The world’s food supply could be under serious threat. Antibiotic resistant genes from genetically modified crops are suspected of decimating the North American bee population.
The US is importing millions of dollars worth of Australian bees to pollinate its food crops. US bees are dying from antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, likely to be the result of widespread genetically modified (GM) crops. At the same time, the Australian Federal government is pushing for the adoption of GM crops here, and is reducing support for Australian beekeepers.
The ABC 7-30 report “ Bee keepers appeal for industry help”, aired on 18 April, documented the export of Australian bees to the US. “Australia is presently one of the few places in the world where honey bees are mainly disease free,” it reported.
The effects of gene manipulation on bees could be serious. America needs to import bees because of pests and diseases such as Verroa mite, and American foulbrood (a serious bacterial disease). Wild bees and bumblebees are in decline in the USA, Europe and UK and their decline is linked to modern intensive farming and the widespread use of herbicides and the use of GM crops.
Friends of the Earth in the UK
Reports “Concerns have been expressed by English Nature, the Government’s own wildlife advisor, as well as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Wildlife Trusts that the widespread use of GM herbicide-tolerant crops is likely to threaten wild bee populations.”
There is increasing concern that genes giving resistance to antibiotics can be passed from the Genetically modified plants through bees into bacteria and viruses. It has been found that DNA from pollen can survive for up to seven weeks in honey and could be transferred to humans and other animals.
In a submission by Joe Rowland to the N.Y. Assembly task force on food, farm, and nutrition policy in October 3, 2000, he quoted research from Jena University in Germany.
“Researchers there have shown that a gene used in GM canola is transferred to bacteria in the guts of bees in the first publicly documented case of horizontal gene transfer from GM crops to bacteria within any animal. This discovery may have major implications for the future of GM crops.”
One objection to GM crops is that during genetic manipulations, antibiotic resistant “marker” genes are inserted into the target plant as “markers”. Within the plant, the antibiotic resistant gene has no expression and is harmless. However, if this gene were able to transfer out of the GM plant and re-enter a bacterium, this bacterium would become antibiotic resistant. This might render commonly used antibiotics useless against diseases attacking humans and livestock, including honeybees.
Joe Rowland continues;
“At the beginning of my testimony, I mentioned the fact that bees in the U.S. are increasingly afflicted with a strain of antibiotic resistant American Foulbrood (AFB). Before the advent of antibiotics, this bacterial infection was the most serious bee disease in the world. Tetracycline had been used effectively against AFB for 40 years until 1996. In that year, tetracycline resistance was confirmed in both Argentina and the upper Midwestern states of Wisconsin and Minnesota. Since then, it has spread to at least 17 states, including New York. During the 1990’s, millions of acres of Round-up Ready crops were planted in the U.S. and Argentina. According to my information, the antibiotic resistant gene used in the creation of Round-up Ready crops was resistant to tetracycline. After 40 years of effective usage against an infective bacterium found in the guts of honeybees, suddenly 2 geographically isolated countries develop tetracycline resistance simultaneously. A common thread between the U.S. and Argentina is the widespread and recent cultivation of GM crops containing tetracycline resistant genes. “
In the UK, farmers planting GM crops do not have to consult with neighbouring beekeepers. This means these bees could easily make honey contaminated with GM pollen. Under present UK laws the beekeepers are responsible for testing their honey for GM contamination. This is an expensive process that can cost thousands of dollars.
The official “safe” distances established to protect bee populations appear to be insufficient.
Friends of the Earth again. “Honey bees commonly forage up to 2km from the hive, but oilseed rape fields are such an attractive source of nectar that bees may travel at least five km to get to them.” http://www.foe.co.uk/resource/briefings/bees_honey_gm_crops.html
The friends of the earth (foe) goes on to describe a study where bee hives were placed at various distances from GM oilseed rape crops. GM pollen was found in all hives up to 4.5km away! This study shows that honey and bee pollen can be contaminated with GM pollen up to 4,5km away, which suggests crops up to 9km away could be polluted with GM pollen.
The Pandora’s Box of gene manipulation is well and truly open.
An alarming aspect of the current application of patent law to patents on genes in food crops is that it holds the recipient of rogue genes responsible for theft. In test cases in Canada and Minnesota, courts have routinely found against crop growers whose fields have been contaminated without their knowledge. They have been found guilty of infringing the patents of the corporation which owns the patents on the seeds, even though their crop may have been accidentally polluted with the proprietary genes from miles away.
This is like someone driving past your house and spraying it with their proprietary black paint thus vandalising your house and then suing you for having their patented product on your house without a licence. Not only have they have polluted your house with impunity; you are regarded as having committed a crime, and have to pay damages to them as well as paying to repair your house.
Next time you see a bee, thank it for its selfless service to humanity!
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By Robert Hart Ed. G. Ebono