- The declining population of food pollinators, like wild bees and butterflies, threatens three quarters of the world's food crops and their associated supply chains, Supply Management reports.
- More than a third of local bees and butterflies face extinction today, creating a "pollination deficit" that will affect "blue chip" companies like Asda, Mars and Pepsico, according to a new report funded by the Cambridge Conservation Initiative.
- Eight of the companies surveyed said they were "unable" to take action, as many did not know which ingredients required pollination, or which sourcing regions were at highest risk.
Marylou was a scientist at a semiconductor company where I worked a decade and a half ago. In addition to understanding the chemical make-up of boron and arsine, she was also an expert on Monarch butterflies. She taught my kids how to look for butterfly egg sacks on the milkweed at the park, and nurture them through the chrysalis stage and into majestic butterflies. They would then release them into our garden to join their many butterfly cousins.
But these Monarchs are few and far between these days. My garden misses their pollination. And in the past few years, my wife has noticed fewer bees in the garden as well, at first anecdotally, but now science has proven her right.
Keeping with the animal kingdom metaphor, the loss of pollinators is the "canary in the coal mine" of existing and upcoming changes in the natural supply chain. And while some may minimize these changes, their effect will no doubt be amplified by increased costs and availability of products. So yes, the absence of pollinators is a risk to the supply chain.
We need to look at these pollinators as suppliers performing a service. If other areas in our supply chain lost a large component of labor, costs would rise and the availability of product would be restricted. But this is not just supply and demand of labor. It is symptomatic of changes in the natural order driven by climate change and other environmental impacts.
While we may find the butterfly effect – a parable, where the flapping of a butterfly’s wings eventually causes a tornado – a bit of a stretch, the loss of members of our pollinators is already having a demonstrative impact on our food supply chain. If the trend continues, look for higher prices and disruption.
But after the bees and butterflies, who, or what, is next?