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[SANET-MG] Sierra Club on bee decline
The letter below makes a case that was more or less ignored in the US
NRC 2006 report on honey bee decline. The problem is not only honey bee
death but the tunnel vision of a US government-academic cabal who wish
to ignore agricultural pesticides and most strikingly GM crops. Like the
problem of global warming US science funding is tied more to political
ideology than to full and truthful enquiry.l
GE and bee Colony Collapse Disorder -- science needed!
Dear Senator Thomas Harkin,
We share similar concerns. The viability of a robust food supply is
paramount to the American people.
One out of every three bites of food that we consume is due to the work
of honeybees, serving as crucial pollinators in agriculture and farming
communities. Yet agriculture and food production may be severely
impacted by Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), a trend documented in honey
bee colonies and prominently featured in a New York Times story (1).
Beekeepers are reporting estimates as high as 80% loss of their honey
bee colonies. Such a huge loss of the services of bees is extremely
serious and beekeepers report it's a growing trend.
The cause of CCD is unknown. Although factors being considered include
pesticides, mites, microbial disease and habitat decline, there's a
possible link that's not being investigated. Highly respected scientists
believe that exposure to genetically engineered crops and their
plant-produced pesticides merit serious consideration as either the
cause or a contributory factor to the development and spread of
CCD.(2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10) In searching for the cause of massive honey bee
losses nationwide, we must leave no stone unturned to find the answer.
This past decade we are seeing releases into the environment that we
have never before seen on this planet. Genetic engineering involves the
artificial transfer of genes from one organism into another, bypassing
the protective barrier between species. Scientists admit that
"unintended consequences" may occur due to the lack of precision and
specificity in the DNA sites on different plant chromosomes where the
inserted genes randomly end up. According to the prominent biologist Dr.
Barry Commoner and pioneer in ecology, "Genetically engineered crops
represent a huge uncontrolled experiment whose outcome is inherently
unpredictable. The results could be catastrophic."(11) Dr. David
Schubert has expressed similar concerns in pointing out some of the
significant holes existing in current genetic engineering technology
that raise serious questions about how well we understand it and how to
apply such a new emerging science.(12) An issue Dr. Schubert raises is
the "unpredictability" in the artificial gene splicing technology that
is routinely performed in genetic engineering because it may lead to
unpredictable consequences. Are the honey bees trying to tell us about
the "unintended consequences" from large-scale genetic engineering in
Investigators have raised the possibility that honey bees are
experiencing a sublethal effect such as a "suppressed immune system"
from an unknown toxin. However, sublethal effects have not been fully
investigated. Dennis van Engelsdorp, a bee specialist with the state of
Pennsylvania who is part of the team studying the bee colony collapses,
said the "strong immune suppression" investigators have observed "could
be the AIDS of the bee industry," making bees more susceptible to other
diseases that eventually kill them off. (1) Nonetheless, a concern is
that genetically engineered crops are being ignored as a possible
culprit, especially with tens of millions of acres now being planted
each year of cultivars producing large concentrations of pesticides that
did not exist on such a scale just a decade ago.
Currently regulators fail to require adequate analysis of transgene
insertion sites. This omission results from the failure to appreciate
the magnitude of genetic damage sustained by transgenic plants.(11,12)
Regulators have also failed to adequately assess the potential for
lethal and sublethal impacts of engineered crop pesticides on
pollinators like honey bees and wild bees, including the larvae brood
and young bees. Studies are needed to evaluate the impact of GE crops on
sublethal effects such as learning and feeding behavior. In addition,
honey bee colonies are being fed GE corn syrups and parts of recycled
hives containing additional GE food residues. The effect of these
feeding practices on bees needs study.
Considering that loss of honeybee pollinators can leave a huge void in
the kitchens of the American people and an estimated loss of 14 billion
dollars to farmers, it would be prudent to use caution. If genetically
engineered crops are killing honeybees, a moratorium on their planting
should be considered.
Senator Harkin, as Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, you are
in a key position to initiate investigations to determine if exposure to
genetically engineered crops is the missing link. Emergency funding for
research on the pollinator decline needs to be available to researchers
and the USDA.
Laurel Hopwood, Chair
Sierra Club Genetic Engineering Committee
1. Alexei Barrioneuva, "Honeybees, Gone With the Wind, Leave Crops and
Keepers in Peril," The New York Times, February 27, 2007:
2. Malone,L and Pham-Delègue,M. "Effects of transgene products on honey
bees (Apis mellifera) and bumblebees (Bombus sp.)" Apidologie
3. Obrycki,J, Losey, J, Taylor,O, Jesee,L. "Transgenic insecticidal
corn: Beyond insecticidal toxicity to ecological complexity." Bioscience
May 2001/Vol 51 No. 5
4. Pham-Delègue, M.H., et. al. 2002. "Direct and Indirect Effects of
Genetically Modified Plants on the Honey Bee," Honey Bees: Estimating
the Environmental Impact of Chemicals, pp. 312-326.
5. Picard-Nioi, A.L,.et al. Pham-Delegue, M.H. "Impact of proteins used
in plant genetic engineering: Toxicity and behavioral study in the
honeybee." J. Econ. Entomol.997,90,1710-1716.
6. Ricarda A. Steinbrecher, "Risks associated with ingestion of Chardon
LL maize, The reversal of N-acetyl-L- glufosinate to the active
herbicide L-glufosinate in the gut of animals," Chardon LL Hearing, May
7. Mohr KI and Tebbe CC. "Field study results on the probability and
risk of a horizontal gene transfer from transgenic herbicide-resistant
oilseed rape pollen to gut bacteria of bees." Appl Microbiol Biotechnol.
2007 in press,DOI 10.1007/s00253, 007-0846-7.
8. Ramirez-Romero,R,Chaufaux,J and Pham-Delègue,M. "Effects of Cry1Ab
protoxin, deltamethrin and imidacloprid on the foraging activity and the
learning performances of the honeybee Apis mellifera, a comparative
approach" Apidologie 36 (2005) 601-11.
9. Hilbeck,A and Schmid,J. "Another view of Bt proteins-How specific are
they and what else might they do" Biopestic. Int. 2006,2,1-50.
10. Morandin,L and Winston,M. "Wild bee abundance and seed production in
conventional, organic and genetically modified canola" Ecological
11. Commoner, B. "Unraveling the DNA Myth: The spurious foundation of
genetic engineering." Harper's Magazine, February 2002, 39-47.
12. Schubert, D. "Regulatory regimes for transgenic crops." Nature
Biotechnology 23,785 - 787 (2005).
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