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If you are a member and have anything that you feel is important to chemical free beekeeping, please email it to me. I will post it in this section in a future issue. Thank you. Dennis


The following article was submitted by member David Blacklock 

 The Birds and the Bees and the GMOs

Posted on: 18/10/2011by various

Honey produced by thousands of Mexican beekeepers is at serious risk of contamination from genetically modified soybeans. Producers have called for a new model of social production.

On International Food Day, national and local organizations held a forum with beekeepers and researchers in Mexico’s scenic Yucatan Peninsula.

The subject: the threat to honey production posed by genetically modified soybeans in the region.

The National Union of Regional Autonomous Peasant Organizations (UNORCA by its Spanish initials) and Greenpeace Mexico sponsored the forum.

Throughout Mexico, cultivation of genetically modified (GM) crops has been taking over more and more land. The government has authorized cultivation of GM corn, cotton, wheat and soybeans, putting harvests of these crops at risk of contamination and affecting other crops related to the basic diet of millions of Mexicans.

The products that reach our table are at great risk of containing GMOs. This means that in addition to health risks for consumers, these crops can no longer be sold on markets that require GM-free certification.

The National Agricultural Sanitation, Safety and Quality Service (Senasica), gave Monsanto permission to begin a pilot project with GM soy on 30,000 hectares, threatening the production and marketing of honey in the Yucatan peninsula. Beekeeping employs more than 16,000 peasant producers who make honey that has become a favorite on the European market for its flavor, floral origin and quality, notes Pablo Duarte Sanchez, a leader of UNORCA in Yucatán.

The debate over GM crops is becoming a major issue in Mexican society. It confronts the economic interests of transnational corporations with the responsibility and precaution demanded by consumers to protect their heath, biodiversity and the environment. Recently and surprisingly, beekeepers entered this debate, as the probable victims of GM crops, according to Federico Berron, an agricultural businessman, and Abelardo Balam Chi, a professor of apiculture.

Europeans Demand GM-Free Honey

Mexico is the sixth largest producer and third largest exporter of honey in the world. The main market for the product of more than 40,000 beekeepers is the European Union. But this enviable position is being threatened by nearby crops of GM corn and soybeans.

The Tribunal of Justice of the European Union prohibited the commercialization of honey that contains pollen from unauthorized GM seed (Monsanto corn 810).

“Two situations arise as a result of the decision by the Tribunal: if it involves pollen from GM plants not authorized for food purposes, the honey simply cannot be marketed (principle of zero tolerance); if it involves pollen from GM plants authorized for food purposes, the honey can be marketed, with a label reading Contains Genetically Modified Ingredients when its content exceeds 0.9 percent. However, marketing honey with this label is practically impossible since the huge majority of European consumers reject GM foods,” warned UNORCA advisor, Ernesto Ladron de Guevara.

Since the Tribunal’s decision that honey and derived food products that contain pollen derived from GMOs are GM food products and cannot be sold with previous authorization, the main honey marketers in the region have begun to receive warnings from their buyers regarding the need to guarantee that the honey produced in the region is free of pollen from GM plants.

Federal Government Responsibility

In the Yucatan Peninsula, which is extremely flat, there is no way to avoid pollen from GM plantations contaminating the surrounding plantations. Delegates from federal agencies involved have remained silent on this serious situation, since government agencies FIRCO and FIRA finance and subsidize GM crops, in violation of the policy of “sustainable development” that the federal government supposedly promotes.

“The authorization of GM crops is incongruent with the programs that the federal government has been promoting since the previous administration to guarantee food safety in the honey produced in the region. These programs obliged social and private sector producers to invest heavily in the construction of new plants and the adoption of state of the art practices of honey production and processing. Both federal and state governments have also spent money to support the construction of infrastructure in plants, beekeeping equipment, research, training ad technical advising to the many actors who participate in this system of production,” commented Jorge Tomás Vera, economist and apiculture consultant.

The local delegation of Sagarpa justifies the cultivation of GM crops by arguing that they are the best alternative faced with drought in the area. This opinion goes against the opinions of other experts in the region who consider that other alternatives that could be offered by regional research centers have not been explored. Participants in the forum urged local beekeepers, their organizations, peasant farmers and civil society to oppose this project by the Secretary of Agriculture and the federal government.

Call to Restore the Moratorium on GM Cultivation

“Open-field experimentation in our country only seeks to prove resistance to insects and herbicides. They don’t care about the gene flow that poses an imminent risk of contamination to our native corn and to our honey production, harming producers and consumers since these organisms have not been correctly evaluated and effects on human health have not been ruled out.

“It’s urgent that federal authorities reinstate the moratorium on GMOs, as was recommended by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter,” demanded Aleira Lara, of Greenpeace Mexico.

Given the widespread cultivation of commercial GM soybeans in Mexico, and the breadth of GM corn sown in experimental plots or illegal fields, the probability of discovering pollen from GM plants in the honey is very high, impeding export of the product. It’s hard to predict the frequency of the situation—it could be uncommon but without a doubt there will be cases that will affect the economy and the image of Mexican honey, said Mauricio Macossay Vallado of the University of Chapingo.

Miguel Angel Ricci, Argentine researcher, architect and social ecologist, explained the damages caused to agriculture and other economic activities in the Argentine countryside and that this is what could happen in Mexico if the problem of GM production is not dealt with firmly and decisively. He recommended not sowing Gm crops and improving original and traditional farming practices by linking them to the agroecology principles that are being tried out throughout the world to guarantee healthy foods that are environmentally friendly.

The adoption of GM crops represents a severe threat to food sovereignty. The seed and its GMO content are property of private companies, not of peasant farmers. More than for technological productive advantages, the expansion of GMOs has taken place because it is a business that benefits transnational corporations and the high-level government bureaucracy of the agricultural and financial sectors (Sec. Of Agriculture, the Rural Financial Agency, FIRA, FIRCO, and BANCA). Civil society must confront this situation by taking action and making its demands and interests known, the participants concluded.

GMOs and the Right to Food

Forum participants analyzed the recent constitutional reform that recognizes the right to food as a fundamental right that guarantees that the entire population has access to healthy and sufficient food it requires.

The forum concluded that the goal of solving the food crisis and achieving the right to food will be reached only through the social food production to satisfy local demand, with the use of environmentally responsible technology. To produce first to eat rather than sell, and to eliminate imports, should be the guiding principles of a new model of food production and consumption.

For more information:

Angelica Simón, Greenpeace Mexico, Tel. 52-5550-687-9595 ext.115 y 521-553-225-1714, 


(This article was submitted by member “Amy Hutto”.)

B.C. scientists to use honeybee genome to reverse catastrophic colony losses.

B.C. scientists are using the genome of the honeybee to develop new tools for breeders in an effort to reverse the catastrophic mortality that has plagued bee colonies around the world over the past five years.

The three-year $5.7-million project led by University of B.C. biochemist Leonard Foster aims to develop tests that beekeepers can apply to individual colonies to identify those with a genetic predisposition to better hygiene and disease resistance. Beekeepers can then use selective breeding to create stronger stocks.

The stakes are high. Pollination by honeybees is crucial to the viability of many of North America’s commercial crops, especially fruit and nuts. Honeybee activity increases the productivity of vegetable and fruit crops by anywhere from 20 to 90 per cent.

The value of pollination to agriculture is estimated to be $2.5 billion in Canada and at least $15 billion in the United States.

Beekeepers had for decades experienced colony losses of 10 to 15 per cent annually for decades until five years ago the mortality suddenly jumped to 30 per cent, with some regions such as Vancouver Island experiencing up to 90 per cent mortality, said Foster.

With the supoport of Genome Canada and Genome BC, Foster hopes to create quick tests that will detect naturally occuring proteins and genetic traits in bees that are more hygenic and more disease resistant.

Foster is also developing novel ways to treat the viruses that affect bees using RNAi, the system that turns gene expression on and off.

While Foster was hesitant to say that the health of North America’s bee colonies is a full-blown crisis, as crops are still being pollinated, but disturbing trends are emerging.

“After five straight years of 30 per cent losses you’d expect that we’d have no bees,” said Foster. But what beekeepers do is commit resources to rebuild colonies after every winter … but that effort means they can’t use those bees for pollination and they can’t make money.”

Beekeepers stung by consecutive years of losses and the prospect of paying thousands of dollars each spring to rebuild with fresh imported queens means that many are simply leaving the business, Foster said.

“When the big beekeepers start to go out of business then the blueberry farmers won’t be able to get enough bees to pollinate their crops,” said Foster. Many crops are simply not profitable without the extra production that pollination provides.

Foster’s lab at UBC specializes in bees and their health issues, his life-long interest.

“My parents were beekeepers so I grew up around bees and I worked in the bee lab as a Bachelor student at [Simon Fraser University] when I was there,” Foster said.

From Genome BC:

Interestingly, there are many social behaviours that enable bees to resist disease, such as hygienic behaviour: a cleaner hive tends to suppress the spread of some diseases. By detecting and analyzing naturally occurring proteins and gene traits in the more hygienic bees, these bees can be introduced into breeding programs.

In addition to protein analysis, Dr. Foster is developing a completely novel approach for treating the viruses that affect bees using RNAi (the biological system that controls which genes are turned ‘on’ and ‘off’) to develop a treatment that is specific to this organism. The method is expected to have no detrimental side effects and there is also essentially no way that the organism can develop a resistance to it.

“Disturbingly, this last year there was another drop in the honey bee population by approximately 30% in Canada and the US,” says Dr. Foster. “This level of annual loss has been consistent over the past five years in both countries. Contributing factors of these losses are various bacteria, viruses, fungi and mites attacking the bees. Despite some human intervention in the form of chemical pesticides, the culprits have evolved and are now able to resist traditional methods.” The tools being developed in this project are expected to be less susceptible to evolutionary resistance and the development timeline should be less than traditional pesticides.

Due to our mild climate, most bee breeding in Canada happens in BC and the impact of our bees across North America is enormous. BC breeders ship bees across Canada to promote pollination and the establishment of new colonies. The expected results from the research will generate significant benefits to Canadian agriculture and should lead to a decrease in colony losses, increased honey production and greater availability of bees for pollination.


 This link was sent to me by member Amy Hutto. It shows the life cycle of the Varroa mite. Thanks Amy for this very important information. Dennis