NPR logo Thanksgiving Buzz: What Would Pilgrims Say About The Plight Of Bees?

Food For Thought

Thanksgiving Buzz: What Would Pilgrims Say About The Plight Of Bees?

Got cranberries? How about squash and pumpkin pie? These favorites would not be as bountiful without bees and other wild pollinators.

Honey bees were first imported into the American colonies by early European settlers, who recognized their value in producing fruits and other crops.

"Some of the colonists who arrived at Plymouth likely brought bees," according to Tom Turpin, a professor of entomology at Purdue University.

Today, an estimated one in three bites of food we eat come from crops pollinated by bees and other pollinators. Commercial hives are used to pollinate everything from almonds to squash and pumpkin, adding $15 billion in value to crops.

But, lots of beekeepers are struggling. Last year, according to survey data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, commercial beekeepers in the U.S. lost an estimated 42 percent of their hives. And as we reported earlier this week, bee experts say this is concerning.

As part of a joint NPR/PBS collaboration, we investigate the factors behind the plight of bees — everything from viruses, to loss of habitat, to what's become the most controversial stressor: exposure to a class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids. These pesticides are coated onto the seeds of an estimated 80 to 95 percent of the corn grown in the U.S. Watch our video report at the top of this page.

So when you sit down for Thanksgiving dinner, take a moment to give thanks for these pollinators. And the next time you hear about the plight of bees, remember: Their health is tied to what ends up on your plate.