In my campaigning to help the bees, I have tended to focus on the issues of habitat loss and insecticides (primarily neonicotinoids). True, at times I mention other issues, including diseases and GMO, but one area I have never really covered in depth is the use of the pesticide glysophate and its impact on bees.
Fortunately, other websites have been doing excellen work in that area, such as weedkillercrisis.com - it’s a great relief – so thanks guys!
It’s not rocket science that weed killers are pollutants, and that killing ‘weeds’ also means killing wildflowers (and yes, many wildflowers provide food for bees and other pollinators). However, one particular study listed on the aforementioned website caught my eye, and I felt it was worth highlighting.
This study specifically draws attention to the harm glysophate
can cause to the natural defences against pathogens that exist in the honey bee
gut, thereby increasing the susceptibility of bees to disease.
This is truly alarming! Cocktails of pesticides (both insecticides and herbicides) are used on many farms (and sometimes on public land). As it is, neonicotinoids already exhibit multiple ways in which they can increase vulnerability to disease in honey bees (that’s aside from occasions when bees suffer acute poisoning directly). From the study I will outline below, it seems that herbicide glysophate presents yet another insidious way in which bees can be harmed, by making them more vulnerable to pathogens.
In the case of glysophate, I should just point out that it’s the world’s biggest selling herbicide poison.
In highlighting this study, I would also point out that in field conditions, glysophate has been detected in bee hives and honey samples, indicating that glysophate can be inadvertently collected and transported back to the hive by foraging bees (1, 2).
An opportunistic pathogen is one that is capable of causing disease only when a host's resistance is lowered.
Here is an example: Serratia marcescens.
marcescens bacteria is an opportunistic pathogen commonly found in the bee gut. Ordinarily, the beneficial bacteria would keep it in check, preventing it from causing disease and ultimately death.
This is unfortunately not necessarily the case in young worker bees exposed to glysophate. The scientists state:
In simple language, glysophate increased the number of
deaths in young bee workers. Why? Because glysophate hampers the bee’s resistance to this particular bacteria (Serratia
marcescens) that is commonly found in bees, by hampering beneficial bacteria that fight pathogens.
What really gets me, is that seemingly, manufacturers of pesticides can avert blame because let’s face it, the harm these toxins cause is sometimes indirect.First the bee gets the exposure to the toxin. It doesn’t kill immediately, but through its sub-lethal effects of hampering the bee’s ability to deal with a pathogen that it could otherwise have dispensed with, it is certainly the instigator or facilitator of the death.
But not officially.
The official killer is the disease itself, not the facilitator. The facilitator remains distant from the crime of indirectly poisoned bees.
And thus, the regulatory system, already designed to
allow poisons to pass through without much challenge, fails to adequately
take into account the sub-lethal effects and ultimate threat these toxins pose,
especially when used over large areas of land.
It’s not that I’m against business – or even big business necessarily.
It’s not that I’m against
farmers or deliberately wanting to make their lives harder.
But in my view, big agro-chemical companies have had their way far too long. I don’t see any evidence of them developing better alternatives, merely recycling their obnoxious poisons, with tweaks.
Nothing ground breaking. Nothing to really help. And until regulators force their hand, we’ll get nothing new, nothing better, just more of the same.
We must help the regulators come to the same conclusion - as soon as possible.
In the meantime, I'll continue to shop organic, and grow my own fruit and veg where I can!
(1) Mukherjee I (2009) Determination of pesticide residues in honey samples. Bull Environ Contam Toxicol 83:818–821.
(2) Thompson HM, et al. (2014) Evaluating
exposure and potential effects on honeybee brood (Apis mellifera) development
using glyphosate as an example. Integr Environ Assess Manag 10:463–470.
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