Last winter, beekeepers in the United States lost an alarming one-third of their hives to colony collapse disorder. While many acknowledge that pesticides, climate change, and habitat loss may be be contributing factors to their decline, a new study by the University of Illinois points to yet another stressor. Honey substitutes (such as high fructose corn syrup) fed to the bees while their own honey is sold could be denying bees the nutrients they need to establish strong immune systems.

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Normally, honey bees feed on their own honey for sustenance. The compound contains chemicals (such as p-coumaric acid) that have been shown to detoxify their bodies and build resistance to disease. Beekeepers that harvest the honey to sell often replace their food with sugar or high fructose corn syrup, which lacks the same nutritional value.

This news comes just after the US EPA denied a link between neonicotinoid pesticides and colony collapse disorder. Europe has agreed to ban the tobacco-derived chemicals, which have been associated with bee mortality. The companies that synthesize and sell the chemicals (mainly Bayer AG, Syngenta, and Monsanto) have pledged to launch projects to help counter the pollinators’ decline – despite the fact that their products may be poisoning the insects in the first place. The presence of the Varroa mite further harms the bees’ recovery and establishment of healthy hives. Hopefully adjusting bees’ diet to reflect their natural form of sustenance will provide the insects with a fighting chance of survival.

Via Reuters