Mass Honeybee Deaths: Getting Worse, Not Better

Bernard Weinstein, an economist and associate director of SMU's Maguire Energy Institute, talks about the economic impact of bees dying off.

By Mark Koba
Senior Editor, CNBC

Despite getting fewer headlines in recent years, the population of U.S. honeybees has continued to plunge, with billions dying each year from a condition known as colony collapse disorder (CCD). The demise of the bees is now raising greater concerns about the cost to the nation's food supply and the sustainability of the beekeeping industry itself.

Part of the problem, according to a new report by the Department of Agriculture, is that finding a specific cause of CCD remains elusive.

"It's like a perfect storm of reasons," said Kim Kalpan, a public affairs spokesperson for the research service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"We've eliminated that it's one single cause. We're looking at several causes, including parasites, poor nutrition for the bees, viruses and drought conditions," Kaplan said. "We just don't know what it is at this point."

CCD has been around in the U.S. since 2006, when more than one quarter of the 2.4 million honey bee colonies were lost. Each year, more and more bees die. . .

Almonds provide an example of the concern. In California, where 80 percent of the world's almonds are grown, a lack of local honey bees hives is forcing the state to ship in bees from around the country in order to keep up with demand.

"We have to be worried about the impact on the food supply if we continue to see the loss of hives," said Bernard Weinstein, an economist at SMU. "It's not clear that food prices have been affected by the hive loss yet, but sometime down the road it could be a problem."

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