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Colony Collapse Disorder Linked To Pesticide, High-Fructose Corn Syrup 398

Posted by timothy
from the eat-your-vegetables-honey dept.
hondo77 writes "Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health '...have re-created the mysterious Colony Collapse Disorder in several honeybee hives simply by giving them small doses of a popular pesticide, imidacloprid.' This follows recently-reported studies also linked the disorder to neonicotinoid pesticides. What is really interesting is the link to when the disorder started appearing, 2006. 'That mechanism? High-fructose corn syrup. Many bee-keepers have turned to high-fructose corn syrup to feed their bees, which the researchers say did not imperil bees until U.S. corn began to be sprayed with imidacloprid in 2004-2005. A year later was the first outbreak of Colony Collapse Disorder.'"
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Colony Collapse Disorder Linked To Pesticide, High-Fructose Corn Syrup

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  • by Roger W Moore (538166) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @12:39PM (#39607059) Journal

    While the pesticide stuff is pretty obvious, I'm more skeptical about the HFCS link

    I know this is Slashdot but if you read the article the explanation becomes very clear. Some bees are fed with HFCS and the syrup itself is derived from crops treated with the pesticide and so it is present in low levels in the syrup and apparently only very low levels are needed to generate CCD.

  • by c0lo (1497653) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @12:43PM (#39607089)

    While the pesticide stuff is pretty obvious, I'm more skeptical about the HFCS link, especially if they're claiming its Monstanto GMO corn causing it. Or something silly. Yes, sugar is a poison, and HFCS is vile, but it's going to take another few studies to convince me.

    RTFA, there's nothing about Monsanto. In short, it says: "LD50 is no longer enough to assess the toxicity of a substance... neonicotinoid pesticides were found to impact the bees homing ability, so they get lost and die of exhaustion".

  • Re:Tangential Jab (Score:5, Informative)

    by bunratty (545641) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @12:47PM (#39607123)
    People have been claiming that HFCS is one of the root causes of the obestiy epidemic. Is fructose bad for you? [harvard.edu]
  • by oneiron (716313) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @12:51PM (#39607159)
    Normally, I would tell you to RTFA. In this case, however, it seems you didn't even read the summary:

    Many bee-keepers have turned to high-fructose corn syrup to feed their bees, which the researchers say did not imperil bees until U.S. corn began to be sprayed with imidacloprid in 2004-2005

    This quote from the summary implies that, rather than GMO corn causing it, it's the pesticide (imidacloprid) that farmers spray on GMO corn because the corn is engineered to resist it. You're right. The pesticide stuff is pretty obvious...if you read it.
  • by tomhath (637240) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @12:58PM (#39607227)
    And even more interesting, in all three studies the pesticide was intentionally fed to the bees in the sugar water; it wasn't collected by the bees. The Harvard study also points out the bee keepers feed their colonies HFCS, which apparently started containing trace amounts of the pesticide about the time they noticed colony collapse become a problem. Kind of sounds like they need to stop feeding HFCS.
  • by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @01:19PM (#39607341)

    Monsanto's corn, however, is designed to be pesticide resistant, so farmers can use more pesticide on their corn.

    No. Monsanto's corn is designed to be herbicide resistant.

  • by Znork (31774) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @01:34PM (#39607433)

    Much as I think humanity would be better off with Monsanto collectively put to rot in prison, to be fair the gengineered plants are usually gengineered to be herbicide resistant, not insecticide resistant (which, as insects and plants are very different, they tend to be anyway). Gengineering for insect control tends to be along the avenue of making the plants themselves create toxins (bt corn), which doesn't include neonicotinids yet.

    So in this particular case they might not be guilty (unlike other cases of bribery, illegal dumping of toxic waste, etc, etc).

  • by reverseengineer (580922) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @01:54PM (#39607575)
    Imidacloprid is considered neonicotinoid, but its biochemical effects should not be compared to natural nicotine. Just as humans do, insects have a couple of different types of receptors for the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, including a nicotinic receptor. Insect physiology favors the nicotinic receptor pathway such that some insectides which are mildly toxic to humans are extremely poisonous to insects. Nicotine can activate these receptors temporarily, which is responsible for its physiological effects. However, imidacloprid irreversibly binds to the nicotinic receptor, which blocks acetylcholine transmission and leads to the insect's death. It appears that sublethal concentrations may still cause significant impairment, similar to myasthenia gravis.
  • by russotto (537200) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @02:05PM (#39607641) Journal

    And even more interesting, in all three studies the pesticide was intentionally fed to the bees in the sugar water; it wasn't collected by the bees. The Harvard study also points out the bee keepers feed their colonies HFCS, which apparently started containing trace amounts of the pesticide about the time they noticed colony collapse become a problem. Kind of sounds like they need to stop feeding HFCS.

    Which would be a very neat conclusion... if it weren't for the fact that non-HFCS fed bees have also been hit by CCD. It doesn't let the insecticide or even tainted HFCS off the hook, but it does suggest that that it's not so simple as "stop feeding HFCS, bees survive".

  • by Zibodiz (2160038) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @02:11PM (#39607695)
    As a former beekeeper, I can tell you they don't. They're only fed HFCS during the late winter, once they've run out of honey. A month later, they were making honey again. It didn't used to hurt them at all.
  • by will_die (586523) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @02:21PM (#39607773) Homepage
    sugar syrup, cane or beet, was used
  • by dryeo (100693) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @03:14PM (#39608113)

    It's not about HFCS directly. It's the fact that is has trace amounts of a pesticide in it - pesticide that's intended to kill insects!

    To be more exact, the type of pesticide is insecticide. Pesticides also include herbicides, fungicides, avacides (birds), rodenticides, nematodacides, bactericides amongst others. (spelling may be slighty off as it's been over 30 years since I studied this and SeaMonkey's spell checker doesn't know most of these terms).
    Unfortunately bees are quite sensitive to many insecticides so an amount of insecticide that is needed to be effective against insects that have been developing resistance for many generations is very likely to be toxic to bees.

  • by Joce640k (829181) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @03:32PM (#39608195) Homepage

    Do you have any experience in this field that would justify your position?

    I stopped reading at "sugar is a poison".

    Without sugar you wouldn't be reading this.

  • by emt377 (610337) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @04:13PM (#39608467)

    My immediate questions are, what biochemical mechanism is in place that makes imidacloprid dangerous to bees, and if trace amounts are found in most if not all HFCS, is there any consumption concern for humans who eat food with HFCS in it?

    It's a neurotoxin that causes paralysis by disrupting a neurotransmitter that's present in insects but not in warm-blooded animals. It acts on contact.

  • by MillionthMonkey (240664) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @04:24PM (#39608521)

    My immediate questions are, what biochemical mechanism is in place that makes imidacloprid dangerous to bees

    The one that was engineered into imidacloprid on purpose: it blocks nicotinoid pathways that primarily exist only in the central nervous systems of insects.

    and if trace amounts are found in most if not all HFCS, is there any consumption concern for humans who eat food with HFCS in it?

    No. Most modern insecticides were designed not to target mechanisms that are present in the nervous systems of mammals.

  • by Roger W Moore (538166) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @05:19PM (#39608867) Journal
    Sorry - got the source of the limits wrong - those limits are from the US EPA so there are acceptable, non-zero limits in the US for food.
  • by LanMan04 (790429) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @05:51PM (#39609041)

    Nope, there was a correlation between those viruses and funguses and CCD, but no causal like.

    They researchers give the bees TINY amounts of this pesticide, and POOF, they can create CCD on demand.

    So we know this pesticide causes CCD, and the most likely vector is via HFCS. Bee keepers start feeding bees HFCS in 2005-2006, right when CCD started occurring.

  • by dr2chase (653338) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @05:53PM (#39609053) Homepage

    It's not just "human greed". If you want to keep bees someplace that it gets good-N-cold, feeding them can help them get through the winter. I had bees, a new batch. I took NO honey the first year. We had a nasty winter (not this one just past, but the previous year). Bees did not survive, partly because I did not feed them. Another way to feed them (not sure how much HFCS is in this, but I will check) that a beekeeper friend recommended was to get bulk fondant icing, smear it on wax paper, and just stick that in the top (?) of the hive.

    When I was a kid, we kept bees in Florida. That was pretty much dead easy, compared to beekeeping in the Northeast.

  • by ktappe (747125) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @06:24PM (#39609207)

    According to the article, it took more than a month for the bees to show the CCD effects when they were fed trace amounts.

    Also, if the hives are running out of honey in late winter, then the keeper is taking too much honey.

    Sorry, that's simply not the case. If a hive produces only enough honey to get itself through the winter, then under your plan, the beekeeper can harvest no honey. That's not viable business. It's quite normal to take most (no, not all) the honey from a hive and augment what the bees have left with sugar water or (more recently) HFCS.

    (Yes, I grew up performing these very duties.)

  • by tgibbs (83782) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @06:43PM (#39609283)

    It is an irreversible agonist that binds to nicotinic acetylcholine receptors and first activates then blocks them. At high doses it will paralyze muscles. At these low doses it would more likely act by interfering with cognition. Because it is irreversible, it likely has a cumulative effect.

  • by Raenex (947668) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @07:09PM (#39609415)

    I stopped reading at "sugar is a poison".

    It is, in the same way that alcohol is a poison. Alcohol can be burned for energy, and in moderation it even has health benefits, but it has to be processed by the liver as a poison.

    Sugar consists of glucose and fructose. Fructose is processed by the liver much like alcohol, but the brain isn't affected by fructose so you don't feel the same effects.

    Before modern agriculture made sugar so cheap, we primarily got fructose from fruit, which also contained fiber to fill us up and other nutrients. Now sugar is cheap and abundant, and the amount Americans eat per year is staggering, and it almost certainly is the cause of the twin epidemics of diabetes and obesity.

    Is Sugar Toxic? [nytimes.com]

  • by Rei (128717) on Sunday April 08, 2012 @01:17AM (#39610711) Homepage

    It's been linked to about a dozen different things, with each study calling itself "conclusive". It actually starts to get annoying after a while.

    Here's the most balanced and detailed [wired.com] article I've seen on this most recent paper so far. In particular, I like Krupke's comments:

    “If the relationship was as easy as that, we’d have noticed it long ago. There are areas where neonicotinoids are used, but you don’t have colony loss,” Krupke said. “But what these studies are showing is that because neonicotinoids are absolutely ubiquitous, and we’re seeing sub-lethal effects, is that they’re stressors. They’ve softened up the bees for other parasites.”

    Pesticide risk analysis in the United States has focused too much on whether chemicals are immediately, obviously toxic, said Krupke. “Our way of thinking is fundamentally flawed,” he said. “We need to look at sub-lethal effects, and for a longer time period. These pesticides are everywhere, every year. We’ve never used pesticides in the way we’re using them now, where we charge up a plant and it expresses pesticides all year long.”

    I think that's a fair view on the subject, and ties in well with all of the other "conclusive" studies.

    It's also worth remembering -- not that it helps anything now -- that honeybees are not native to the US. We only need them because of our extreme use of pesticide-heavy monoculture. Pesticides obviously kill off native pollinators, but monoculture is just as bad -- when everything for dozens of miles around, for the most part, all blooms at once and then there's virtually nothing for the rest of the year, you can't support most types of pollinator populations.

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