Are bees in for a sticky end?

We fear for the future of the producers of our sweet New Year treat.

By Ruth Joseph, September 27, 2011

There is no food more intrinsically connected with Rosh Hashanah than honey.

For millennia it has been eaten at the festival to symbolise our hopes for a good, sweet year. But now scientists have issued warnings that the bees which make it could become extinct if nothing is done to improve their fragile existence, and our New Year honey could be a thing of the past.

Albert Einstein once declared: "If the bee disappears off the surface of the globe then man will only have four years left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more men."

While not famed for his entomology, Einstein did actually have a point. Today, entomologists agree that the recent sudden disappearance of bees from their hives poses a serious environmental problem.

There are approximately 250 species of bee in the UK. Only 25 of these are native British bumblebees, which is half of what we had in the 1950s. Three species have already become extinct, five are currently under serious threat and two more precariously close.

This is happening throughout Europe and the USA, apparently because chemicals used in standard agricultural practice have poisoned insects out of their natural habitats. The damage needs to be rectified. But the methods used can often be even more damaging. Commercial growers of rapeseed and fruits are so anxious to pollinate their produce that they are importing southern European bee species that have been captive-bred. At present some 100,000 nests are established in this country, but this, in turn, has resulted in our own indigenous bees being overwhelmed by the new invader.

Why is honey so special? It is a natural food that is packed with essential vitamins and minerals; it also has a healthier GI (glycaemic index) than sugar so it does not elevate insulin levels in the same way - although diabetics should still be wary. It contains natural antioxidants that help in the fight against major diseases and in the past was even used as an effective antiseptic. Trendy superfood manuka honey - made by bees pollinating the manuka trees of the East Cape region of New Zealand - is said to be particularly effective in treating wounds.

We can take the following steps to save our bees for future generations: if you have a garden, do not use insecticides and plant a few native plant species to encourage and feed remaining bees. Bees love mint, daisies, strawberries, lavender, salvia, asters, sunflowers, and verbena. You could install nesting blocks for bees, or even consider establishing your own beehive.

If all this is too much, try including a little local honey in your Yom Tov shopping basket together with your Israeli honey. After all, something so intensely valuable, and so important as a celebratory symbol, should be cherished.

Last updated: 11:24am, September 27 2011