Neonicotinoids, GMOs, and Colony Collapse Disorder

Neonicotinoids, GMOs, and Colony Collapse Disorder

A new propaganda point has entered the anti-GMO repertoire – that GMOs are killing the honey bees. This claim, like many of their claims, is highly misleading, as the actual cause is incidental to the technology of genetic modification or even its use. This hasn’t stopped headlines like this one from organicconsumers.org: GMOs Are Killing the Bees, Butterflies, Birds and . . . ?

This story follows a common strategy among the intellectually dishonest anti-GMO propaganda machine. The fact is, producing enough food to feed over 7 billion people (and growing) is not easy, and requires intensive high-yield farming. Farming, not surprisingly, is having an impact on the ecosystem. Just cutting down forests to make room for crops can have a huge effect, in addition to displacing native species. Perhaps the most challenging aspect of farming’s effect on the environment is that anytime you want to grow millions or even billions of something, critters will evolve to exploit that food source. Any attempt you make to fight back against those critters will inevitably result in resistance.

We face the same challenge with antibiotics. Crowding into cities, and the growing population of humans meant that bacteria who use humans for their lifecycle exploded, leading to outbreaks and epidemics of infectious diseases. Antibiotics have been a powerful weapon against bacterial infections, but evolution is relentless and has led increasingly to antibiotic resistance among bacteria pathogenic to humans and our livestock. This is a genuine dilemma, as we struggle to come up with new antibiotics, and enforce practices that reduce the emergence of resistance.

As an aside, this does not mean that antibiotics are bad, just that maintaining their effectiveness is challenging. So-called “superbugs” are only super because they are resistant to antibiotics. They are no more harmful than bacteria in the pre-antibiotic era.

There is an exact analogy between this situation with antibiotics and the use of herbicides and insecticides (collectively, “pesticides”) to protect crops. Crowd rows of corn into corn “cities” and increase their population to billions, and those bugs that can eat corn will increase and even adapt to make use of this convenient food source. Further, they will likely evolve around any barrier we try to put in their way.

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