By Dr. Mercola
A recent NPR article1 highlights the truly frightening environmental effect of monoculture. NPR commentator and science writer Craig Childs decided to replicate a photo project by David Liittschwager, a portrait photographer who spent years traveling the world dropping one-cubic-foot metal frames into gardens, streams, parks, forests, and oceans, photographing anything and everything that entered the frame.
Around the world, his camera captured thousands of plants, animals, and insects within the cubes, with entirely different “worlds” of plants and animals living as little as a few feet away from each other.
Childs recruited a friend, and together they set out to replicate Littschwager’s “critter census” in a corn field in Grundy County, Iowa.
But whereas Littschwager’s camera captured several dozens of insects wherever he set up his frames, Childs and friend found nothing stirring among the genetically engineered corn stalks on the 600 acre farm in Iowa, where they spent an entire weekend crawling around on the ground. No signs of life with the exception of an isolated spider, a single red mite, and a couple grasshoppers.
“It felt like another planet entirely,” Childs said. “I listened and heard nothing, no birds, no clicks from insects. There were no bees. The air, the ground, seemed vacant. Yet, 100 years ago, these same fields, these prairies, were home to 300 species of plants, 60 mammals, 300 birds, hundreds and hundreds of insects,” Robert Krulwich writes2. “This soil was the richest, the loamiest in the state. And now, in these patches, there is almost literally nothing but one kind of living thing. We’ve erased everything else.”
How Monoculture Threatens the Future of Food
The "faster, bigger, cheaper" approach to food is slowly draining dry our planet's resources and compromising your health. The Earth's soil is depleting at more than 13 percent the rate it can be replaced. We have already lost 75 percent of the world's crop varieties over the last century. Over the past 10 years, we've had 100 million tons of herbicides dumped onto our crops, polluting our soil and streams... And genetically engineered (GE) crops are now speeding up the destructive process by completely altering the composition of soil bacteria in the fields where such crops are grown.
It’s imperative to understand that agriculture is a complete 'system' based on inter-related factors, and in order to maintain ecological balance and health, you must understand how that system works as a whole. Any time you change one part of that system, you change the interaction of all the other components, because they work together. It is simply impossible to change just one minor aspect without altering the entire system, and this is in part why GE crops are not a viable alternative.
Dr. Don Huber's research, which spans over 55 years, has been devoted to looking at how the agricultural system can be managed for more effective crop production, better disease control, improved nutrition, and safety. The introduction of genetically engineered crops has dramatically affected and changed all agricultural components:
- The plants
- The physical environment
- The dynamics of the biological environment, and
- Pests and diseases (plant-, animal-, and human diseases)
One of the major modifications done to genetically engineered food crops is the introduction of herbicide resistance. Monsanto is the leader in this field, with their patented Roundup Ready corn, cotton, soybean and sugar beets, which can survive otherwise lethal doses of glyphosate—the active ingredient in Roundup. The working premise is that by making the plants resistant to the herbicide, farmers can increase yield by cutting down on weed growth. This premise has been found to be severely flawed however, as farmers around the world are now losing acreage to glyphosate-resistant super-weeds at an alarming rate.
According to the British Institute of Science in Society3, the US has fared the worst, now combating 13 different glyphosate-resistant weed species in 73 different locations.
But the introduction of glyphosate-resistance has also had a direct impact on soil microbes. While the link between an herbicide (which is directed toward plants) and soil microbes may not be immediately apparent, this ripple effect occurs because, again, it's an inter-related system. In a nutshell, herbicides are chelators that form a barrier around specific nutrients, preventing whatever life form is seeking to utilize that element from utilizing it properly. That applies both to plants and soil microbes—as well as animals and humans.
Genetically Engineered Crops Implicated in Bee Colony Collapse Disorder
GE crops and chemical agriculture in general are also prime culprits in the disappearance of bees and other insects, such as butterflies. The phenomenon is known as bee colony collapse disorder (CCD), and GE crops have been implicated in CCD for years now. Since 2006, it's estimated that close to one-third of all honey bee colonies have simply vanished into thin air. The bees leave the hive and simply never return...
In 2007, a German study 4 demonstrated that horizontal gene transfer appears to take place between the GE crop and the bees that feed on it. When bees were released in a field of genetically modified rapeseed, and then fed the pollen to younger bees, the scientists discovered the bacteria in the guts of the young ones mirrored the same genetic traits as ones found in the GE crop. Naturally, this is bad news for the biotech industry, which may be why not just one but two major biotech companies have now entered the business of bee research...
Biotech Industry Now Infiltrating Bee Research
Monsanto, which is the world leader in genetically engineered crop seeds and toxic herbicide falsely advertised as “safe” and “biodegradable,” purchased one of the leading bee research firms in September 2011– one that lists its primary goal as studying colony collapse disorder. The purchase was completed just months before Poland announced it would ban growing of Monsanto's genetically modified MON810 maize because "pollen of this strain could have a harmful effect on bees5."
More recently, Bayer CropScience announced plans to build a second bee care research facility—this one in North Carolina6. Earlier this year, the company established a global Bayer Bee Care Center at the joint headquarters campus of Bayer CropScience and Bayer Animal Health in Monheim, Germany. According to Bayer:
“The Bayer Bee Care Center is dedicated to promoting and protecting bee health so that these hard-working, beneficial insects can continue to provide hive products as well as pollination services for foods we enjoy each day.”
Indeed, bees pollinate at least 130 different crops in the U.S. alone, including fruits, vegetables and tree nuts, and without bees, the very future of our food supply is at risk. The question is whether Big Biotech can be trusted with this kind of research. If history is any indication, it’s far more likely that studies will be slanted and manipulated to hide damage caused by GE crops and agricultural chemicals. After all, it wasn’t all that long ago since the German Coalition against Bayer Dangers accused Bayer of marketing dangerous pesticides and thereby causing the mass death of bees all over the world.
German beekeepers lost thousands of hives to poisoning by Bayers pesticide clothianidin in 2008. At the time, the Coalition suspected Bayer had submitted flawed studies to play down the risks of pesticide residues in treated plants -- a suspicion that was later confirmed by the Canadian Pest Management Regulatory Agency. Considering these companies’ past sordid behavior, it is hard to imagine any rational person believing anything issued by the likes of Monsanto or Bayer... Their marketing material is littered with catch phrases like “sustainable agriculture,” even though it’s apparent they have no idea what that even means, considering the fact they violate the fundamentals of sustainable agriculture with every single product they produce.
GE Corn Treated with Insecticide Toxic to Bees
Newer systemic insecticides, known as neonicotinoids, have also been implicated in CCD. Two prominent examples, Imidacloprid and Clothianidin, are used as seed treatments in hundreds of crops, and virtually all of today's genetically engineered Bt corn is treated with neonicotinoids. Bee colonies began to vanish in the U.S. shortly after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) allowed these new insecticides on the market. Even the EPA itself admits that "pesticide poisoning" is a likely cause of bee colony collapse.
These insecticides are highly toxic to bees because they are systemic, water soluble, and very pervasive. They get into the soil and groundwater where they can accumulate and remain for many years and present long-term toxicity to the hive. They enter the vascular system of the plant and are carried to all parts of it, as well as to the pollen and nectar. Neonicotinoids affect insects' central nervous systems in ways that are cumulative and irreversible. Even minute amounts can have profound effects over time. And the little bees are being exposed over and over again as pesticides become more necessary due to the inherent weaknesses of monoculture.
One of the observed effects of these insecticides is weakening of the bee's immune system. Forager bees bring pesticide-laden pollen back to the hive, where it's consumed by all of the bees. Six months later, their immune systems fail, and they fall prey to natural bee infections, such as parasites, mites, viruses, fungi and bacteria. Indeed, pathogens such as Varroa mites, Nosema, fungal and bacterial infections, and IAPV are found in large amounts in honey bee hives on the verge of collapse. In addition to immune dysfunction and opportunistic diseases, the honey bees also appear to suffer from neurological problems, disorientation, and impaired navigation. A bee can't survive for more than 24 hours if she becomes disoriented and unable to find her way back to the hive.
What Can You do to Help the Honey Bees?
The documentary film Vanishing of the Bees recommends four actions you can take to help preserve our honey bees:
- Support organic farmers and shop at local farmer's markets as often as possible. You can "vote with your fork" three times a day. [When you buy organic, you are making a statement by saying "no" to GMOs!]
- Cut the use of toxic chemicals in your house and on your lawn, and use organic pest control.
- Better yet, get rid of your lawn altogether and plant a garden. Lawns offer very little benefit for the environment. Both flower and vegetable gardens provide good honey bee habitats.
- Become an amateur beekeeper. Having a hive in your garden requires only about an hour of your time per week, benefits your local ecosystem, and you can enjoy your own honey! For more information about raising bees, consult The Practical Beekeeper7.
If you are interested in more information about bee preservation, the following organizations are a good place to start.
- Pesticide Action Network Bee Campaign8
- The Foundation for the Preservation of Honey Bees9
- American Beekeeping Federation10
- Help the Honey Bees11