Did GMO Corn Really Kill All Those Bees In Canada?

Toshihiro Gamo (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Toshihiro Gamo (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

This piece originally appeared on HoneyColony.

Last week, a story about GMO corn killing millions of bees in Canada went viral. Only one small oversight, the title was misleading and the event was two years old. With the pesticide pushers regularly spreading misinformation, it’s important that we get our facts straight. What is the current bee situation in Canada and who really is to blame?

The Link Between GMO Corn And Bees

As the director of the film Vanishing of the Bees, and the resident bee guardian within my virtual community, FB friends regularly post bee news on my wall. Last week, a handful of people sent me a story titled 37 Million Bees Found Dead In Ontario, Canada After Planting Large GMO Corn Field. It sounded familiar. Interested to learn more, I tracked down the beekeeper Dave Schuit who had lost all those bees.

I discovered that not only was the story inaccurate, it was also pretty old.

“Yes, I saw [the piece] circulating on Facebook, but I don’t know why they reran it. That happened in 2012. I’ve lost 100 million bees by now,” he confirmed.

OrganicHealth.co started the falsehood by basically repurposing a version comprised of two articles published by The Post in June 2013 and CBC News in August 2013. Neither of those articles mentioned GMO corn as the culprit.

(Journalistic standards have deteriorated into mediocrity. Today, anyone can slap on a misleading title and pass it off news. We live in a digital misinformation bubble. Oftentimes, the stories are a result of shoddy reporting or straight out lies, like when the anti-GMO labeling committee on Prop 37 not only misused the FDA logo but even went as far as to fabricate a quote. How can a $45 million campaign make a mistake like that? But I digress.)

Other than the title and the first sentence, Organic Health steered away from the notion that a GMO corn field killed millions of bees in Canada. If you read far enough, they correctly concluded that systemic pesticides are at fault.

While Dave (interestingly the poster boys for CCD in America are also both called Dave) did indeed lose about 600 hives, there is a distinction that needs to be made. These seeds, which, by the way, likely are genetically modified, are enrobed in systemic pesticides like clothianidin and/or thiamethoxam. These nicotine-based neurotoxins are what impair the bees’ navigational capabilities and compromise their immune and nervous systems’, causing paralysis and eventually death. In a way, it’s like the honeybee gets Alzheimer’s and is unable to find her way back home. A honeybee cannot live more than 24 hours without her hive.

While we all love to hate Monsanto – the makers of genetically modified organisms (GMO)—companies like Bayer and Syngenta don’t need any more help deflecting responsibility.

Accountability And Poisonous Drift

Since the original story ran, even more corn has been planted in Ontario, says Dave. And like many other commercial beekeepers in the United States, Dave too is now forced to hide his hives away from conventional farming in order to keep his bees alive. It’s pretty crazy, Canadian beekeepers are going through the exact same thing American beekeepers experienced when colony collapse disorder was first reported in 2006. Meanwhile France was the first country to feel the effects of these poisons when they were initially introduced on the market back in 1995.

In the spring and summer of 2012, Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) – the equivalent to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the US – received a significant number of honey bee mortality reports from the provinces of Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, Quebec, and Ontario. Most of the cases hailed from southern Ontario, involving more than 40 beekeepers and 240 different bee yard locations. Timing and location of these honey bee mortalities appeared to coincide with planting corn seed treated with insecticides.

It’s important to note that corn is wind pollinated however if it is tasseling and there is nothing around for food, bees will work it.

Because the seeds can stick together, talc is often added to the mix; and when air seeders are used, pesticide-laden dust particles blow all over the place. This exact occurrence was also reported in the United States, as well as Germany and France. Not only are bees affected by the dust, studies show that these systemic pesticides can also settle on the soil surface of neighboring fields and flowering plants like dandelions that bees do forage. Catch the drift? Systemic pesticides are taken up through roots and become part of the plant, hence contaminating our food supply, our rivers, and they can stay in the soil for up to 19 years!

Unlike the EPA, PMRA did confirm that neonicotinoid pesticides caused the widespread bee deaths in Ontario. Meanwhile, the Ontario’s Beekeepers Association have since filed a class-action lawsuit against the companies responsible for making these poisons i.e. Bayer CropScience and Syngenta.

“We’re currently trying to get more beekeepers to enlist in the suit. The chemical boys use a lot of manipulation to take the focus away from pesticides and attribute losses on mites, viruses, or other things like loss of habitat,” explains Dave.

Profits need to be protected. David L. Fischer, Director, Environmental Toxicology and Risk Assessment, from Bayer’s CropScience division in North Carolina, also blamed everything but Bayer products when my co director George Langworthy and I met with him several years ago. While Bayer forbid us from filming the interview or even using a tape recorder, they were pretty confident off camera that their poisons are safe on bees when used according to directions.

“Ultimately, there is no credible scientific evidence demonstrating a link between the use of neonicotinoid insecticides and the occurrence of widespread honey bee colony losses, including CCD,” Fischer wrote in a response to a piece in Forbes that ran in 2012.

More disinformation. There have been several very credible studies out of Yale, Purdue, Harvard, and Europe. The EPA itself just revealed that neonicotinoids provide little benefits to yield on genetically modified soybeans.

And if their products are so safe then why did the European Union instill a two-year ban on three of the most widely used systemic pesticides? Without nasty chemicals compromising their systems, the bee would be able to fight mites and viruses like it has for centuries.

But over the years, Giant agrichemical companies have engaged in a massive PR disinformation campaign where they spin science, strategically deflect attention away from poisons, establish bee care programs for positive publicity, and continue to tow the party line by claiming their poisons are safe. I have personally observed these tactics used in countries, including France, Germany, England, Italy, and Slovenia.

Oh Canada, my home and native land, welcome to the CCD Club.


Maryam Henein is an investigative journalist and the director of the award-winning documentary vanishing of the bees, narrated by Ellen page (www.vanishingbees.com) She is the Queen Bee of HoneyColony, a magazine and marketplace geared toward people who are starting on their health journey. HoneyColony is dedicated to putting honesty back into mainstream health and our food supply! This 75-second animation explains our concept: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SqCgdPE-hoM

Maryam Henein

I am an activist, investigative journalist and the founder of HoneyColony. I love to dance. I am a yogi who geeks out on food security issues.

1 Comment on "Did GMO Corn Really Kill All Those Bees In Canada?"

  1. SpaceCaptainWarlock | Nov 17, 2014 at 10:08 pm |

    Reminiscent of leaded gasoline. This corporate psychopathy is insidious.

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