At a conference held in San Francisco in March, chemists looked to scrutinize the research and take yet another look at the continuing bee die-off problem. They combine forces with. federal, state and local agencies and environmental groups who are all rushing to find out what’s behind “colony collapse disorder” and what can be done about it.
I didn’t think too much about myself until I read this sobering quote from none other than Albert Einstein:
“If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.”
With that, I sat up and took notice. Something is killing millions of honeybees, putting at stake approximately $14 billion of American crops, according to a Cornell University study – from oranges in Florida, to pumpkins in Pennsylvania, to almonds in California. Exactly what is killing the honeybees is hard to decipher, as
thousands of bees are simply disappearing without a trace. The ones that are found dead in their
hives appear to be harboring evidence of nearly every disease that has afflicted bees for the past century – almost as if the infected bees, like AIDS sufferers, have suffered a total breakdown of their immune systems.
Could it be that the honeybees are eating something that is weakening them enough to allow parasites to
gain entry? Hans Hinrich Kaatz, a professor at the University of Halle in Eastern Germany suspects so.
He directed a study that concluded in which scientists looked at the effects of pollen on bees from a type of genetically modified crop known as “Bt corn”. Although there was no apparent effect immediately in the
experimental bees, there was an odd delayed effect. When those same bees were later infested with
a parasite, “a significantly stronger decline in the number of bees occurred,” according to Kaatz and
Fascinated by this finding, I searched for some corroborating data. Fortunately I was able to quickly find additional information, originally published in the journal Ecological Applications, and cited by
the Organic Consumer’s Association (http://www.organicconsumers.org /articles/article_3665.cfm).
It turns out, that after counting thousands of bees who feasted on organic crops, conventional crops
or GM crops, “there was no pollination deficit in organic fields, a moderate pollination deficit in conventional fields, and the greatest pollination deficit in GM fields.”
The issue is again on the front burner. “The planting of transgenic corn and soybean has increased
exponentially”, according to a recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle. Pick up most any
packaged food in your local supermarket, and it is apt to be laced with GM corn or soybeans,
or their by products, making you and me part of a momentous experiment.
Scientists and consumers worldwide must now ponder the same questions: are genetically
modified crops safe for bees to eat? How about humans and other animals? Aside from their
potential effects on our own health, what can we expect for the health of the ecosystem that
Perhaps we should revisit the visionary wisdom of Albert Einstein. Better still, perhaps we should pay careful attention and learn from the bees.