(MintPress)-Monsanto, the same company blamed for contributing to the worldwide vanishing bee population, is the new owner of Beeologics, a leading bee health research organization. The leading biotechnology company purchased the large bee research firm last fall amid emerging allegations that the pesticides and genetically modified (GM) corn crops produced by Monsanto could be linked to the mysterious bee disappearances.
Honey bees, which pollinate $15 billion worth of food annually in the U.S., have been disappearing at an alarming rate over the past decade. Entire colonies have been abandoned with no sign of dead bees anywhere near the hive. First reported in the United States in 2006, this mysterious phenomenon, known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), has left beekeepers and scientists perplexed and deeply concerned about the future.
In 2007 in the U.S., at least 24 states reported at least one case of CCD. Cases of CCD have also been reported in Canada, Taiwan, Argentina and across Europe. From 2007-2008, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) reported a 40-50 percent mortality rate among Italian honey bees; however, it is not clear how many of Italy’s hives were affected by CCD or other diseases.
While no one knows the exact cause of CCD, many beekeepers blame an increase in harmful systemic pesticides and genetically modified crops for the sudden losses. Earlier this year, eight European countries blocked proposals that would allow the cultivation of GM crops on the continent, and France imposed a temporary ban on MON810, a genetically modified strain of corn made by Monsanto.
Agriculture Minister Marek Sawicki of Poland announced earlier this month that the country would impose a complete ban on MON810. Sawicki told the press, “The decree is in the works. It introduces a complete ban on the MON810 strain of maize in Poland,” adding that pollen from the genetically modified corn could have a negative impact on bees.
Reliving France’s mad bee disease
This is not the first time beekeepers have witnessed an unnatural decline in the honeybee population. In 1994, French beekeepers reported a sudden, large-scale disappearance of bees similar to the issues being seen today. “Mad bee disease,” as it was commonly called, was believed to have caused the death of 40 percent of the bee colonies in France.
French beekeepers blamed Gaucho, an imidacloprid pesticide seed treatment, for the increased mortality rate of their hives. Unlike older pesticides that are sprayed on top of the crops while bees are not present, newer pesticides, like imidacloprid, are injected into the plant itself. These systemic pesticides can be particularly harmful because the pesticide becomes a part of the plant’s roots, leaves, stems, pollen and nectar.
French and Italian studies have shown that imidacloprid pesticides can disorient bees so that they do not return home to their colonies. Mass demonstrations led to a ban on the pesticide in France. Bayer, the company that produces the pesticide, maintains that bees are never exposed to lethal levels of the pesticide and that mad bee disease is caused by other factors.
Despite the ban on Gaucho, bees continue to vanish in France. Beekeepers claim that as one pesticide left the country, it was replaced by a different pesticide manufactured by Syngenta, which has been shown through independent studies to also affect bees’ flight behavior.
According to the Guardian, a spokesperson for Syngenta said, “Although we take good research very seriously, over the last four years, independent authorities in France have closely monitored the use of Cruiser – the product containing thiamethoxam – on more than 1.9 hectares. When properly used no cases of bee mortality have been recorded.”
Beekeepers argue, however, that companies like Bayer, Syngenta and Monsanto only conduct brief studies that test for lethal levels of pesticides and do not look at the effects of recurring sub-lethal levels of pesticides on honey bees over a continuous period of time.
Examining the corn connection
Due to the timing between exposure to the pesticides and the collapse of the colony, beekeepers in the U.S. have had difficulty proving the connection between the two. A study released earlier this month by the Harvard School of Public Health added evidence to the hypothesis by recreating CCD in several honeybee hives by giving the bees small doses of imidacloprid.
“The evidence is clear that imidacloprid is likely the culprit for Colony Collapse Disorder via a very unique mechanism that has not been reported until our study,” said lead author Chensheng (Alex) Lu to mongabay.com.
The study suggests that bees fed with high-fructose corn syrup are affected by CCD after pollinating corn sprayed with imidacloprid. The first case of CCD was reported in 2006, just one year after U.S. corn began being sprayed with the pesticide.
Many commercial beekeepers feed their bees with nectar substitutes in exchange for the remaining honey or while transporting them in trucks across country. Feeding bees high fructose corn syrup can also be cheaper than other sugars because of the strong corn lobby and government corn subsidies in the United States.
Monsanto’s perfect timing
Monsanto’s decision to buy Beeologics came at a convenient time for the company, especially since the research firm is pending approval on a new vaccine for harmful disorders such as CCD that are affecting the bee population. Beeologics previously formulated a vaccine called Remebee to address the Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus (IAPV) that is widely prevalent among bees affected by CCD. The new product, RemebeePro is in the testing stages.
“The expertise Beeologics has developed will enable Monsanto to further explore the use of biologicals broadly in agriculture,” the company said in a press release. “Both companies expect that their combined research could provide farmers with novel approaches to the challenges they face.”
It is likely that the price beekeepers pay for these vaccines will increase as a result of this new partnership. Beekeepers and other activists are also very concerned about the impact this partnership will have on the validity and objectivity of future CCD research given Monsanto’s interests in the corn and pesticide industries.
As reported by Natural Society, “It appears that when Monsanto cannot answer for their environmental devastation, they buy up a company that may potentially be their ‘experts’ in denying any such link between their crops and the bee decline.”