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Bee demise - Are GMOs the missing link? (22/3/2007)

1.Bee demise - Are GMOs the missing link?
2.GE and bee Colony Collapse Disorder -- science needed!
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1.Bee demise - Are GMOs the missing link?
Sierra Club press release, March 22 2007

Are honey bees the canary in the coal mine? What are honey bees trying to tell us that we should pay attention to?

One out of every three bites of food that we consume is due to the work of honeybees, serving as crucial pollinators. Yet food production may be severely impacted by the recently reported Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Beekeepers are reporting estimates as high as 80% loss of their honey bee colonies.

There's a link that's not being investigated. Highly respected scientists believe that exposure to genetically engineered crops and their plant-produced pesticides merit serious consideration as either the cause or a contributory factor to the development and spread of CCD.

Laurel Hopwood, Sierra Club's Chair of the Genetic Engineering Committee states, "In searching for the cause of massive honey bee losses nationwide, we must leave no stone unturned to find the answer. Is the release of genetically engineered organisms the smoking gun?"

This past decade we are seeing releases into the environment that we have never before seen on this planet. Genetic engineering involves the artificial transfer of genes from one organism into another, bypassing the protective barrier between species. Scientists admit that unintended consequences may occur due to the lack of precision and specificity in the DNA sites on different plant chromosomes where the inserted genes randomly end up. According to the prominent biologist Dr. Barry Commoner, "Genetically engineered crops represent a huge uncontrolled experiment whose outcome is inherently unpredictable. The results could be catastrophic."

Regulators don't look, so they don't find. The USDA and EPA have failed to adequately assess the potential for lethal and sublethal impacts of engineered crop pesticides on pollinators like honey bees and wild bees, including the larvae brood and young bees. They have failed to study the effects of the practice of feeding honeybee colonies genetically engineered (GE) corn syrup and parts of recycled hives containing additional GE food residues.

Considering that loss of honeybee pollinators can leave a huge void in the kitchens of the American people and an estimated loss of 14 billion dollars to farmers, it would be prudent to use caution. If genetically engineered crops are killing honeybees, a moratorium on their planting should be strongly considered.

In a letter sent to the Senate and House Agriculture Committees sent yesterday, Sierra Club urges our elected officials to initiate investigations to determine if exposure to genetically engineered crops or corn syrup is the missing link.

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To read the letter [see below]:

http://www.sierraclub.org/biotech/whatsnew/whatsnew_2007-03-21.asp

Contact: Sierra Club
Laurel Hopwood
216-371-9779
lhopwood@adelphia.net
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2.GE and bee Colony Collapse Disorder -- science needed!
http://www.sierraclub.org/biotech/whatsnew/whatsnew_2007-03-21.asp

Dear Senator Thomas Harkin,

We share similar concerns. The viability of a robust food supply is paramount to the American people.

One out of every three bites of food that we consume is due to the work of honeybees, serving as crucial pollinators in agriculture and farming communities. Yet agriculture and food production may be severely impacted by Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), a trend documented in honey bee colonies and prominently featured in a New York Times story(1). Beekeepers are reporting estimates as high as 80% loss of their honey bee colonies. Such a huge loss of the services of bees is extremely serious and beekeepers report it's a growing trend.

The cause of CCD is unknown. Although factors being considered include pesticides, mites, microbial disease and habitat decline, there's a possible link that's not being investigated. Highly respected scientists believe that exposure to genetically engineered crops and their plant-produced pesticides merit serious consideration as either the cause or a contributory factor to the development and spread of CCD.(2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10) In searching for the cause of massive honey bee losses nationwide, we must leave no stone unturned to find the answer.

This past decade we are seeing releases into the environment that we have never before seen on this planet. Genetic engineering involves the artificial transfer of genes from one organism into another, bypassing the protective barrier between species. Scientists admit that "unintended consequences" may occur due to the lack of precision and specificity in the DNA sites on different plant chromosomes where the inserted genes randomly end up. According to the prominent biologist Dr. Barry Commoner and pioneer in ecology, "Genetically engineered crops represent a huge uncontrolled experiment whose outcome is inherently unpredictable. The results could be catastrophic."(11) Dr. David Schubert has expressed similar concerns in pointing out some of the significant holes existing in current genetic engineering technology that raise serious questions about how well we understand it and how to apply such a new emerging science.(12) An issue Dr. Schubert raises is the "unpredictability" in the artificial gene splicing technology that is routinely performed in genetic engineering because it may lead to unpredictable consequences. Are the honey bees trying to tell us about the "unintended consequences" from large-scale genetic engineering in agriculture?

Investigators have raised the possibility that honey bees are experiencing a sublethal effect such as a "suppressed immune system" from an unknown toxin. However, sublethal effects have not been fully investigated. Dennis van Engelsdorp, a bee specialist with the state of Pennsylvania who is part of the team studying the bee colony collapses, said the "strong immune suppression" investigators have observed "could be the AIDS of the bee industry," making bees more susceptible to other diseases that eventually kill them off.(1) Nonetheless, a concern is that genetically engineered crops are being ignored as a possible culprit, especially with tens of millions of acres now being planted each year of cultivars producing large concentrations of pesticides that did not exist on such a scale just a decade ago.

Currently regulators fail to require adequate analysis of transgene insertion sites. This omission results from the failure to appreciate the magnitude of genetic damage sustained by transgenic plants.(11,12) Regulators have also failed to adequately assess the potential for lethal and sublethal impacts of engineered crop pesticides on pollinators like honey bees and wild bees, including the larvae brood and young bees. Studies are needed to evaluate the impact of GE crops on sublethal effects such as learning and feeding behavior. In addition, honey bee colonies are being fed GE corn syrups and parts of recycled hives containing additional GE food residues. The effect of these feeding practices on bees needs study.

Considering that loss of honeybee pollinators can leave a huge void in the kitchens of the American people and an estimated loss of 14 billion dollars to farmers, it would beprudent to use caution. If genetically engineered crops are killing honeybees, a moratorium on their planting should be considered.

Senator Harkin, as Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, you are in a key position to initiate investigations to determine if exposure to genetically engineered crops is the missing link. Emergency funding for research on the pollinator decline needs to be available to researchers and the USDA.

Most sincerely,
Laurel Hopwood, Chair
Sierra Club Genetic Engineering Committee

References:

1. Alexei Barrioneuva, "Honeybees, Gone With the Wind, Leave Crops and Keepers in Peril," The New York Times, February 27, 2007:
http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F10B1FF8355A0C748EDDAB0894DF404482

2. Malone,L and Pham-Delegue,M. "Effects of transgene products on honey bees (Apis mellifera) and bumblebees (Bombus sp.)" Apidologie 2001,32,287-304.

3. Obrycki,J, Losey, J, Taylor,O, Jesee,L. "Transgenic insecticidal corn: Beyond insecticidal toxicity to ecological complexity." Bioscience May 2001/Vol 51 No. 5

4. Pham-Delegue, M.H., et. al. 2002. "Direct and Indirect Effects of Genetically Modified Plants on the Honey Bee," Honey Bees: Estimating the Environmental Impact of Chemicals, pp. 312-326.

5. Picard-Nioi, A.L,.et al. Pham-Delegue, M.H. "Impact of proteins used in plant genetic engineering: Toxicity and behavioral study in the honeybee." J. Econ. Entomol.997,90,1710-1716.

6. Ricarda A. Steinbrecher, "Risks associated with ingestion of Chardon LL maize, The reversal of N-acetyl-L- glufosinate to the active herbicide L-glufosinate in the gut of animals," Chardon LL Hearing, May 2002, London.

7. Mohr KI and Tebbe CC. "Field study results on the probability and risk of a horizontal gene transfer from transgenic herbicide-resistant oilseed rape pollen to gut bacteria of bees." Appl Microbiol Biotechnol. 2007 in press,DOI 10.1007/s00253, 007-0846-7.

8. Ramirez-Romero,R,Chaufaux,J and Pham-Delegue,M. "Effects of Cry1Ab protoxin, deltamethrin and imidacloprid on the foraging activity and the learning performances of the honeybee Apis mellifera, a comparative approach" Apidologie 36 (2005) 601-11.

9. Hilbeck,A and Schmid,J. "Another view of Bt proteins-How specific are they and what else might they do" Biopestic. Int. 2006,2,1-50.

10. Morandin,L and Winston,M. "Wild bee abundance and seed production in conventional, organic and genetically modified canola" Ecological Applications 2004,15,871-81.

11. Commoner, B. "Unraveling the DNA Myth: The spurious foundation of genetic engineering." Harper's Magazine, February 2002, 39-47.

12. Schubert, D. "Regulatory regimes for transgenic crops." Nature Biotechnology 23,785 - 787 (2005).

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