Here’s what your produce aisle will look like without bees


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Gotten used to an abundance and variety of fruits and vegetables at your supermarket? Then get a little worried. Because the threat of Colony Collapse Disorder is as real as ever.

For those of you unfamiliar with the phenomenon, Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), is “a serious problem threatening the health of honey bees and the economic stability of commercial beekeeping and pollination operations in the United States,” according to the United States Department of Agriculture website. During the winter of 2006-2007, beekeepers began to report sudden losses of a colony’s worker bee population with very few dead bees found near the colony. These losses amounted to 30% to 90% of their hives, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The queen and young remained, and the colonies had honey and pollen reserves, but hives cannot sustain themselves without worker bees.

These declines in bee populations are threatening the availability of many of your favorite fruits and veggies, since bees transfer pollen and seeds from one flower to another, fertilizing plants so they produce food.

To illustrate the potential consequences of this phenomenon, the University Heights Whole Foods Market store temporarily removed all produce that comes from plants dependent on pollinators. The result: 237 of 453 products, or 52% of the department's normal product mix, were pulled from the shelves.

Here’s a list of the fruits and vegetables that were removed:

  • Apples
  • Onions
  • Avocados
  • Carrots
  • Mangos
  • Lemons
  • Limes
  • Honeydew
  • Cantaloupe
  • Zucchini
  • Summer squash
  • Eggplant
  • Cucumbers
  • Celery
  • Green onions
  • Cauliflower
  • Leeks
  • Bok choy
  • Kale
  • Broccoli
  • Broccoli rabe
  • Mustard greens


"Pollinators are a critical link in our food system. More than 85% of earth's plant species — many of which compose some of the most nutritional parts of our diet – require pollinators to exist. Yet we continue to see alarming declines in bee numbers," said Eric Mader, assistant pollinator conservation director at The Xerces Society.

Researchers have been scrambling to find the cause of CCD. Some possibilities cited, says the Natural Resources Defense Council, are:

  • Global warming, causing flowers to bloom earlier or later than usual. When pollinators (bees) come out of hibernation, the flowers that provide the food they need to start the season have already bloomed;
  • Pesticide use on farms: Some toxic pesticides meant to kill pests can also harm honey bees;
  • Habitat loss brought about by development, abandoned farms, growing crops without leaving habitat for wildlife, and growing gardens with flowers that are not friendly to pollinators; and
  • Parasites such as harmful mites.


But a recent study published in PLoS One, researchers discovered that fungicides, which are used to kill or inhibit fungi or fungal spores, are having “sub-lethal effects” on bee health. The researchers collected pollen from beehives in seven crops and detected 35 pesticides in the pollen, including high fungicide loads. Fungicides have been seen as fairly safe for honeybees, but the study found “increased probability of Nosema infection in bees that consumed pollen with a higher fungicide load."

Whole Foods Market is offering some opportunities for you to help "bee part of the solution."

  • Buy organic;
  • Don’t use toxic pesticides at home if you can help it; and
  • Plant bee-friendly flowers and fruits.


And be sure to look for the "Share the Buzz" signs throughout Whole Foods stores to support vendors donating to The Xerces Society. They include:

  • "Queen Bee" partners ($25,000): Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day and Hain Celestial (MaraNatha, WestSoy, Terra Chips, Arrowhead Mills)
  • "Worker Bee" partners ($5,000): Attune Foods, Cuties, Kashi, Sweet Leaf Teas, Muir Glen Organic, Talenti Gelato, So Delicious, Udi's Gluten Free.