Almond milk lovers, be prepared for some bad news.
Over the last few years, almond milk has taken the Unites States by storm as a healthy and lower-calorie milk alternative. However, a recent report by The Guardian found that the booming industry may be to blame for the rising mortality rate among honey bees.
“The bees in the almond groves are being exploited and disrespected,” Patrick Pynes, an organic beekeeper in Arizona told the outlet. “They are in severe decline because our human relationship to them has become so destructive.”
As the almond industry rose to prominence, several beekeepers began renting out their colonies to mega-farms in California’s Central Valley, where 80% of the world’s almond supply comes from. According to the report, 50 million bees were wiped out over the course of a few months in 2018-2019, and experts have claimed a number of reasons for this.
In a more general sense, industrial agriculture methods are forcing honey bees to work in a monoculture instead of a biodiverse environment. When bees are stuck to one crop like this, they become more vulnerable to pesticides and diseases because their overall health suffers due to stress and poor nutrition, according to the Scientific American.
Almond crops are doused with more pesticides than any other crop in the U.S., The Guardian reported. They are also far more demanding of honey bees than other produce, because their pollination requires bees to be woken up from their winter hibernations two months earlier than normal.
“It’s like sending the bees to war. Many don’t come back,” Nate Donley, a senior scientist for the Center for Biological Diversity told The Guardian.
“Bees are exposed to all kinds of diseases in California,” Dennis Arp, a beekeeper who has lost many bees to the industry added. By October, 150 of Arp’s hives had been wiped by out by mites after coming back from working on the California almond farms.
“There can be hundreds of thousands of hives from multiple beekeepers in one staging area. It is like letting your bees go into a singles bar and then they have unprotected sex,” he said.
To combat the rising death rates, advocacy groups have launched the “Bee Better” certification program, which helps almond growers increase biodiversity for bees in their groves by planting wildflowers, mustard, and clover in between their rows of almond trees.
Häagen-Dazs ice cream became the first food company to launch products with the “Bee Better” seal. The company rolled out a bee-friendly vanilla milk chocolate almond bar in December, and have planned three more bee-friendly almond ice cream flavors to be available in early 2020.