The 2010s have been the decade that marked the rise of almond milk as an alternative to cow’s milk — but it turns out this low-calorie, vegan substitute isn’t as inherently good as it’s made out to be. According to an investigative report from The Guardian, the increasing demands of the California almond industry are placing an incredible amount of pressure on the beehives used to pollinate their orchards, resulting in the deaths of billions of honeybees.
Dennis Arp, a commercial beekeeper, makes half of his income from renting out his hives to pollinate almonds. Now, however, he’s losing over 30 percent of his bees each year.
And Arp isn’t alone. A survey of commercial beekeepers found that 50 billion honeybees were killed during the winter of 2018-19, i.e. more than one-third of the US commercial bee colonies.
This mortality rate is due partially to the nature of almond orchards — they are monoculture and lack the diversity that bees need to remain healthy — and to the fact that bees must wake up from their winter dormancy earlier than usual to begin almond pollination. But the biggest culprit is the amount of pesticides used on almonds, and the high concentration of bees during pollination in the almond grove, which facilitates the spread of diseases among them.
“Bees are exposed to all kinds of diseases in California,” said Arp. “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.”
With almond milk sales in the US growing 250 percent over the past five years, the life of bees likely won’t get easier anytime soon. But consumers can make a statement by spending their hard-earned dollars in products that are “Bee Better” certified. This label guarantees that the product purchased benefits bees and bee-friendly farmers.