Not only are healthy bee populations vital for the natural world, they are essential to people as well. About one third of our food supply is reliant on bees in one way or another. Either they directly pollinate the food we eat, or they contribute to pollinating the food used to feed livestock from which we get dairy or meat¹. However, bee populations around the world are disappearing at rates alarming to bee keepers, scientists and farmers alike.
Scientists are looking for answers and researching possible causes. Some of them are thought to be habitat destruction, malnutrition, parasites, viruses, crop monoculture, insecticides, pesticides, or GMO agriculture¹. There is much debate surrounding the exact cause of the bee decline throughout the world, but many are convinced that GMO agriculture is to blame for the massive loss of thousands of bees, as GMOs are highly controversial and their safety is still being discussed today.
GMO stands for genetically modified organism and is formed when the DNA of an organism is changed to include one or more gene not normally found in its genome ².
Is GMO agriculture killing our precious bees?
On one hand, there are many scientists that feel that GMO agriculture is contributing to the losses in the world bee population. In particular, there have been many studies conducted on the relatively new class of neonicotinoid pesticides and GMOs. This chemical was approved for use in the United States in the mid-2000s, and a few years later, bee populations started to decline. The neonicotinoid pesticide is applied to the seeds of the plant before it is planted which causes the plant to grow with this substance inside. This means that the plant is producing pollen and nectar containing this chemical. Studies have shown that this chemical is highly toxic to bees and other insects, even in small amounts, and short term exposure can still have lasting effects. It stays in the bee’s system for the long term and attacks the bee’s immune system, leaving the insect prone to disease and illness. Other than being present in the plant’s vascular system, neonicotinoids have been found to be present in the soil and groundwater near where they have been used, staying there for years and increasing the exposure time to bees and other wildlife³.
On the other hand, there are many who remain firm and say the claim that GMOs are killing bees “is highly misleading” and that GMOs are a necessity in feeding the ever growing world population⁴. Along these same lines, this group says that many of the studies claiming that GMOs are killing bees often times infer that all agricultural problems are the cause of GMOs which is not the case⁴. Additionally, there are many who feel that GMOs are an essential part of agriculture and they offer more positives than negatives⁴.
Overall, there is strong evidence to suggest that GMO agriculture is at least partly responsible for killing bees. Genetically modified organisms and crops are a very controversial technique for increasing food production. Many people are skeptical that changing the genetic make-up of crops, especially for consumption is safe for bees. However, it is certain that the human population is growing and there is an increasing need for more food to meet the demands of the population. It is a delicate balance between providing enough food for the growing human population while making sure that this food is healthy and safe for bees. Although there are different views on the cause of the recent collapse of many bee populations, one thing is for sure: bees are an important part of the ecosystem and of dire importance to humans for all the benefits they provide. We must do our part to save bee populations and ensure that our actions are not endangering the bees.