Bees don’t just make honey, they are critical to sustaining life on planet earth. These tireless workers pollinate over 80 percent of our flowering crops which constitute about one third of everything we eat. Bees are critical to the annual production of some $19 billion dollars worth of crops in the United States. But a still undiagnosed lethal phenomenon affecting bees called “Colony Collapse Disorder”, or CCD, is causing widespread alarm throughout the agricultural community.
Many people concerned with food quality and food safety are blaming the bee death problem on the overuse of chemical treatments and/or the widespread introduction of genetically modified organisms. They point out that Monsanto’s MON810 corn technology combines the genes of a corn plant with the genetic material of an insect killing bacterium that may prove harmful to non-targeted species.
Although wind is the primary pollination mechanism for corn, the wind does carry corn pollen and deposit it on many of the flowering plants bees do pollinate. Our food safety and regulatory agencies consider it imperative that any new genetically modified (GM) product that contains insect killing properties be assessed for potential impacts on bee health.
Many people are leery of GM technology and simply do not want to eat genetically modified organisms – especially vegetables and fruits that incorporate genetic material from non-plant species. There is a growing popular uprising calling, not just for additional consumer product labeling (which constitutes informed consent), but the wholesale banning of GM crops.
In 2012, a panel of technology and food safety experts appointed by the Supreme Court of India unanimously recommended that all GM field trials in India should be stopped until certain considerations were met. Concerns about safety, the monopolization of the food supply, and cross-contamination of traditional non-GM crops are increasing. For instance, Peru has adopted an outright ban on all GM products primarily because of the threat they pose to locally produced unique crop varieties. Unfortunately, countries that are resistant to having genetically modified organisms in their food supply, such as France, Poland, Austria, New Zealand, Scotland, Japan, India and Peru, are finding out that the GM genie may be impossible to contain:
“While the ban will curb the planting and importation of GMOs in the country, a test conducted by the Peruvian Association of Consumers and Users (ASPEC) at the time of the ban’s implementation found that 77 percent of supermarket products tested contained GM contaminants. ” Research by ASPEC confirms something that Peruvians knew all along: GM foods are on the shelves of our markets and wineries, and consumers buy them and take them into their homes to eat without knowing it.. GMOs are so prevalent in the Americas that it is virtually impossible to truly and completely block them, whether through pollination or being sneaked in as processed foods.”
Bee colony collapse disorder is likely caused by a combination of factors, however there is a growing body of evidence that certain pesticides or herbicides may play a significant role. Monsanto creates many varieties of Round-Up ready seed, which has led to huge increases in the use of that particular herbicide. Their MON810 corn, is a patented product which has been heavily marketed throughout the world for more than 16 years. It contains genetic material from Bacillus thuringiensis, a bacterium that produces a chemical that when ingested ruptures the stomach lining of certain types of insects.
Companies that produce GM seed technologies are under a legal and ethical obligation to prove that their products are safe. There are numerous studies showing that Monsanto’s Bt corn is safe for human consumption and has no effect on bees. But can these studies be trusted? The fact is, consumer safety often takes a back seat to economic or political expediency.
While Monsanto may have met its legal obligations by submitting MON810 for testing by regulatory agencies and numerous “third parties”, tacit approval of any product with such potentially serious impacts on cultures and the environment should be highly scrutinized and re-examined in light of new research as it becomes available. There simply is no justifiable reason to push unnecessary and potentially dangerous products through an approval process especially when that process may not be sufficient for the task.
We should also consider the role of duplicity and corruption in the process. Many high ranking employees staffing U.S. government regulatory agencies swap jobs and end up with lucrative careers in the very corporations they were charged with regulating. These corporations have huge lobbying budgets, and often provide grants to some of the same “third party” universities and research facilities that end up testing their products.
Here’s how Monsanto describes their GM corn:
“MON810 is an insect-protection corn product developed through the use of biotechnology that was launched in 1996. The product works by enabling corn plants to produce a protein that comes from a naturally-occurring bacteria called Bacillus thuringiensis, commonly known as Bt. This protein provides protection against damaging corn borer pests that can significantly impact both yield and quality.”
Notice how Monsanto describes the Bt bacteria as “naturally-occurring”, even though the incorporation of Bt genetic material into the maize genome is anything but natural! Such cross species transgenics would never occur in nature, not even in a million years. MON810 is a wholly new creation, a patented new life form created in a laboratory. Its release into the environment should have been handled with much greater concern than this typical rubber stamp from the European Food Safety Authority:
“No potential public health and safety concerns have been identified in the assessment of insect protected corn line MON 810. Based on the data submitted in the present application, food derived from this corn line can be regarded as equivalent to food derived from conventional corn in respect of its composition, safety and end use.”
(Note the qualifier, “based on the data submitted…” Whose data? What data?)
Yet another study concludes:
“The MON 810 plants have demonstrated effective control of the targeted insect pests in corn field trials since 1993. The cry 1ab gene has been crossed into commercial corn inbreds to produce hybrids of superior agronomic performance with resistance to lepidopteran insects. Detailed food, feed, and environmental safety assessments have confirmed the safety of this product and supported the regulatory approval of insect-protected corn line MON 810.”
Click on the link below to read this 2008 Meta-Analysis of 25 safety assessments regarding the effects of MON810 on bees:
While the synopsis supports the conclusions of previous studies, it concludes with an admission that the research conducted “in the vast majority of studies to date have been largely limited to the laboratory.” The authors point out the need for additional large scale field studies since conditions in the field are considerably different and include many factors and “stressors” on bee populations that cannot be duplicated in the laboratory. However that admission brings to light the problem already mentioned above, which is that for obvious safety reasons, open field studies of GM products have been banned in many countries. For example, the only country that allows open field studies of GM products in Central America is Honduras.
It is ironic that these researchers point out the need to conduct additional field studies on MON810 twelve years after it was released into the global marketplace. This is really an astonishing and noteworthy admission considering that two of the meta-study authors, Jian Duan and Joseph Huesing, are Monsanto employees.
Researchers have noted that there is a sub-species of Bt that is deadly to bees. What happens if we discover that the Bt genetic material in Monsanto’s corn or in their Bt cotton, both of which have now been spread over millions of acres around the world, cause mutations that become toxic to bees? What happens when researchers discover a previously “unknown route of transmission” for a chemical treatment that was previously deemed safe for bees? What if the “safe” Bt species combines with (fill in the blank) in the field and actually does kill bees or creates some other serious environmental problem? Will Monsanto simply say, “Oops! Sorry we destroyed the food web causing billions of people to starve”?
In some respects, the introduction of GM products is very similar to the introduction of wolves into central Idaho and Yellowstone National Park. People are slowly waking up to the far reaching impacts of these deceitfully marketed introductions. In both instances the genie has already been let out of the bottle (or the animal transport cage, as the case may be), with potentially irreparable and devastating consequences.
I contend that the public has been hoodwinked into believing “science” has proven something when it has not. There is no general scientific consensus on the safety of GMO’s. In fact just the opposite is true. Here are just some of the conclusions detailed in a report compiled by Michael Antoniou, PhD, molecular genetics and head of the Gene Expression and Therapy Group, King’s College London School of Medicine, London UK:
“Genetically modifying crops, which involves the transfer of genes between biologically unrelated species, is not an extension of traditional plant hybridization, but a radical departure which can produce new toxins or allergens in food that are unlikely to be spotted in current regulatory checks.”
“GM foods have not been adequately safety tested. There has been no long term research, and the few short term studies have been inadequate. In many cases proprietary restrictions put in place by biotech companies like Monsanto have prevented independent research by scientists not connected to the corporations which are making claims about their safety.”
“Animal studies of the effects of GM foods have disclosed clear signs of toxicity– notably disturbances in liver and kidney function and immune responses.”
“Over 75% of gene modifications are [designed] to increase crop tolerance of herbicides. Where these crops are grown there has been massive increases in herbicide use.”
“Over half of GM crops are engineered to withstand application of Monsanto’s best selling Roundup. Contrary to the company’s claims Roundup is not safe at the levels it is being use, but has been found to be associated with miscarriage, birth defects, neurological development problems, DNA damage, and certain types of cancer. A public health crisis has occurred in GM soy-producing regions of South America, where people exposed to spraying with Roundup and other agrochemicals report escalating rates of birth defects and cancer.”
“There is insufficient evidence that the BT toxin engineered into the plant structure of corn and cotton (whose seeds are used in food oil production) is safe for human consumption. Bt crops have been found to have toxic effects on laboratory animals in feeding trials. These toxins have also been found circulating in the blood of pregnant women in Canada and in the blood supply to their foetuses.”
“GM crops have not been shown to offer higher crop yields, enhanced nutritional value or greater drought tolerance, as they have been hyped to do. The products of conventional breeding continue to outstrip GM in all of these arenas.”
“Conventionally bred, locally adapted crops, used in combination with environmentally sustainable farming practices, offer a safer, cheaper and more efficient way to ensure global food security than genetic modification.”
To conclude part one, we simply do not know if Monsanto is responsible for the phenomena known as “Bee Colony Collapse Disorder” or not. But it may be prudent to ban GM crops for at least a decade or more, or until science has proven or dis-proven their safety. To pretend all is just fine now, when it may not be, could prove fatal.