GM crops, bee deaths, USDA cuts Pesticide survey – oh well, no data no problem.

Bees are dying and the phenomenon is not yet understood. Recently I wrote about the need for research to shed light on the underlying cause of the bee’s demise. What role do pesticides play? What about GM crops? What about genetic modification and virus loads combined? Yes, more research and data collection is needed to attempt to understand the factors.

Bee on a flower.

Photo Credit: Petr Kratochvil, ( May 5, 2008.

Hans-Hinrich Kaatz,is a professor at the University of Halle in eastern Germany and the director of a study that showed that toxins from a genetically modified maize variant designed to repel insects, when combined with a parasite, resulted in a “significantly stronger decline in the number of bees” than normal. “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,” he said. Kaatz was desperate to continue his studies but funding was cut off.

In the report: The Status of Pollinators in North America the lack of research was highlighted in the following passage:

Transgenic crops were developed in part to reduce the unintended effects of pesticides. However, the use of crop plants genetically engineered to express insecticidal proteins in pollen raised questions about direct effects on non-target species, including some pollinators (Losey et al., 1999). For honey bees, the concerns involved the potential lethality of insecticidal transgenic proteins, the sublethal effects of these proteins on insect behavior, physiology, and reproduction and the economic effects of transgenic pollen as a contaminant of honey. Malone and Pham-Delègue (2001) reviewed the small literature on this topic and concluded that, in some cases, there are negative but sublethal effects attributable to consumption of transgenic pollens.

It seems as if there has been no real effort to follow up the introduction of these technologies with studies to ensure their safety in the field. Questions about the direct effects on non-target species need to be explored. With the unexplained deaths of bee populations in countries around the world more research is needed. We ask, what are governments doing?

In fact, last week, the the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) which conducts research on pesticide use and risk associated with various crops, such as corn, soybeans, cotton, and wheat, has announced it will stop the program in 2008, due to budget cuts, and won’t be collecting any more data. Annie Bell Muzaurieta of the Daily Green reported that “data is used by chemical groups, trade groups, public interest groups and government agencies to track pesticide use and safety, and several advocates say it is the only reliable, publicly searchable database of its kind”.

One would think that with the rise in importance of food security in the face of growing world demand for commodities, that all risks to agriculture should be open to scrutiny and further research to avoid potential disasters like the devastating of bee ‘colony collapse disorder’.

Of course, without data there is no transparency and the ability of interested individuals and groups to keep chemical companies accountable for the products they produce is greatly reduced. The real irony is that the introduction of GM seeds were promoted using the line that this seed technology would reduce the need for pesticides. In fact over the last few years there has been an increase in pesticide use on GM crops.

Charles Benbrook, a senior scientist with the Organic Center has been quoted as saying:

“The farm media has been full of stories over the past few years of the problems farmers are facing as weeds become resistant to Glyphosate and other herbicides. I find it curious that at the time of peak interest and need for solid information on pesticide use in soybeans that the Department of Agriculture has decided to stop collecting the data.”

The bees are dying. Pesticides are implicated. Data on pesticide use may shed light on what is happening and burying our heads in the sand is no response to the problem. Scientists and farmers alike need both data and research if they are to avoid risks and improve their farming methods as well as protecting biological diversity. After these species have gone it will be too late. Funding for research is sorely needed now and data collection is imperative. It is hoped that the USDA has a change of heart. After all there is funding to explore Mars, but if we are not careful there will be nothing left of our home, the Earth, or is the writing really on the wall!


Seastars and a feather star on the bottom of McMurdo Sound.

Featherstars on the bottom of McMurdo Sound.

Photograph by: Henry Kaiser, National Science Foundation. Date Taken: January 11, 2005.


~ by abstraktbiblos on Sunday, 1 June, 2008.

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