An Irish company unveiled plans today to tackle the dramatic decline of the bee population.
Beemune claims its natural feed product can help save millions of pollinators from potentially deadly infections which threaten global food production.
The firm, a spin-off from the National University of Maynooth in Co Kildare, hopes to tap into the multi-million euro commercial bee industry which has sprung up internationally as a result of the falling number of honeybees.
“The population decline is a major problem. If bees don’t pollinate crops we will lose 40% of world food production,” Beemune’s chief scientific officer Dr Kevin Kavanagh said.
“For many people bees mean honey but if people look in their fruit bowl all of that fruit has been pollinated by bees.
“The bee is the unseen worker in producing huge amounts of food worldwide.”
Over the past decade commercially managed honeybees have suffered from increasing ill health due to parasites, new pesticides and reducing gene pools.
A further blow was dealt in 2007 by the deadly colony collapse disorder (CCD) which saw almost two-thirds of the entire commercial bee population wiped out during winter hibernation.
Insect biology expert Dr Kavanagh said the company’s food ingredients would improve the nutrition of bees, boost their immune systems and help them survive the stresses of the environment and modern farming methods.
“It is no exaggeration to say that the commercial bee industry would not be able to survive another CCD epidemic like in 2007,” he said.
“Beemune is focusing on improving the overall health of bees and our results are extremely promising.”
Launching the new company in a busy fruit and vegetable market in Dublin, Tanaiste Mary Coughlan said its products offered great hope to farmers around the world.
“If the current situation prevails there will be drastic consequences for food production, including how much food is available, how much it costs and how good it is,” she added.
“It’s hugely important for the export market, and from a research and development point of view it’s absolutely fantastic, there’s massive potential.”
The products were developed during more than two years of research at NUI Maynooth.
This summer the firm plans to move into the lucrative US market, where there are around 2.5 million bee hives.
Four people are currently employed by Beemune – a figure it hopes to increase to 30 by 2013 as it continues to develop different formulations for other bee illnesses.
Over the next three years the company also plans to reinvest a significant proportion of its revenues into building a research and development centre in Ireland.