The Bastards and the Bees
I am not Catholic. I am pissed off. I am giving up Monsanto for Lent.
This is Day 10.
“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.” ~ Albert Einstein
I don’t know about Einstein’s 4-year estimate, but he wasn’t far off the mark. Bees are necessary for the pollination of 30-60% of the human food supply (depending on source). At least 85 different commerical crops, including peppers, tomatoes, and strawberries, rely upon bees to ensure the next generation of produce.
And yet, the world’s bee population is experiencing dramatic decline. At first, only honeybees seemed to succumb to the mysterious “Colony Collapse Disorder” (CCD), but by 2009, it became apparent that bumblebees are affected as well.
CCD is characterized by massive die-offs of bees while away from their hives, apparently because the bees’ central nervous systems are affected such that they lose their ability to navigate. In short, the workers leave their hives and don’t come back. New workers are sent out. They also vanish. The hive is ultimately abandoned and, contrary to what we usually see in nature, the hive site remains devoid of other insect life. The bodies of bees found to have died as the result of CCD are commonly infected with multiple fungi, bacteria, and viruses.
CCD has been observed in much of the U.S. and Europe, accounting for a 50-90% decline in bee populations in certain areas. At first, it seemed that a fungus, bacteria, or virus might be responsible, but additional study has revealed an even more worrisome theory: Monsanto is behind the death of our bees.
There seem to be two ways in which Monsanto and its Big-Ag buddies are impacting the bee population. Both are related to pest control in major crops — one via insecticide, the other via genetic modification.
Root worm is the bane of corn farmers, which naturally made it a target for pesticide producers. Enter clothianidin, an insect neurotixin produced by Bayer and applied to seed using an adhesive manufactured by Monsanto. This toxin, which was supposed to be buried with the seed and therefore harmless to beneficial bugs, actually is absorbed into the roots and is incorporated into all the plants’ cells. It contaminates not only the bees that touch it directly, but also bees that pollinate other plants on which the affected bees subsequently alight.
When clothianidin was applied to the German corn crop in 2008, 330 million bees died. The chemical is not banned in the U.S., and is regularly applied to corn, sugarbeet, and sorghum. In fact, “seed treatments,” among which clothianidin is common, come standard with all corn seed; untreated seed must be obtained by special order.
Soy seed, too, is commonly treated with clothianidin or its ugly cousin, imidacloprid. Imidacloprid is another Bayer neonicotinoid. Banned in France and Germany for the sake of the bees, it is widely used in the U.S.
What are the symptoms of bees poisoned with small doses of neonicotinoids? Not immediate death, but confusion and inability to navigate.
It gets worse. Not only has Big Ag seen fit to contaminate seeds, soil, and potentially surface and groundwater with known neurotoxins, but Monsanto took it upon itself to turn plants into insecticides. In 2002, the company received approval (based on Monsanto’s on “research”) to market Bacill Thuringiensis (Bt) corn. Bt is a bacterial toxin which, when genetically inserted into Monsanto’s Bt corn, turns the plant matter into poison.
Bt’s toxic proteins pierce the gut membranes of insects that ingest the GM plants or crops treated externally with Bt, which is sold to home gardeners as Dipel and does not preclude labeling as organic. It affects not only the targeted corn borer caterpillars, but beneficial organisms like monarch caterpillars, New England silk moths, and bees as well.
Monsanto’s studies deemed Bt corn — as well as Bt potatoes, cotton, and soybeans — safe for bees because it doesn’t kill them directly. Never mind the sub-lethal effects, characterized by compromised immune system response leading to death due to fungi, bacteria, and viruses that the bees could ordinarily combat.
Am I the only one wondering how the myraid food products made with Bt corn might affect the human immune system?
And get this: Due to years of cross-contamination, it is unlikely that Bt corn can ever be eliminated from our environment. Too bad the same isn’t true of Monsanto executives and the agencies who supposedly regulate them.
Read all posts in the Monsanto Project Series.