Are Bees Responsible for 70-90% of Global Food?

Are bees responsible for 70-90% of global food?

Are bees responsible for 70-90% of global food?

Check out this answer from Consensus:

While bees are indeed vital for the pollination of many crops and contribute significantly to the global economy, they are not responsible for 70-90% of global food production. Their contribution is closer to one-third of the food that ends up on our plates. It is crucial to address the challenges facing bee populations to ensure the continued provision of their pollination services, which are essential for food security and the overall well-being of ecosystems and human societies123458.

 

Bees have long been recognized as key players in the pollination process, which is essential for the production of many crops worldwide. However, the claim that bees are responsible for 70-90% of global food production is not supported by current research. Instead, studies indicate that animal pollinators, including bees, contribute to about 30% of global food production, with bee-pollinated crops accounting for approximately one-third of the human dietary supply1.

The Role of Bees in Crop Pollination

Bees, alongside other pollinators such as bats, birds, and butterflies, are crucial for the pollination of a wide range of crops, including fruits, vegetables, oilseeds, and legumes1. The economic value of bees to food production is significant, as they not only enhance the yield but also improve the quality of crops like coffee, cocoa, almonds, and soybeans1. For instance, bee pollination has been shown to improve the fruit quality, quantity, and market value of strawberries, leading to heavier fruits with fewer malformations and longer shelf life2.

Economic Importance of Bees to Global Food Production

The economic contribution of bees to global food production is substantial. Managed honey bees alone contribute between $235 and $577 billion to annual global food production3. In the United States, wild bees provide over $1.5 billion each year from bee-pollinated crops4. In Ethiopia, the pollination service by honey bees to agricultural crops is valued at around 0.815 billion dollars5.

Challenges Facing Bee Populations

Despite their importance, bee colonies face numerous challenges that threaten their sustainability, such as climate change, pesticides, land use changes, and management practices1. These challenges can lead to declines in bee populations, which could have direct economic losses due to reduced crop yields and broader impacts on agricultural productivity5.

 

Are bees responsible for 70-90% of global food?

Francisco Sanchez-Bayo has answered Unlikely

An expert from University of Sydney in Toxicology, Ecology, Agricultural Science

Estimates of flowering plants that require pollination by animals are between 78% in temperate regions and 94% in tropical regions (Ollerton et al. 2011, Oikos 120:321-326). However, only a fraction of these are pollinated by bees.

Considering only the crops used for human food consumption (115), some 75% require pollination by animals but this is only essential for 41 crops (36%). However, the bulk of human food (60%) is cereals, which do not require pollination by animals; this means that about 35% of plants used for human consumption require animal pollination – see Klein et al. 2007, Proc. R. Soc. B 274:303-313 and Gallai et al. 2009, Ecol. Econ. 68:810-82.

How many of these plants require pollination by bees has not been estimated accurately. However, it is clear that most animal pollination involves insects (but let’s not discard birds and bats!) among which bees, hoverflies and butterflies are the most common pollinators. Honey bees (Apis mellifera) in particular may provide some 14% of the overall pollination services in agricultural production (Garibaldi et al. 2013, Science 339:1608-1611), since most of the bee pollinator species are bumblebees and other wild bees. In economic terms, the value of pollinator services represents some 12% of food production, mainly by increasing the yield of fruits, vegetables and nuts (Leonhardt et al. 2013, Basic Appl. Ecol. 14:461-471), with some authors estimating that if insect pollination were to fail, economic losses would be about 8% at most (Aizen et al. 2013, Ann. Bot. 103:1579-158).

 

Are bees responsible for 70-90% of global food?

Janice Lord has answered Extremely Unlikely

An expert from University of Otago in Plant Ecology

Almost 90% of flowering plants are reliant on animals for pollination but it is definitely incorrect to say that 70-90% of food plants rely on bees. Current world food supply is based very heavily on just 14 plant species. The 6 most important crops, that supply 80% of calories consumed by people, are wheat, rice, maize, potato, sweet potato and cassava. The first three of these, wheat, rice and maize are wind-pollinated grasses. The other 8 species of the 14 are sugarcane, barley, sorghum, sugarbeet, green beans, soybeans, coconuts and bananas. Again the first three is this list are wind-pollinated grasses, and none of the remaining species in either list are likely to be exclusively reliant on bees for pollination.

However, having said that, the wording of the Greenpeace statement is ambiguous. They may well be correct in saying that 70 out of the top 100 food crops are pollinated by bees (and other insects), and that these 100 food crops together supply 90% of the world’s nutrition. However, that does not mean that the 70 species that are pollinated by bees (and other insects) supply 90% of the world’s nutrition. As I have illustrated above, those 70 species will almost all be minor food crops, not staple foods.

 

Are bees responsible for 70-90% of global food?

Sandra Lindström has answered Likely

An expert from Swedish Rural Economy and Agricultural Society in Agricultural Science, Ecology, Conservation Science

87 of the 124 leading crops used for human consumption in the world benefit from insect pollination (Klein et al. 2007). However, the benefit of insect pollination is unknown for a large number of crops and cultivars (Williams 1994). Calories are mostly produced by crops pollinated by self- or wind pollination, but insect pollinated crops produces several micronutrients (Chaplin-Kramer et al. 2014). For example almost all Lycopene and vitamin C comes from crops that benefit from insect pollination. Insect pollinated crops produces several other micronutrients and minerals, for example folate, vitamin A, and antioxidants (Eilers et al. 2011). Important to say is that not only bees pollinate crops, flies and even bats can pollinate aswell.

Klein, A.-M., Vaissière, B. E., Cane, J. H., Steffan-Dewenter, I., Cunningham, S. A., Kremen, C. & Tscharntke, T. (2007). Importance of pollinators in changing landscapes for world crops. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 274(1608), pp 303–313.

 Chaplin-Kramer, R., Dombeck, E., Gerber, J., Knuth, K. A., Mueller, N. D., Mueller, M., Ziv, G. & Klein, A.-M. (2014). Global malnutrition overlaps with pollinator-dependent micronutrient production. Proceedings of the Royal Society B Biological Sciences, 281(1794).

Eilers, E. J., Kremen, C., Smith Greenleaf, S., Garber, A. K. & Klein, A.-M. (2011). Contribution of pollinator-mediated crops to nutrients in the human food supply. PLoS ONE, 6(6), p e21363.

 Williams, I. H. (1994). The dependence of crop production within the European Union on pollination by honey bees. Agricultural Zoology Reviews, pp 229–257.

 

Are bees responsible for 70-90% of global food?

Peter Borst has answered Extremely Unlikely

An expert from Cornell University in Biology

It appears that the 90% figure was taken out of its original context. 90% angiosperms in general, not 90% of food crops. Most of the important food crops do not require insect pollination, such as rice, wheat, corn, etc.

examples:

Animal-mediated pollination contributes to the sexual reproduction of over 90% of the approximately 250,000 species of modern angiosperms. Using the extensive FAO dataset, yearly data were compiled for 1961–2006 on production and cultivated area of 87 important crops, which we classified into five categories of pollinator dependency. Based on measures of the aggregate effect of differential pollinator dependence, the consequences of a complete loss of pollinators in terms of reductions in total agricultural production and diversity were calculated. An estimate was also made of the increase in total cultivated area that would be required to compensate for the decrease in production of every single crop in the absence of pollinators. 

Key Results:  The expected direct reduction in total agricultural production in the absence of animal pollination ranged from 3 to 8 %, with smaller impacts on agricultural production diversity.   

Aizen, M. A., Garibaldi, L. A., Cunningham, S. A., & Klein, A. M. (2009). How much does agriculture depend on pollinators? Lessons from long-term trends in crop production. Annals of botany, 103(9), 1579-1588.

Pollinator-dependent crops contributed 13.7% to total agriculture production in the developing world in 1961, whereas this value increased to 22.6% by 2006. Results do not support the view that a pollination shortage affects agriculture at a global scale. 

Long-Term Global Trends in Crop Yield and Production Reveal No Current Pollination Shortage but Increasing Pollinator Dependency. Current Biology 18, 1572–1575, October 28, 2008 

 

Are bees responsible for 70-90% of global food?

Dave Goulson has answered Unlikely

An expert from University of Sussex in Ecology, Environmental Science

About 75% of all the crops we grow require pollination by some type of insect, usually a bee but sometimes pollination is delivered by flies, beetles, wasps, butterflies etc. These 75% of crops provide us with about 1/3rd of the food we eat (with 2/3rds coming from wind-pollinated crops such as wheat, barley, rice and maize). 

 

Are bees responsible for 70-90% of global food?

Adrian Dyer has answered Unlikely

An expert from RMIT in Ecology

Reports like the United Nations FAO pollination 2011 on climate change and pollination; and references within, put the contribution of bee pollination to food production at about 35 percent. 

90 percent is too high as crops like wheat don’t rely on bee pollination, but are a very large part of our food chain. Thus this value is not supported by evidence at a global level.

But…..35 percent is still a lot of food.

 

Are bees responsible for 70-90% of global food?

Johanne  Brunet has answered Extremely Unlikely

An expert from University of Wisconsin in Evolutionary Biology

Bees are responsible for pollination of a vast majority of fruits and vegetables we consume, especially when we consider seed production for cultivar propagation. For example, while lettuce is a leaf, seeds are required for cultivar propagation. But humans consume a lot of grains and crops like wheat, barley, rice and corn are pollinated by the wind, they do not require insects for pollination. Moreover many crops have been bred to be highly self, such that the pollen of a plant can be used to pollinate that same plant. Therefore, although bees are needed for seed production of a lot of fruits and vegetables, given humans consume a lot of wind-pollinated grains, bees are not currently responsible for 70-90% of global food.

 

Are bees responsible for 70-90% of global food?

Omar Avalos-Hernandez has answered Unlikely

An expert from Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico in Entomology, Taxonomy, Ecology, Biogeography

Human nutrition worldwide is based mainly on 3 crops: corn, wheat and rice. None of these are insect-pollinated. Insects like bees, flies, butterflies and beetles are important in the production of 70-90 % of fruits and other vegetables.

Although the profits of most crops are incressed by the presence of wild polliantors (including bees and other insects); which mantain the diversity of plants and other animales and thus a healthy ecosystem.

 

Are bees responsible for 70-90% of global food?

Maj Rundlöf has answered Unlikely

An expert from Lunds University in Ecology

Bees are not responsible for 70-90% of the global food production, but the statement that 70 out of 100 crops are animal pollinated and that animal pollinated products can contribute to 90% in some nutrients holds to some extent.

About 90% of all angiosperms (flowering plants) are animal pollinated (Ollerton et al. 2011). Around 3/4 of the worlds major crops are to some extent dependent on animal pollination and around 1/3 of the crop production comes from these crops that fully or partly depend on animal pollination (Klein et al. 2007). The crops that fully or partly depend on animal pollination contain more than 90% of the human consumption of C vitamin, all of the lycopene and almost all for some antioxidants and other vitamins and minerals (Eilers et al. 2011).

Animal pollinators include not only bees, but also for example flies, beetles, moths, butterflies and bats. If only considering insect pollinators (which are the majority of pollinators for most plants), it is estimated that bees perform about half or a bit more of the pollination services in crops (Rader et al. 2016).

References

Eilers, E. J. et al. 2011. Contribution of pollinator-mediated crops to nutrients in the human food supply. PLoS ONE, 6: e21363.

Klein, A.-M. et al. 2007. Importance of pollinators in changing landscapes for world crops. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 274: 303–313.

Ollerton, J. et al. 2011. How many flowering plants are pollinated by animals? Oikos 120: 321-326.

Rader, R. et al. 2016. Non-bee insects are important contributors to global

crop pollination. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 113: 146-151.

 

Are bees responsible for 70-90% of global food?

Ignasi Bartomeus has answered Likely

An expert from Estación Biológica de Doñana, Sevilla in Ecology

This statement by Greenpeace is a simplification, but close to be true. What we know is that:

  • ~75% of crops are dependent to some degree on animal pollinators (Klein et al 2007; http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/274/1608/303): Note that this includes all pollinators, not only bees, and implies that pollinators enhance yield, but not that are the sole responsibles of yield formation for ~75% of crop species.
  • Crop plants that depend fully or partially on animal pollinators contain more than 90% of the consumed vitamin C, the whole quantity of Lycopene and almost the full quantity of the antioxidants β-cryptoxanthin and β-tocopherol, the majority of the lipid, vitamin A and related carotenoids, calcium and fluoride, and a large portion of folic acid (Eilers et al. 2011: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0021363): This mean that pollinators are not only important for food quantity (Note that some crops with a high worldwide production like wheat or rice do not depend on pollinators) , but also for food diversity and quality.

 

Are bees responsible for 70-90% of global food?

Glen Trostle has answered Unlikely

An expert from Independent in Entomology, Ecology, Plant Ecology

Although it is well published that bees contribute to ~75% of crops, when we look up the world production of food, we find that vegetables consisted of about 1959 mmt in 2012; fruits and nuts 597 mmt in 2012 – see Looney 2016, Fruits, Vegetables and Tubers from: Rutledge Handbook of food and nutrition security, Routledge; meat was 320 mmt in 2014 (315 mt) – see https://www.globalagriculture.org/report-topics/meat-and-animal-feed.htm; and cereal grains were 2365 mmt in 2010 – see Awika 201l, Major cereal grains production and use around the world. Advances in Cereal Science: Implications to Food Processing and Health Promotion ACS Symposium Series; American Chemical Society: Washington, DC, 2011., Assuming that the major fruits, nuts and vegetables benefit from pollination, and that most animal food is from flowering plants requiring seed production (eg: alfalfa), that makes for about 55% of world food production benefiting from bees.

 

Are bees responsible for 70-90% of global food?

Leonard Foster has answered Unlikely

An expert from University of British Columbia in Entomology

As others have addressed, this claim is demonstrably false. Most of the nutrition humans consume comes from cereals, maize, etc. These do not require bees for pollination. Most of the food that goes to raise the animals that we eat is also not dependent on bees for pollination. The Klein and Gallai references listed by Sanchez-Bayo are probably the best sources for any real figures, which are somewhere around 1/3 of our total nutritional intake being in some way dependent on bees. The 90% claim is outrageously inflated.

 

Are bees responsible for 70-90% of global food?

Keng-Lou Hung has answered Unlikely

An expert from Ohio State University in Ecology, Entomology, Conservation Science

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations reports that three cereals: rice, wheat, and maize, account for roughly 60% of plant-based calories and proteins consumed by humans worldwide. None of these three cereals are bee-pollinated. So, from a macronutrient perspective, the statement from Greenpeace is decidedly untrue.

On the other hand, bees (and other pollinating insects, of course) pollinate crop plants that do contribute significantly to the micronutrients needed by humans (vitamins, minerals), with some of these micronutrients coming exclusively from insect-pollinated crops in the modern human diet for most parts of the world. However, I don’t think we could reach a satisfactory answer on what “90% of the world’s nutrition” would mean even in this context–would it be 9 out of 10 different kinds of micronutrients we need? Or 9 out of 10 moles of molecules of these chemicals we need? Or 90% by weight?

At any rate, there is no doubt that insect pollination is hugely important for global food production and food security, but at face value, “90% of the world’s nutrition” is such a vague and misleading statement that it seems almost certainly untrue by most means of quantifying the world’s nutritional needs.

 

Are bees responsible for 70-90% of global food?

Lynn Adler has answered Unlikely

An expert from University of Massachusetts in Ecology

It depends on how you’re counting.

An older review found pollinators (including but not limited to bees) are responsible for pollinating 84% of European crops (Williams 94). A more recent review (Klein 07, attached FYI) found that 87 of the leading global food crops is dependent upon animal pollination, while 28 crops do not rely upon animal pollination (so 70%).

But that’s the number of crops, not the volume of food they produce. The biggest crops worldwide, in terms of volume, are grains (wheat, rice, corn etc) that are wind-pollinated. The same Klein article found that in terms of volume, 60% of global production comes from crops that do not depend on animal pollination, 35% from crops that depend on pollinators (including but not limited to bees), and 5% are unevaluated.

 

Are bees responsible for 70-90% of global food?

Carlos Eduardo Pereira Nunes has answered Likely

An expert from University of Campinas in Plant Ecology, Plant Biology

It is important to note that the question asked differs from what is supposedly being stated by Greenpeace claims. Being pollinated by bees or having the seed/fruit production increased by bee pollination does not mean that the plant relies exclusively on bees to produce any seed or fruit. Thereby, it is almost certain that “Seventy out of the top 100 human food crops — which supply about 90 percent of the world’s nutrition — are pollinated by bees” but it not certain how much bee pollination affect the global food production or nutrition.

Science still needs more information about the effect of bee pollination on important crops, such as common beans and many others. In many crops, such as soybean, production can be increased up to 18% with pollination by honeybees or native insects (see the link below). On the other hand, important staple crops like wheat, corn or cassava, should not have the production influenced by bee pollination because they are wind pollinated (corn and wheat) or they are reproduced by the cloning stem cuts (cassava). However, the size of the positive effect of pollinators in soybean can vary according the soybean variety (link below). So, for a short answer, we can say that bees positively influence the quantity and quality of most of the crops we grow for fruits or grains or seeds (see Gallai 2009).

Additionally, it is almost certain that most of native plant species rely on bees or other animals for their fruit/seed production (Ollerton 2011). Having in mind that most of crops in tropical and subtropical areas rely on native insects and not managed honeybees for pollination, and the pollinators depend on native vegetation to be there year after year, we can say that is likely that world’s food production relies much more than we believe on native insects, majorly native bees.

de O. Milfont, M., Rocha, E.E.M., Lima, A.O.N. et al. (2013) Higher soybean production using honeybee and wild pollinators, a sustainable alternative to pesticides and autopollination

Environ Chem Lett 11: 335. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10311-013-0412-8 https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10311-013-0412-8

Gallai N, Salles JM, Settele J, Vaissière BE (2009) Economic valuation of the vulnerability of world agriculture confronted with pollinator decline. Ecol Econ 68:810–821. doi: 10.1016/j.ecolecon.2008.06.014

Ollerton J, Winfree R, Tarrant S (2011) How many flowering plants are pollinated by animals? Oikos 120:321–326. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0706.2010.18644.x

 

Are bees responsible for 70-90% of global food?

Björn Klatt has answered Unlikely

An expert from Lunds University in Agricultural Science, Toxicology, Food Science

Unlikely at the global scale but likely at the regional and local scale.

I am in line with most of my colleagues below that the contribution of 70-90 % is unlikely for hole nutrition (but could be achieved considering nutrients besides carbohydrates, mostly produced from plants which production benefits from pollination) – this has been sufficiently discussed below.

However, on a regional and local scale, such high values could be achieved, depending on and varying with food preferences and availability. Whereas the availability of international food is natural for high-income countries, non-local products are often not achieveable for many people in low-income countries. Smith et al. (https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(15)61085-6/abstract) calculated the importance of pollinators for human nutrition with the result that in particular low-income countries would suffer extremly from a total loss of pollinators (right now an unlikely scenario) due to the non-availability of essential nutrients such as Vitamin A.

 

Are bees responsible for 70-90% of global food?

Haijun XIAO has answered Unlikely

An expert from Jiangxi Agricultural University in Entomology, Ecology

Pollination by insects is key for the productivity of many fruit and non-graminous seed crops. I had assess the relationships between landscape context, pollinator communities (density and diversity) and pollination of oilseed rape in 18 landscapes with different area proportions (10% to 70%) of small-holder farming in southern China. Wild pollinators are crucial for many crops, while their diversity are greatly threatened due to anthropogenic activities, of which the loss of natural habitat and the increased use of insecticides are two important drivers.

However, as the pollinator communities in both density and diversity are not determined only by bees, expacially not only for the managed be such as A. mellifera.

 

Are bees responsible for 70-90% of global food?

T’ai Roulston has answered Unlikely

An expert from University of Virginia in Ecology

As written, no. Most plant food, by mass or calories, consumed by humans comes from wind or self-pollinated grains. Estimates for the total proportion of plants that are at least partially dependent on animal pollination come close to 90%, with bees being the most important group of animals doing the pollinating. About 70% of the most important crop species are animal pollinated (primarily by bees), but most of the calories come from the top 3 crops consumed (wheat, corn and rice), which are not dependent on bees or other animals. I am not aware of current estimates when trying to account for the diets of animals used for human food.

Subscribe to
Our Newsletter