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[SANET-MG] more on honey bee decline
The article below deals with the honey bee decline in Germany. Prof.
Kaatz made an interesting observation showing that BT corn pollen
increases decline related to parasites. The US NRC report seems to
suffer from severe tunnel vision and hardly mentions the impact of
pesticides and GM crops. The article below makes it clear that those
studying pesticides and GM crops are starved for research funds. If the
bee decline problem is to be solved the NRC bee committee needs to be
shut down and replaced with a panel able to see the whole picture and to
promote research funding in the area of the impact of pesticides and gm
crops on the immune system of the honey bee.
SPIEGEL ONLINE - March 22, 2007, 06:21 PM
Are GM Crops Killing Bees?
By Gunther Latsch
A mysterious decimation of bee populations has German beekeepers
worried, while a similar
phenomenon in the United States is gradually assuming catastrophic
proportions. The consequences for agriculture and the economy could be
Walter Haefeker is a man who is used to painting grim scenarios. He sits
on the board of directors of the German Beekeepers Association (DBIB)
and is vice president of the European Professional Beekeepers
Association. And because griping is part of a lobbyist's trade, it is
practically his professionalduty to warn that "the very existence of
beekeeping is at stake."The problem, says Haefeker, has a number of
causes, one being the varroa mite, introduced from Asia, and another is
the widespread practice in agriculture of spraying wildflowers with
herbicides and practicing monoculture.Another possible cause, according
to Haefeker, is the controversial and growing use of genetic engineering
in agriculture.As far back as 2005, Haefeker ended an article he
contributed to the journal Der Kritischer Agrarbericht (Critical
Agricultural Report) with an Albert Einstein
quote: "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."
Mysterious events in recent months have suddenly made Einstein's
apocalyptic vision seem all the more topical. For unknown reasons, bee
populations throughout Germany are disappearing -- something that is so
far only harming beekeepers. But the situation is different in the
United States, where 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. Felix Kriechbaum, an official with a regional beekeepers'
association in Bavaria,recently reported a decline of almost 12 percent
in local bee populations. When "bee
populations disappear without a trace," says Kriechbaum, it is difficult
to investigate the causes, because "most bees don't die in the beehive."
There are many diseases
that can cause bees to lose their sense of orientation so they can no
longer find their way back to their hives.
Manfred Hederer, the president of the German Beekeepers Association,
almost simultaneously reported a 25 percent drop in bee populations
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.
Politicians, until now, have shown little concern for such warnings or
the woes of beekeepers. Although apiarists have been given a chance to
make their case -- for example in the run-up to the German cabinet's
approval of a genetic engineering policy document by Minister of
Agriculture Horst Seehofer in February --their complaints are still
largely ignored.Even when beekeepers actually go to court, as they
recently did in a joint effort with the German chapter of
the organic farming organization Demeter International and other groups
to oppose the use of genetically modified corn plants, they can only
dream of the sort of media attention environmental organizations like
Greenpeace attract with their protests at test sites.But that could soon
change. 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.
In an article in its business section in late February, the New York
Times calculated the damage US agriculture
would suffer if bees died out. Experts at Cornell University in upstate
New York have estimated the value bees generate -- by pollinating fruit
and vegetable plants, almond trees and animal feed like clover -- at
$14 billion. Scientists call the mysterious phenomenon "Colony Collapse
Disorder" (CCD), and it is fast turning into a
national catastrophe of sorts. A number of universities and government
agencies have formed a "CCD Working
Group" to search for the causes of the calamity, but have so far come up
empty-handed. But, like Dennis vanEngelsdorp, an apiarist with the
Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, they are already referring to
the problem as a potential "AIDS for the bee industry."
One thing is certain: 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. Diana Cox-Foster, a member of the CCD Working Group, told The
Independent that researchers were "extremely
alarmed," adding that the crisis "has the potential to devastate the US
beekeeping industry."It is particularly worrisome, she said, that the
bees' death is accompanied by a set of symptoms "which does
not seem to match anything in the literature."
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," says Cox-Foster.
Walter Haefeker, the German beekeeping official, speculates that
"besides a number of other factors," the fact that genetically modified,
insect-resistant plants are now used in 40 percent of cornfields in the
United States could be playing a role. The figure is much lower in
Germany -- only 0.06 percent -- and most of that occurs in the eastern
states of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Brandenburg. Haefeker
recently sent a researcher
at the CCD Working Group some data from a bee study that he has long
felt shows a possible connection between genetic engineering and
diseases in bees.The study in question is a small research project
conducted at the University of Jena from 2001 to 2004. The researchers
examined the effects of pollen from a genetically modified maize variant
called "Bt corn" on bees. A gene from a soil bacterium had been inserted
into the corn that enabled the plant to produce an agent that is toxic
to insect pests. 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." Of
course, the concentration of the toxin was ten times higher in the
experiments than in normal Bt corn
pollen. In addition, the bee feed was administered over a relatively
lengthy six-week period.Kaatz would have preferred to continue studying
the phenomenon but lacked the necessary funding. "Those
who have the money are not interested in this sort of research," says
the professor, "and those who are
interested don't have the money."
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
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