Are GMOs to Blame for Decline in Florida Honeybees?

A lot of people have an intense fear of bees. Whether you were stung as a child or just traumatized from young Macaulay Culkin's death in My Girl, the buzzing little insect has picked up a bad rep.

And yet, the prolific pollinators are integral to our food supply. Without bees, most of the plants we eat would have no way to reproduce.

And unfortunately, their populations have suffered a massive decline, which many believe can be linked to the use of GMO crops and neonicotinoid pesticides that are applied to their seeds.

Clean Plate Charlie spoke to Dr. Leo Gosser, Ph.D., who is president of the Broward Beekeepers Association, to find out more.

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In 2006, commercial beekeepers across the U.S. began seeing a major decline in the population of their honeybee hives. Shortly thereafter, beekeepers in Europe began to see the same trend.

While some colony loss is nothing new to the world of apiculture, there had never been losses to such a substantial extent. During the 1990s, losses stabilized around 17 to 20 percent but skyrocketed to between 30 and 90 percent in 2006. At that point, the mysterious syndrome was dubbed Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).

Gosser, a former chemist in the pharmaceutical industry, has been around bees most of his life -- his father kept bees when he was a child. He's concerned with the quality of the EPA's and the FDA's tests on GMO seeds and commercial pesticides.

"Companies like Monsanto are known for inserting pesticides into the seeds," he said. "It becomes a part of the plant itself; I think this is a major contributing factor to the die-offs."

Exposure to neonicotinoids through feeding is too weak to kill the bees outright, but it does cause other issues such as learning, navigational, and communication shortages. When a large portion of the bees are exposed, it gets passed onto the brood, compromising the health of the entire hive. This ultimately leads to collapse.

According to Gosser, the main problem is the lack of long-term studies on hive populations. To him, it's the extended exposure to pesticides that is the biggest cause for concern.

"Young bees go through four stages: egg, larva, pupla, adulthood. At every stage, these bees are being exposed to these chemicals. We don't really know what is happening, but we do know young bees are not developing properly, whether it's GMOs themselves or the neonicotinoid pesticide seed treatment; it's a gradual exposure, and that's a problem."

As a former pharma-industry insider, Gosser saw the inner workings of the regulatory industries firsthand. According to him, the objective of these agencies is to get the product to market. He thinks many of these products, like the neonicotinoids used in seed treatment, were approved without proper testing.

Many European countries have suspended the use of these products in certain circumstances. And just recently, the European Commission recommended an EU-wide suspension on three of the neonicotinoids that are believed to be most detrimental according to some scientific reports. Although the EPA acknowledges the causes for concern, it has not made any effort to address possible concerns in the U.S. market.

While Gosser concludes that GMOs and neonicotinoids are two major cause for concern, he believes that transportation stress and monoculture are contributing factors. The lack of diversity in the bees' diets while pollinating large areas with just a single crop and the stress of travel negatively affect the health of the brood.

However, Gosser has high hopes for the bees in Florida. Aside from the active research being performed at the University of Florida, the state has been progressive in terms of beekeeping. Florida was the first state to develop a honey standard, which prohibits additives to any product labeled honey. And, according to Gosser, "They're being much more careful about pesticide use in Florida."

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