To bee or not to bee

Jon DeVos
Staff Photo |

Fast food?

We’re way past fast food and well into faster foods. For instance, you can get KFC now without bones to slow you down as you slam lunch. If that sounds to you like they’re raising rubber chickens in big test tube factories, you’re probably right.

Just to stay up with the population growth will take faster food yet. There are more than 300 million people in the U.S. and more than 7 billion worldwide. By 2300, sociologists are counting on rapidly falling birth rates to stabilize the world population at 9.2 billion. If declining birth rates are not achieved, they warn that the population could grow possibly as high as 37 billion people.

Whichever figure, or wherever in between the population winds up, it will be a daunting task to produce the food to feed them. How to go about it? Agribusiness says Genetically Modified Organisms are the answer, producing crops impervious to disease and carrying a healthy dose of insecticide in every leaf and flower and grain of pollen.

Syrgenta has figured out their part in it: first we torture corn into High Fructose Corn Syrup, then we decimate the bees, eliminating honey as a competitor, and finally we dominate the world sweetener market.

The fact that the PR folks at Syrgenta and Bayer wouldn’t say it that way, doesn’t alter the fact that that’s what they’re doing. Back in 1988, these same folks who brought us HFCS, developed a powerful new group of pesticides called neonicotinoids. They are derived from nicotine and are the result of early GMO experiments with the tobacco plant. Immensely effective, neonicotinoids were the first new class of insecticides to be developed in the last 50 years and since 2005 have been the most widely used insecticide in the world.

Neonics, as farmers call them, are systemic pesticides embedded in seeds so the plant carries the chemical that kills insects that feed on it. Older pesticides degraded quickly, mostly in a matter of days, but neonics can persist for many months. The booming use of neonics directly coincides with the die-off of a third of the nation’s bees in a phenomenon call Colony Collapse Disorder.

A recent study by the Harvard School of Public Health hypothesized that neonics are the cause of CCD with bees exposed in two ways, nectar from plants but also through our old friend, High Fructose Corn Syrup, that beekeepers use to feed their bees. After 24 weeks of neonic-laced food, the Harvard study found that 94 percent of the hives had died. They suspect that bees carry a summer’s worth of contaminated pollen to hives, where ensuing generations dine on a steady dose of pesticide that ultimately kills them.

In January 2013, the European Food Safety Authority declared that neonics pose unacceptably high risks to bees. They also found that the industry-sponsored science was flawed and understated safety considerations.

In March 2013, the American Bird Conservancy published reviews of 200 studies on neonics including industry research obtained through the US Freedom of Information Act. The Conservancy called for a ban on neonics as seed treatments because of the long-lasting toxicity to birds, fish, and wildlife. Also this March, the US EPA was sued by a wide coalition that accused the agency of inadequately evaluating neonics and allowing the pesticides’ use based upon biased and insufficient industry studies.

Despite fierce lobbying by the chemicals industry and opposition by countries including Britain, earlier this week, 15 of the 27 member states of the European Union voted for a two-year restriction on neonic insecticides. That gave the European Commission the support it needed to push through an EU-wide ban on using three neonics on crops attractive to bees.

The insecticide DDT was a potent weapon against mosquito-borne diseases, yet it devastated the environment and nearly caused an extinction of the bald eagle, our national bird, before it was banned outright in 1972.

Too bad the bee isn’t our National Insect.

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