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Bee Colony Collapse Disaster was Not Caused by Bt Proteins
Prof. C Kameswara Rao
Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education,
Bangalore, India
krao@vsnl.com, www.fbae.org, www.fbaeblog.org

Colony Collapse Disaster (CCD), the desertion and death of almost all the bees in a colony, occurs now and then, sometimes in epidemic proportions, in all countries resulting in 50 to 90 per cent losses.    While several causes for CCD were identified, no specific reason or reliable remedies are known. 

There was a collapse of Honey Bee colonies in the US and Europe in the middle of last year, causing enormous losses.  The anti-Genetic Engineering (GE) activists were quick to attribute the CCD to the pollen of Bt crops, and used it vigorously in their campaign. 

As there are several Bt transgenics in cultivation in the US, it is not odd to consider them as one of probable causes of the CCD.  But in the case of the EU countries and elsewhere that argument is absurd, as there is a distinct lack of Bt pollen in the environment.

Poisoning by agricultural chemicals, unusually higher than normal winter damage and natural age dependent colony degeneration, are often confused with CCD.

A detailed write up by Christian Evans in News Target (March 2007) analyzed the various possible causes for last year’s bee colony disaster and considered that the heavy chemical inputs in modern agricultural practices as responsible for the problem

A very large number of detailed studies have shown that the Bt proteins in Bt transgenic crops are not dangerous to bees, as also emphasized by the consensus Document No. 42 (July 2007), released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.   So far not even a single peer reviewed report has proved that the products of Bt genes in GE crops are harmful to honey bees, bumble bees or such other insect pollination vectors.

At a hearing at the US House Subcommittee on Horticulture and Organic Agriculture about CCD (April 5, 2007), three experts testified that the pollen from GE crops was not one of the causes for the disaster.  Nicotinoid pesticides, which may affect honey bee’s learning ability, were suggested as one of the probable causes.  The general impression at the Committee hearings was that the problem was overblown from the level of normal over-winter losses.

The Irish Times (April 06, 2007) attributed bee colony losses to either the usually inexplicable CCD or a new form of Varroa destructor, a mite that attacks bees, which was prevalent for the past four or five years in Ireland.

The Omega News (April 15, 2007) raised the question if mobile phones are wiping out the bees, by scrambling their signals and same was reiterated in June 2007, in an article in the Independent (UK)

Using DNA sequencing and analytical methods, recently a team of scientists has found a significant connection between the Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus (IAPV) and honey bee CCD (Science Daily, September 6, 2007).

While it would require some more investigations and time to confirm the role of Varroa mites and/or the IAPV, it is now certain that Bt proteins are not the cause of CCD. 

December 27, 2007