Let’s raise a pint to the honeybee, without which early man would not have discovered the first fermented honey beverages, leading to the development of the modern beers we enjoy today. In fact, alcoholic drinks made from honey were likely enjoyed long before the discovery of beer and wine, as the natural fermentation of a simple mixture of honey and water produces enough alcohol to generate good cheer.
Civilization has enjoyed honey’s many uses for thousands of years, but at no time in history have honeybee populations been as endangered as they are today. Multiple threats including pesticide exposure, loss of habitat, and the presence of pests known as varroa mites, are resulting in the loss of entire colonies of honeybees, a syndrome known as Colony Collapse Disorder.
Fortunately, scientists have uncovered a potential solution for warding off mites; it turns out that one of the main ingredients in beer, known as hops beta acids (HBA) excels at killing mites without harming bees or humans. In 2015 the US Environmental Protection Agency approved the use of potassium salts of HBA for repelling varroa mites. Because humans have long consumed HBAs in beer and in preserved meat, they are considered to be safe for use in beehives.
Besides continuing to drink beer in the hopes of supporting new and important scientific discoveries, there are other actions you can take to help protect bees, such as promoting bee habitat and reducing the use of a toxic pesticide known to be harmful to bees.
Call your state legislators today (you can look yours up here) and ask them to support our priority pollinator protection bill! You can let them know that pollinators like bees, as well as bats, birds, and butterflies, are experiencing rapid population declines, and this bill (SB451 and HD3461) would establish a commission to investigate solutions to protect and promote pollinators’ health and habitat. You can also let them know you support bill HB2113, which would regulate the spraying of pesticides containing pollinator-harming neonicotinoids on certain agricultural land.
Thank you for your advocacy, and Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
Karen Heymann is Mass Audubon’s legislative director