Genetically engineered bee killer ? March 30, 2007Posted by Andreas in bees, Environment, genetic engineering, News, Sustainable Living.
I came across this really worrying article in Spiegel Online (the virtual version of the reputable German lefty print magazine Der Spiegel) that I though was scary enough to warrant quoting at some length.
For unknown reasons, bee populations throughout Germany are disappearing […] [I]n the United States, […] bees are dying in such dramatic numbers that the economic consequences could soon be dire. No one knows what is causing the bees to perish, but some experts believe that the large-scale use of genetically modified plants in the US could be a factor.
Manfred Hederer, the president of the German Beekeepers Association, […] reported a 25 percent drop in bee populations throughout Germany. In isolated cases, says Hederer, declines of up to 80 percent have been reported. He speculates that “a particular toxin, some agent with which we are not familiar,” is killing the bees.
Since last November, the US has seen a decline in bee populations so dramatic that it eclipses all previous incidences of mass mortality. Beekeepers on the east coast of the United States complain that they have lost more than 70 percent of their stock since late last year, while the west coast has seen a decline of up to 60 percent.
Millions of bees have simply vanished. In most cases, all that’s left in the hives are the doomed offspring. But dead bees are nowhere to be found — neither in nor anywhere close to the hives.
In many cases, scientists have found evidence of almost all known bee viruses in the few surviving bees found in the hives after most have disappeared. Some had five or six infections at the same time and were infested with fungi — a sign, experts say, that the insects’ immune system may have collapsed.
The scientists are also surprised that bees and other insects usually leave the abandoned hives untouched. Nearby bee populations or parasites would normally raid the honey and pollen stores of colonies that have died for other reasons, such as excessive winter cold. “This suggests that there is something toxic in the colony itself which is repelling them”.
A massive dying off of bee colonies is obviously a real disaster, but what had me most worried was the possible connection with genetically engineered crops, especially BT corn, which is, of course, grown here in South Africa.
[…] [R]esearchers [at the University of Jena] examined the effects of pollen from a genetically modified maize variant called “Bt corn” on bees. […] The study concluded that there was no evidence of a “toxic effect of Bt corn on healthy honeybee populations.” But when, by sheer chance, the bees used in the experiments were infested with a parasite, something eerie happened. According to the Jena study, a “significantly stronger decline in the number of bees” occurred among the insects that had been fed a highly concentrated Bt poison feed.
According to Hans-Hinrich Kaatz, a professor at the University of Halle in eastern Germany and the director of the study, the bacterial toxin in the genetically modified corn may have “altered the surface of the bee’s intestines, sufficiently weakening the bees to allow the parasites to gain entry — or perhaps it was the other way around. We don’t know.”
I know one small study proves nothing and this sort of thing should not be used to whip people up into an irrational frenzy. This is, however, exactly the kind of scenario many anti-GE people warn us about.
What are the consequences of introducing artificially manufactured life forms (which we understand only to a limited degree) into an exceedingly intricate, but increasingly threatened and fragile natural environment (which we understand very poorly in its overall complexity)?
For all our sakes, let’s hope that the dying of the bees has nothing to do with genetically engineered crops, because if it does, this may only be the first sign of a much larger disaster.