Jews around the world may have a harder time than usual dipping apples into honey this Rosh Hashanah. That's because honey is in short supply this year, especially in Britain, due to a bee disease thought to be caused by a virus discovered by Israeli scientists.
"There is a decline in production in the world," said Alon Ron, CEO of the Emek Hefer honey company. "It was a drought year, and when there's no rain, there's no blossoming and no nectar. Nature is changing, and we can see it in the harvest."
The shortage is particularly severe in Britain, where honey production declined by 50 percent after about a third of Britain's 240,000 hives were decimated by disease this winter, according to the British Beekeepers Association.
Rabbi David Hulbert of the Bet Tikvah Synagogue in London, an amateur beekeeper, said yesterday he has not had any trouble with his own bees, and that as far as he knew, the problem had struck mainly industrial-sized hives.
Argentina and Australia, two of the world's main honey suppliers, also had poor harvests this year, leading to a 60-percent rise in the cost of honey in Europe within a single year. In Israel, the cost increase has been a far more moderate 5 percent.
The main factor in the honey shortage is colony collapse disorder, a disease causing the disappearence of billions of bees. The disease appeared to be limited to the United States in early 2006, but later appeared - though to a more limited degree - in other countries as well.
About a year ago, American researchers announced they had found the key to the problem: a virus identified in Israel by Israeli virologists, known as Israeli acute paralysis virus. Despite its name, the virus is believed to originate in Australia. Before the find, some had speculated that the disease was caused by global warming and solar radiation that was impairing the bees' navigational abilities.
"In some of the research we found that about 60 percent of the bees in the colonies that collapsed in the U.S. were suffering from the virus we discovered," said Ilan Sela, a former virology professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
However, other researchers attribute damage to the hives to other factors, from climate changes to a certain species of spider.
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