The global chemical corporation, Monsanto, is not having a good year, but neither are the vital pollinators known as bees. New studies have emerged that find that Monsanto’s Roundup chemical, glyphosate, is indeed harming the bees, though not in ways one might expect. The studies come out right after the company was ordered to pay $289 million after a jury found that a California man had probably developed cancerous lesions all over his body from exposure to Roundup as a groundskeeper.
The studies should teach us something vital: Life on earth is delicate and interconnected, and often depends on essential help from the tiniest of life-forms called bacteria. As it turns out, the studies show that species of bacteria living in the gut of bees are vulnerable to glyphosate, because it targets an enzyme the bacteria produce. The enzyme is only produced by bacteria and plants.
Now as we would all expect by now, Monsanto objects and claims that studies showing their chemical harms insects are incorrect, but they have been carried out in multiple locations by different researchers around the world, from Texas to China.
From The Guardian:
“We demonstrated that the abundances of dominant gut microbiota species are decreased in bees exposed to glyphosate at concentrations documented in the environment,” said Erick Motta and colleagues from University of Texas at Austin in their new paper. They found that young worker bees exposed to glyphosate exposure died more often when later exposed to a common bacterium.”
The big problem when the microbiota dies is that this weakens the bee’s immune system, leaving them at risk from deadly infections. Scientists have long wondered why bees have become more prone to infestation by parasitic mites and infections leading to the dread colony collapse disorder. Could exposure to glyphosate be a part of the problem?
The studies in China published in July showed that honeybee larvae were more likely to grow slowly or die when exposed to the chemical. An earlier study from 2015 showed that bees exposed to glyphosate had impaired cognitive abilities and were sometimes unable to return to the hive. That’s a deadly problem for a bee colony.
Keep in mind, bees aren’t the only life-form that depend on healthy gut bacteria to survive. All the way up the connected foodchain, animals require the functions of microbiota to live. As microscopic as they are, we simply can’t live without them. Now consider that children all over the country are consuming glyphosate residue in breakfast cereal right now.
The company that produced Agent Orange would like us to know their stance on the issue, even as they face litigation across the country from people who say Roundup gave them cancer.
“Claims that glyphosate has a negative impact on honey bees are simply not true. No large-scale study has found any link between glyphosate and the decline of the honeybee population. More than 40 years of robust, independent scientific evidence shows that it poses no unreasonable risk for humans, animal, and the environment generally.”
To put this statement in context: The importance of bees can’t be overstated. Eminent scientists have declared that bees are “the most invaluable species on the planet.”
At the annual Earthwatch debate in 2008, Dr. George McGavin said:
“Bee populations are in freefall. A world without bees would be totally catastrophic.”
Until that catastrophe comes, Monsanto keeps on raking in the profits and bees keep on dying.
Featured image: dead honeybee by Luca Biada via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)