Monday, October 27, 2008

Honey bees may sting world markets

Financial markets have continued their roller-coaster ride despite bank bail outs and cash injections [CNN]. Though the slump in stocks and currency market uncertainty has failed to make the same headlines seen a few weeks ago, the last two weeks has not brought the stability expected by some analysts. Last week the Dow fell by 500 points on one day alone and in Japan the Nikkei fell sharply on Monday’s trading falling to its lowest in 26 years. Asia has seen some of the worst falls with fears of a global recession. The Nikkei closed on Monday 6.36% down while the Hong Kong Hang Seng dropped 12.7%. The Seoul Kospi was one of few making gains, finishing 0.82% up on the days trade. Currency trading has partly resulted in the Japanese Yen rising to record levels. Low interest rates on borrowing the Japanese Yen has resulted in a rise hitting a 13 year high. But in Europe the Euro and Pound have both lost value. The European markets have also fared little better. The FTSE has dropped around 1% in the first half of Monday, while the CAC and DAX have fallen by 2%. The Nasdaq has reflected the uncertainty in the global tech markets falling 1.75% in Monday’s early trading. Last week the index fell 9.3% and has lost 32% of its value since mid-September following the demise of Lehman Bros. All the uncertainty in production has resulted in further falls in the price of oil which dropped below $60 per barrel, a 17 year low [CNN].

But it’s not just consumables that are affected in this bear market. The demise of the humble honey bee may have a bigger impact than many might think. More than 25% of food is pollinated by bees and the drop in bee numbers may create widespread problems in the agricultural industry. The honey bee is under threat from the varroa_mite which latches onto bees and sucks their "blood". But the reduction of numbers will not only have effects on the ecology of the countryside [BBC] it will also result in the loss of a popular product on supermarket shelves. Robin Oakley, reporting on CNN, says domestic honey may disappear from Britain’s shops within a few months [Daily Telegraph]. And the drop in bee numbers isn’t only confined to the UK. In Israel honey production has fallen by 60%. In North America the fruit growing areas of California and Florida have been especially hard hit by so-called colony collapse disorder. And the loss of the insect is no laughing matter. Bees pollinate an estimated 90% of the apple crop, 30% of the pear crop and much of the soft fruits such as strawberry and raspberry. "We need beehives in orchards because we rely on honeybees to pollinate apple blossom in Spring," says Martin Ridler, Orchard Controller for Gaymers Cider. "You can hope for insects and the wind to help, but honeybees guarantee pollination". A century ago there were more than one million bee hives. Numbers fell to half a million in the 1950s before reaching the current level of 240,000. If the numbers continue to fall it could affect a British apple industry worth more than £165 million. The demise of the humble bee will have more than a sting in the tail for world food markets. Some have predicted an even worse outcome. According to Albert Einstein, our very existence is inextricably linked to bees - he is reputed to have said, "If the bee disappears off the surface of the globe, then man would only have four years of life left" [Guardian].

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