They’re handsome, they’re charming, they have one of the most well developed honor codes in nature and they’re dying faster than they’re being born. Of course, we’re talking about the noble honey bee.
It isn’t exactly news that we’re losing our little gold and black clad friends who are so important to the food supply, but this has been going on for a while now. The hour is growing late for the honey bee, and we now know who is responsible for most if not all of their rapid die off rates. Monsanto.
We’ve written numerous articles on the harms and scandals surrounding the Monsanto weed killer, Roundup, which contains the deadly killer glyphosate. It is an extremely potent carcinogen. It makes farmers who don’t use Monsanto’s genetically modified seeds lose huge portions of their crops. Now we know that it is also killing the bees.
For years, scientists have been warning us that honey bees are dying off at an exceedingly rapid pace. But no one knew why this was happening. Some of the best guesses included carbon pollution, ozone depletion, and endocrine disruptors in the soil and water. But none of these hypotheses could be proven in a laboratory.
But now, new research has been published by the University of Texas at Austin which describes how Monsanto’s glyphosate laden weedkiller, Roundup, is destroying the bee population. It is arguably the strongest case for an explanation of the precipitous decline in the honey bee population.
Previous studies have already shown that pesticides are harming the bees. So it was believed that the Monsanto product- which only targets plants- must be safe for bees. It isn’t.
Roundup destroys bacteria and enzymes necessary to the life of the plants it kills. According to the study, the bacteria and enzymes that Roundup targets are also important to bees. And, as we have reported previously, glyphosate can be found in the soil and groundwater in vast stretches of farmlands and their surrounding areas all over the world. But Monsanto’s revolting product isn’t just killing the bees by destroying their most important symbiotic microbes. It is also killing the plants that the bees need for food.
Researchers placed color markers on adult worker bees and then exposed them to Roundup’s main ingredient. After these test bees were recaptured, it was found that their gut bacteria had been reduced dramatically.
In recent years, we’ve been learning about the importance of gut microbes to our own health. We need specific types of bacteria to live in our guts. Our symbiotic bacteria help us to digest our food, absorb certain toxins, and produce substances necessary for our health. We know that an unhealthy gut flora can harm our brain health, trigger weight gain, and cause all manner of disease. So it should not be a great surprise that the same is true for our friends, the bees.
Half of the bees’ most important species of gut bacteria were diminished significantly after exposure to glyphosate. This hinders the ability of the bees to digest their food and to resist disease. In other words, losing healthy gut bacteria harms the bees in the same ways it harms us. But for the bees, the damage happens more quickly and their populations drop.
Once the bees have lost large portions of their gut flora, they become more susceptible to other bacteria which is not friendly to bees. Where bees could previously survive exposure to Serratia marcescens bacteria, for example, losing their gut bacteria makes subsequent exposures deadly.
Now, we have yet another serious reason to treat glyphosate as a serious environmental toxin. Biologist and insect expert, Professor Dave Goulson of the University of Sussex said, “It now seems that we have to add glyphosate to the list of problems that bees face. This study is also further evidence that the landscape-scale application of large quantities of pesticides has negative consequences that are often hard to predict.”
He agrees with our appraisal that the bees’ dependence on healthy gut bacteria mirrors our own. This is backed up with stats that show a correlation between increased use of glyphosate and deaths caused by degraded gut biotics in humans and bees.
At present, more than 700,000 tons of glyphosate are produced every year for use on agricultural products, and it has been in use for almost half a century.