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Refugee Bees
Friday, August 15, 2008


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One story making the rounds lately is of German 'refugee bees' fleeing the countryside for a safe haven in the city. Is this 'public theater' activism, hysteria, a sound bee-keeping practice, or a regulatory nightmare?

Inter-Press Service reports <http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=43557>  that German bees are "fleeing insecticides and genetically modified crops to take refuge in cities". That's not quite accurate. Actually, six German bee-keepers moved their 30,000 bees into Munich, claiming a need to save the insects from pesticides and GM crops.

This is not an isolated incident. Relocation of bees is taking place all over Germany.

Peter Rozenkranz, entomologist at the University of Stuttgart, told IPS that "practically all pesticides and insecticides are deadly for bees", which makes it a good idea to move them away from the countryside.

Rozenkranz also spoke of monocultures 'depriving bees of their natural habitat'. "After some good weeks in spring, bees are threatened by famine, because later in the year, there are almost no more blooming flowers."

So, moving the bees to town might be a sensible precaution, or it might be simple necessity. Or it might be part of standard practice in beekeeping: moving hives to where the flowers are.

"Today, it is easier for bees to live in the cities, because the recreational green areas and courtyards have exuberant, varied vegetation, which blossoms over several months, from early in the spring
to the end of the summer," Rosenkranz said. "In the cities, bees have only a couple of hundred metres to fly, from a public garden to a balcony to a courtyard to find luscious flowers, and mostly free of

Amid all this, do GM crops play a role in this flight of the bees? Perhaps.

One of the beekeepers who moved is hives to town is Karl Heinz Bablok. Earlier this year, he and several of his colleagues filed a lawsuit in Augsburg, 60 km northwest of Munich, alleging that GM crops were endangering their business. The court ruled in May that because the crops were legal, it was the beekeepers' responsibility to move their beehives somewhere else.

This may not be simply the result of beekeeper animus against GM crops. Bablok says that the problem is regulatory. His explanation is that in Germany, GM crops are legal, but their harvests are forbidden for human consumption. "If our bees were to come in touch with the genetically modified maize, and the honey was contaminated with it, we would not be allowed to sell it", he says.

"I could get up to three years in prison," Bablok told a journalist from news agency DDP, in an account carried by English-language TheLocal <http://www.thelocal.de/12503/20080615/> . He said that was the penalty for people found selling honey for human consumption with more than four percent GM content. This is said to be part of the court's ruling http://www.moraybeekeepers.co.uk
, which told Bablok to move his bees, but GMObelus has been unable to confirm this.

Manfred Hederer, president of the German Professional Beekeeper Association, explained that shops will not take honey that does not come with a signed paper to say it is under four percent GM.

There might be some legal sleight-of-hand involved this explanation. It may well be that the four-percent tolerance limit is imposed by shop-keepers, and that the penalty would be for falsely labeling a product 'non-GM'.

If that's the case, the German situation may resemble that of Australian beekeeper Graham Connell
<http://www.macedonrangesleader.com.au/article/2008/07/07/38558_mrv_news.html> . He says GM crops could bankrupt his business because honey sellers are asking beekeepers to sign declarations that their honey is GM-free. Since there is no official registry in Australia of farms
planting GM crops, he says, he has no way of knowing if the bees have feasted on GM canola.

So, should this article be filed under 'Business', or 'Legal', or 'Sci/Tech', or 'NGO Watch'?