By Christopher J. Petherick
Despite widespread opposition to genetically modified (GM) crops, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently approved GMalfalfa, threatening organic farms across the United States. In a related development, official Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) documents that were recently leaked show that the federal bureaucracy ignored concerns from its own scientists that a new, “advanced” pesticide will likely kill honeybees.
Bees are already struggling to survive in this country due to mysterious and bizarre condition: “colony collapse disorder” (CCD).
On Jan. 27, “the [USDA] announced it would allow the unrestricted, nationwide planting of genetically engineered alfalfa,” reported the Rodale Institute, the nation’s leading organic advocacy organizations. The concern among organic growers is that, in the years ahead, GM alfalfa will contaminate natural and organic alfalfa, because, unlike most crops, alfalfa pollen can travel for miles, mixing in with other alfalfa varieties in the area.
In a landmark 2006 study, Colorado State University researchers found GM alfalfa contaminated almost all of the alfalfa for miles around one test field that had been planted with the lab-created plants. They concluded: “The [GM alfalfa] gene was found at 83 percent of the collection sites, out to a distance of 1.7 miles from the pollen source.”
Why the concern over GMalfalfa? Well, alfalfa is the most common feed source for livestock such as cattle, sheep and goats. Once an area farmer introduces GM alfalfa to his fields, organic farmers will no longer be able to guarantee that the meat, milk, cheese and yogurt they produce will be GM-free. This would be a huge blow to both producers and consumers who value non- GM foods as a healthful alternative. Any organic growers who harvest and sell alfalfa seeds will likely be out of business, as their seeds may be contaminated by GM alfalfa.
Moreover, many weeds and pests in the United States are growing resistant to common herbicides and pesticides. As a result, industrial farms use more and more toxic chemicals to control weeds, pests and unwanted insects.
In a related story, the EPA, following in the USDA’s footsteps, quietly approved a new, highly toxic pesticide manufactured by German chemical maker Bayer. The EPA’s ruling came despite a study produced by its own
scientists, which found the chemicals will further impact already suffering honeybee populations.
Across the country, beekeepers have been puzzled about CCD, whereby as much as 50 percent of a hive can simply disappear without a trace.
Some entomologists contend that a combination of a fungus and a virus is to blame for CCD. But others believe CCD is amore complex disorder caused by-myriad environmental factors that disrupt complicated hive systems, breaking down honeybees’ immune systems. These include heavy use of pesticides poisoning bees, cellular towers confusing bees’ homing instinct and even GM crops polluting hives.
Anywhere from 30 to 40 percent of U.S. crops rely on bees to pollinate the plants. Pollination is of course the key “ingredient” to produce the fruits (and seeds for the vegetables) we eat. Without bees, many of the oldest varieties of fruit trees and vegetables would stop producing.
These include multiple varieties of apples, nuts, avocados, soybeans, asparagus, broccoli, celery, squash, cucumbers, citruses, peaches, cherries, blueberries, cranberries, strawberries, cantaloupe and other melons.
The pesticide in question is part of a class of bug-killing chemicals known as neonicotinoids. These insecticides are particularly nasty as they tend to be absorbed by the entire plant. Anything—insects, birds, rabbits, even people—that consumes the plant also ingests this toxin. Neonicotinoids even get into the pollen, which has some scientists very concerned about this chemical’s effects on bees.
Dr. Jeffrey Pettis at the USDA’s Bee Research Laboratory in Greenbelt, Md. found that, even at nearly imperceptible levels, neonicotinoids lowered bees’ immune systems, rendering them incapable of defending against infectious diseases.