In recognition of the crucial role that honey bees play in pollinating agricultural crops, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack officially declared in August, 2009 that August 22 would become National Honey Bee Awareness Day. National Honey Bee Awareness Day was started by beekeepers in the United States to build community awareness of the bee industry. Bee pollination is responsible for $15 billion in added crop value and is an essential component of the production of more than 90 food crops – particularly specialty crops such as almonds and other nuts, fruits and vegetables.
Unfortunately, in recent years honey bees have been under serious pressure from a mystery problem called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Many factors, including Varroa mites, a changing climate and overwintering practices, have been identified as potential causes for CCD.
There have also been accusations that genetically modified organism (GMOs) and pesticides have contributed to the declining honeybee populations. Here, GMO Answers has their independent experts explore and debunk some of these claims:
Ph.D. Student at Arizona State University Matt Hilton, explains that while it is certainly possible to genetically modify a plant to harm either humans or animals that consume it, there are currently no genetically modified plants that do:
“All crops meant for consumption have been tested and have been shown to be safe. When genetically modifying a plant, the researcher knows exactly what gene is being inserted into the plant. These inserted genes are meant to increase the crops’ durability or add health benefits to the crop.
Chris Sansone, Global Regulatory Affairs Manager – Insect Resistance Management (Americas), Bayer CropScience states that using more current and reliable data shows that honeybee numbers have actually stabilized in the United States and are increasing in Canada and Europe:
- USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service: http://usda.mannlib.cornell.edu/MannUsda/viewDocumentInfo.do?documentID=1191
- Government of Canada: http://www5.statcan.gc.ca/cansim/a26?lang=eng&retrLang=eng&id=0010007&paSer=&pattern=&stByVal=1&p1=1&p2=31&tabMode=dataTable&csid=
- Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations:
In another post, Sansone writes that without modern crop protection practices, nearly 50 percent of the harvest would be lost to insects, diseases, weeds and fungus (Oerke, 2006)”
“The end result would be that more land would be required to feed a growing population. Producers use different strategies to provide an adequate food supply, including the use of pesticides when necessary. Producers are also very conscious of the environment and take steps to reduce the impact of their farming practices. For example, modern seed treatments actually reduce the amount of insecticide in the environment.
“Spraying a field with an insecticide applied to the leaves will cover 100 percent of a field, but less than 1 percent of a field is treated using seed treatments. The agricultural industry conducts in-depth research into the characteristics of crop protection products from an early stage to ensure they have minimal effects on the environment and beneficial species, like the honey bee. Very stringent regulatory safeguards are in place to ensure that no products or genetically modified crops posing an unacceptable risk to plant or animal life are allowed on the market.
“For an excellent discussion of pesticides and honey bees, see this summary.”
While a number of factors play a role in bee numbers, beekeepers have done a remarkable job stabilizing the numbers and even growing populations. People outside of beekeeping can also be part of the solution, by providing food resources for bees.
See feedabee.com for more information on honeybees and methods to help.
Do you have more questions about the role of GMOs, pesticides, and honeybees? Visit GMO Answers and we will be glad to answer them for you!