(Last updated, 2008 - I.e., this article is very old. It is due for update soon)
Pollinators in general are in steep decline. Though we are concerned about all pollinators, and in particular, native pollinators, the bulk of our (USA) food and seed crop pollination has come from honey bees ever since they arrived with settlers of the Jamestown Settlement.
Honey bees have flourished in the US for centuries until the 1980's and 1990's when tracheal and varroa mites decimated both feral and domestic honey bees. Feral bees have been reduced to approximately 2% of what they once were. Think back to your childhood — remember having to watch your step in the summer-time? With the feral bee population effectively wiped out, you are unlikely to interrupt a foraging bee anymore.
Many beekeepers were driven out of business in those years, but the industry has since rebounded. The mites are now manageable. Everyone could finally breathe a sigh of relieve... until 2006. In 2006, the beekeeping industry was clobbered with huge losses of honey bees due to an unknown agent. This disorder was labeled Colony Collapse Disorder, or simply CCD.
The Carolina Bee Company has fortunately had no issues with CCD. In fact, though there have suspected cases of CCD in North Carolina, the state has more-or-less dodged the disorder. Additionally, CCD seems to target larger beekeeping operations.
The websites linked throughout this page do a better job describing CCD, but here is a summary of the current (2008-03-01) state of the disorder as we understand it.
As of this writing, there is no lead causative agent for CCD. For some time we had a leading contender in a newly discovered virus, the Israel acute paralysis virus. Unfortunately, this virus has turned out to be less likely the causative agent than we had original thought.
What we do know though is that all CCD bees show signs of enormous stress and immunodeficiency. The cause may be viral, pesticides, internal hive antibiotics and miticides, or Nosema. Or it could be a combination of these things. Upon extensive autopsy, the world honey bee stock was found to consist of very sick animals. They are being bombarded with pathogens and chemicals. It may be (and highly likely) that we are simply nudging our bees over some critical health threshold leaving them vulnerable to disease.
It is incredibly important to get to the bottom of this issue. Probably more importantly in the long haul, we need to figure out how to manage our bees so that they are healthier animals. Honey bees pollinate1 our nuts, fruits, and many of our vegetables. They are also critical pollinators of our seed supply.
The real danger could come if these pathogens kill bees faster than we can replace them both driving beekeepers out of business and reducing the pollinating stock of bees available. The world food and seed industry relies on a surprisingly limited number of beekeepers. Even if they can raise rental costs enough to make a living, they may not be able to maintain the numbers of hives they once did. This is a real danger.
Support your local beekeeper. Buying local honey and bee-related products ensures that your money goes into his or her pocket. If you are a gardener, consider hiring a beekeeper to place a couple hives in your backyard. Honey bee hives are utterly non-intrusive and seeing your flowers all a-buzz with honey bees is a naturally delightful experience. Also consider planting bee friendly flowers instead of having an unbroken sterile green lawn.2
Recently, Häagen-Dazs super-premium ice cream (Pillsbury/General Mills, and under license to Nestlé) is one food producer that has stepped up by donating $250,000 to help fund research into CCD. It isn't a lot, but it sure helps.3 Unfortunately, Häagen-Dazs is only one of the few food producers contributing cash to research. We would love to see more.
Burt's Bees, as one might expect, has contributed both to funding for research2 and to raising awareness through a thoughtful public service announcement and an offer for a free packet of bee friendly flower seeds4.