Researchers find high-fructose corn syrup may be tied to worldwide collapse of bee colonies  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

PhysOrg has an article on a paper suggesting high-fructose corn syrup could be a factor in bee colony collapse disorder - Researchers find high-fructose corn syrup may be tied to worldwide collapse of bee colonies.

Since approximately 2006, groups that manage commercial honeybee colonies have been reporting what has become known as colony collapse disorder—whole colonies of bees simply died, of no apparent cause. As time has passed, the disorder has been reported at sites all across the world, even as scientists have been racing to find the cause, and a possible cure. To date, most evidence has implicated pesticides used to kill other insects such as mites. In this new effort, the researchers have found evidence to suggest the real culprit might be high-fructose corn syrup, which beekeepers have been feeding bees as their natural staple, honey, has been taken away from them.

Commercial honeybee enterprises began feeding bees high-fructose corn syrup back in the 70's after research was conducted that indicated that doing so was safe. Since that time, new pesticides have been developed and put into use and over time it appears the bees' immunity response to such compounds may have become compromised.

The researchers aren't suggesting that high-fructose corn syrup is itself toxic to bees, instead, they say their findings indicate that by eating the replacement food instead of honey, the bees are not being exposed to other chemicals that help the bees fight off toxins, such as those found in pesticides.

Specifically, they found that when bees are exposed to the enzyme p-coumaric, their immune system appears stronger—it turns on detoxification genes. P-coumaric is found in pollen walls, not nectar, and makes its way into honey inadvertently via sticking to the legs of bees as they visit flowers. Similarly, the team discovered other compounds found in poplar sap that appear to do much the same thing. It all together adds up to a diet that helps bees fight off toxins, the researchers report. Taking away the honey to sell it, and feeding the bees high-fructose corn syrup instead, they claim, compromises their immune systems, making them more vulnerable to the toxins that are meant to kill other bugs.

TreeHugger reports that the EU is testing if pesticides are to blame for bee population declines by banning suspected pesticides - Europe votes for 2-year ban on pesticides suspected in bee deaths.

British politicians may have sided with the insecticide lobby, but that hasn't prevented European campaigners from celebrating a major victory in the fight to save bees this week. As reported in the Independent, European politicians have just voted for a two-year precautionary ban on the use of neonicotinoid pesticides on flowering crops attractive to bees:
Four nations abstained from the moratorium, which will restrict the use of imidacloprid and clothianidin, made by Germany's Bayer, and thiamethoxam, made by the Swiss company, Syngenta. The ban on use on flowering crops will remain in place throughout the EU for two years unless compelling scientific evidence to the contrary becomes available.
More than 30 separate scientific studies have found a link between the neonicotinoids, which attack insects' nerve systems, and falling bee numbers. The proposal by European Commission - the EU's legislative body - to ban the insecticides was based on a study by the European Food Safety Authority, which found in January that the pesticides did pose a risk to bees' health.

As mentioned in the Independent article, the vote comes on the back of several studies linking bee deaths to neonicotinoid seed insecticide exposure, including a number that showed non-lethal doses increasing bees' vulnerability to other health threats like the nosema parasite.

With Bayer CropScience already on a charm offensive in relation to the beekeeping community, and even handing out "free seeds for bees" with its neonicotinoid products, it comes as no surprise that insecticide makers are less than happy about the decision. A spokesperson for Bayer previously slammed the European Commission's proposed ban as "draconian", while Luke Gibbs, Syngenta's head of corporate affairs for North Europe told the Independent that he was concerned it would overshadow the "real" reasons for bee declines, namely disease, viruses and loss of habitat and nutrition.

The proof now, of course, will be in the pudding. Will the EU ban, which is expected to be fully implemented by December, result in a recovery of bee populations or at least a slowing of their losses?

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