Our bees are dying off at an alarming rate. Just this past winter, bee losses were reported at 31.1% by the USDA Agricultural Research Service, which is consistent with average bee losses of 30.5% for the past six years. Bees, of course, are essential to our food supply, because they serve as pollinators for our crops. So the big question is – what’s happening to the bees?
Back in the 1970’s it became common practice for commercial beekeepers to feed their bees High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) to replace the honey being taken out of the hives. Since then, new pesticide products have been developed and put into use, and it nows appears the bees immune systems have been compromised. This is not to say HFCS itself is toxic to bees, but researchers suggest by their findings that bees are not being exposed to chemicals necessary for them to fight off the toxins contained in pesticides. From an article on Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by entomologists at the University of Illinois:
“Specifically, they found that when bees are exposed to the enzyme p-coumaric, their immune system appears stronger—it turns on detoxification genes. P-coumaric is found in pollen walls, not nectar, and makes its way into honey inadvertently via sticking to the legs of bees as they visit flowers. Similarly, the team discovered other compounds found in poplar sap that appear to do much the same thing. It all together adds up to a diet that helps bees fight off toxins, the researchers report. Taking away the honey to sell it, and feeding the bees high-fructose corn syrup instead, they claim, compromises their immune systems, making them more vulnerable to the toxins that are meant to kill other bugs.”
Which brings us to another bee-related issue – pesticides. Many pesticides contain neonicotinoid products which are linked to bee harm, and this has lead to a recent ban on their use within the European Union. Unfortunately, they’re still heavily used in the United States, and there’s no indication of the practice stopping here. Companies such as Monsanto are major producers of such products, as well as RoundUp Ready crops that are engineered to withstand such abusive chemicals. These crops, of course, include corn (in fact, nearly 90% of corn grown in the United States in 2011 was genetically modified), which is used to make HFCS, and in turn fed to the bees. Too bad a study in 2012 found that genetically modified corn is nutritionally dead when compared to organic corn.
When looked at all together, it seems all too possible that our use of toxic pesticides to grow our genetically modified corn to create HFCS has turned into a downward spiral for our bee populations.