By Gunther Latsch
A mysterious decimation of bee populations has German
beekeepers worried, while a similar phenomenon in the United
States is gradually assuming catastrophic
proportions. The consequences for agriculture and the economy could be
Is the mysterous decimation of bee populations in
the US and Germany
a result of GM crops?
Walter Haefeker is a man who is used to painting grim
scenarios. He sits on the board of directors of the German Beekeepers
Association (DBIB) and is vice president of the European Professional
Beekeepers Association. And because griping is part of a lobbyist's trade, it
is practically his professional duty to warn that "the very existence of
beekeeping is at stake."
The problem, says Haefeker, has a number of causes, one being the varroa
mite, introduced from Asia, and another is the
widespread practice in agriculture of spraying wildflowers with herbicides and
practicing monoculture. Another possible cause, according to Haefeker, is the
controversial and growing use of genetic engineering in agriculture.
As far back as 2005, Haefeker ended an article he contributed to the journal
Der Kritischer Agrarbericht (Critical Agricultural Report) with an
Albert Einstein quote: "If the bee disappeared off the surface of the
globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more
pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man."
Mysterious events in recent months have suddenly made Einstein's apocalyptic
vision seem all the more topical. For unknown reasons, bee populations
are disappearing -- something that is so far only harming beekeepers. But the
situation is different in the United States,
where bees are dying in such dramatic numbers that the economic consequences
could soon be dire. No one knows what is causing the bees to perish, but some
experts believe that the large-scale use of genetically modified plants in the US
could be a factor.
Felix Kriechbaum, an official with a regional beekeepers'
association in Bavaria, recently
reported a decline of almost 12 percent in local bee populations. When
"bee populations disappear without a trace," says Kriechbaum, it is
difficult to investigate the causes, because "most bees don't die in the
beehive." There are many diseases that can cause bees to lose their sense
of orientation so they can no longer find their way back to their hives.
Manfred Hederer, the president of the German Beekeepers Association, almost
simultaneously reported a 25 percent drop in bee populations throughout Germany.
In isolated cases, says Hederer, declines of up to 80 percent have been
reported. He speculates that "a particular toxin, some agent with which we
are not familiar," is killing the bees.
Politicians, until now, have shown little concern for such warnings or the
woes of beekeepers. Although apiarists have been given a chance to make their
case -- for example in the run-up to the German cabinet's approval of a genetic
engineering policy document by Minister of Agriculture Horst Seehofer in
February -- their complaints are still largely ignored.
Even when beekeepers actually go to court, as they recently did in a joint
effort with the German chapter of the organic farming organization Demeter
International and other groups to oppose the use of genetically modified corn
plants, they can only dream of the sort of media attention environmental
organizations like Greenpeace attract with their protests at test sites.