So great is the concern about the dwindling numbers of bees that the food industry is even giving money to US researchers to try to uncover why colonies are disappearing. Premium ice cream group Haagen-Dazs, which is owned by Nestlé in the US, has given researchers in California and Pennsylvania $250,000 to help with their studies into what it calls the "complex honey bee situation". The money will be sourced from sales of ice cream carrying an 'HD loves HB' logo and from a new flavor, Vanilla Honey Bee, which will be launched this month. Honey bees are responsible for pollinating more than 130 different crops, and are a key factor in the agricultural industry's ability to provide food products. But over the last few winters, more than 25 per cent of the honey bee population in the United States has vanished, many under mysterious circumstances, and early reports from beekeepers show this phenomenon is continuing in 2008. Among the various reasons for the decline in bees are poor nutrition, invasive mites and colony collapse disorder (CCD), where bees from a colony abruptly desert the hive and die. Haagen-Daz claims that nearly 40 per cent of its ice cream flavors include ingredients dependent on honey bees for pollination, and many other food companies have also warned of potential crises if crops are not correctly pollinated. As well as the grant, Haagen-Dazs has created a Bee Board of eminent researchers and scientists to offer advice and information about bees. The bee problem is not, yet, affecting other parts of the world, although flavor companies such as Mastertaste, which operate globally, are keeping an eye on developments. "This is not an issue for us in the UK, as we source ingredients for our natural flavors in Europe, Africa and the Middle East," a spokesman for Mastertaste in the UK told Foodnavigator-USA.com. "But we could eventually find ourselves in a situation where we would have to supply our own business in the US with flavors and/or ingredients, if the honey bee problem becomes more serious." Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for International Flavors and Fragrances (IFF), which is based in New York, confirmed that the company was aware of the potential honey bee problem, but none of its experts were available for further comment at present. The US Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) is also working to determine the causes of CCD, which first became a matter of concern in the winter of 2006-2007 when some beekeepers began reporting losses of 30 to 90 per cent of their hives. "Beekeepers could face a serious problem [this] year and beyond if CCD becomes more widespread and no treatment is developed," the ARS said.
A worrying decline in the US bee population over the last few years could have a major impact on companies who rely on honey bees to pollinate plants that are widely used as ingredients.