects were detected in the bees from the BT corn. Then researchers discovered that when the bees were attacked by a parasite, the portion of the colony exposed to the BT corn had a much lower ability to fight off infection and showed much more rapid levels of decline.
For more information on CCD and the threat facing British Bees read 'Give Bees a chance' by Pat Thomas here