THE DRAMATIC declines in bee numbers could force food prices up as farmers turn to hand-pollination.
Research by bee experts at the University of Reading have calculated that it would cost the UK £1.8 billion every year to hand-pollinate crops without bees.
The new figure is the equivalent to the annual wages of 60,000 teachers. It also means that each colony left is worth over £21,500 (in theory).
Research has shown that Englands bees are vanishing at an alarming rate colony numbers have fallen by over 50% in the past 20 years
Last month, new research showed that common crop pesticides seriously damage bees ability to navigate home.
All this is pointing to a problem for the food industry: bees are one of a number of insect pollinators crucial for crop pollination. A UN-backed study on the economics of ecosystems and biodiversity (www.teebweb.org) suggested that insect pollination is worth £120bn globally.
The reliance of food business on biodiversity cannot be underestimated, with some suggesting that if bee numbers continue to fall costly hand-pollination techniques will push food prices skywards.
Costly hand-pollination is already being used in parts of the world, notably pear trees in Hanyuan County, China, where native bee populations have been wiped out by a combination of loss of their natural habitat and intensive farming.
Friends of the Earth is launching a campaign calling for a national bee action plan (pictured). The Bee Cause (www.foe.org.uk/bees) is part of a campaign urging the Government to take the issue seriously and in turn save the nation billions by committing to a British bee action plan.
Paul de Zylva, nature campaigner at Friends of the Earth said: "Unless we halt the decline in British bees our farmers will have to rely on hand-pollination, sending food prices rocketing.
"Bees are responsible for most of our favourite fruit and vegetables so as well as the huge blow to our economy, our diet would also suffer.