Are GM Crops Killing Bees?


Richard Moore

From: "Gerry Masuda" <•••@••.•••>
To: "Richard Moore" <•••@••.•••>
Subject: Fw: Are GM crops killing bees?

Richard.  The implications of this loss of bees is rather frightening.  If GM 
food affects bees, what could it do to us?  What happens to our food supply?

This is a good example of the need to practice the precautionary principle.

The GM developers deliberately contaminated all farmland with the cooperation of
the US Department of Agriculture.  Perhaps, if GM is the cause of the die off of
bees and the immediate impacts would put an end to all GM developments and use.


Original source URL:,1518,473166,00.html

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 enormous.

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 professional duty 
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 

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 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.

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 more than $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 

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

All Rights Reserved

Related SPIEGEL ONLINE links:

Fishy Business: Genetically Modified Fluorescent Fish Illegally Smuggled into 
Germany (03/20/2007),1518,472688,00.html

Monkeys Going to Pot: Primate Hunting Reaches Crisis Point in Latin America 

Saving the World's Weirdest Creatures: New Conservation Project for 'One- of- 
a-Kind' Species (01/16/2007),1518,459951,00.html

 From the Archive:The Future of Agriculture: Seeds in the Arctic (09/22/2006),1518,438336,00.html

 From the Archive:The Animal World: Big Brother in the Beehive (02/21/2005),1518,343559,00.html

Escaping the Matrix website   
cyberjournal website              
Community Democracy Framework
Subscribe cyberjournal list             •••@••.•••  (send blank 
Posting archives                      
Moderator                         •••@••.•••  (comments welcome)