Image above: Westside beehives kept in Hanapepe at the old Green garden Restaurant property. Photo by Juan Wilson.
By Coco Zicoes on 5 July 2010 in the Garden Island News - (http://thegardenisland.com/news/article_0a646f16-87fd-11df-946e-001cc4c002e0.html)
The population of Westside honey bees is in “worse shape” than other parts of the island, said Jimmy Trujillo of the Kaua‘i Beekeeper’s Association.
Whether their plight is linked to the sunny side of the island’s abundance of genetically modified crops remains inconclusive, he said.
One thing which has beekeepers concerned are the chemicals seed companies embed in the “entire plant” where pesticides even “come out of the pollen,” said KBee’s Erik Coopersmith.
And there is currently no way of knowing how or if it is affecting honey.
“We need a full spectrum of analysis,” he said during the organization’s meeting last week. “Maybe there is some sort of discussion we can have” with the seed companies.
New technologies, like SmartStax created by Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences, is “designed to control corn insect pests both above and below ground while offering farmers two choices of herbicide tolerance in one seed,” according to a 2008 press release from Monsanto.
Studies have suggested that SmartStax could potentially be connected to honey bee disappearances, including a recent report by the Institute of Science in Society.
“This is not the first time an individual or group has suggested biotech crops are causing declines in bee populations,” said Pioneer Hi-Bred International Business and Community Outreach Manager Cindy Goldstein after being sent a copy of the report. “... But we don’t see studies, data or evidence presented. Speculation, yes, data and studies that show direct cause and impact, no.”
While SmartStax is not used by Pioneer Hi-Bred International, the corporation does implement stack traits — insecticides and herbicides based within the plant, she said.
Since bees pollinate many types of fruits, vegetables and other crops, their health is vital and “much effort goes into determining what may be causing” the insect’s global demise, Goldstein said.
However, corn is mostly wind pollinated, she said.
Even so, many studies have been conducted to determine the potential effect of the corn crop insecticide Bt on honey bees, Goldstein said. And reports have concluded “no negative effects on bee survival,” according to a study by Dr. Louise Malone in New Zealand and Dr. Dirk Babendreier in Switzerland.
Also “no adverse effects” have been reported on “bee weight, foraging activity, colony bee strength and brood development,” according to a two-year field study which is soon to be published in the European bee journal Apidologie, she said.
When farmers use crops with “insect resistance, they use less insecticide, and this results in much lower impact on non-target species,” Goldstein said.
Bees have been disappearing across the world, including countries like England and Switzerland where biotech crops are not planted, Goldstein said.
It is difficult to say with certainty that the crops have nothing to do with Westside honey bee disappearances since the insects “don’t know the difference between regular sunflowers and genetically modified ones,” Trujillo said as an example.
Monocrops may affect a bee’s nutrition, causing them to “lose vitality,” he said.
“The science behind the high-tech genetically modified foods is proprietary, so anyone wishing to delve further is largely stymied,” Coopersmith said. When inquiries are made, “they are generally dismissed with statements such as ‘We’ve done our tests, our corn is 100 percent safe, and it’s going to help feed and fuel the planet.’”
But seed companies on Kaua‘i are not “human food crops,” the seed corn is used for ethanol and animal feed, he said.
“How can we have real dialogue when we don’t really know what’s going on?” he said “We just have to trust them, and that they are putting the environment and human welfare above profits.
“I feel further investigation is certainly warranted,” Coopersmith said.
While seed companies do provide employment opportunities for some individuals on the island, other agricultural activities could as well, which would, in turn, enhance diversity, Trujillo said.
Since Kaua‘i is an “international hotspot” as one of the only remaining places on the planet without the varroa mite — a parasite which attaches to honey bees and feeds on their blood, eventually causing population demise — it has become an extremely viable business, he said.
Visit www.monsanto.com, www.pioneer.com, kauaibuzz.blogspot.com or call Trujillo at 346-7725 or Coopersmith at 335-0710 for more information.