There was quite a stir amongst beekeepers and anti-gmo activists this past October 2011 when chemical and seed giant Monsanto purchased Beeologics , a small company best known for its “groundbreaking research” vis a vis the application of RNAi technology on honeybees, a mechanism meant to block gene expression.
This was Monsanto’s first acquisition of a pest control biotech company. Yet surprisingly the terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Since its inception in 2007, Beeologics has been developing Remebee,® an anti-viral treatment for use in honeybees affected with Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus (IAPV), a bee-specific virus, which originated from Australia and found and named in Israel in 2002.
I first heard about Beelogics, which is headquartered both in both Florida and Israel, in April 2008 when President and CEO Eyal Ben-Chanoch reached out toVanishing of the Bees via email after viewing our trailer and spotting some familiar faces.
Eyal explained that Beeologics was assembling scientists, beekeepers and business people “to create the missing corporate support” in an industry that traditionally has only been supported by a few hardware manufacturers. Sure there were hives, tools, bee suits and the like being offered but very little had been invested in technology and medicine for the bees — until Beeologics came along that is.
To put things in context, many scientists were all abuzz about IAPV at the time. Many firmly believed that it was a primer for Colony Collapse Disorder. Remembee, meanwhile, was regarded as a first line of defense to control the virus and its effect on bee mortality.
We inoculate humans, why not insects?
Eyal assured me that Remembee wasn’t another “snake oil” product but rather a treatment developed by ‘real’ scientists at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. They were testing the product with the help of the University of Florida, Penn State, the USDA/ARS and some of the largest beekeepers in the country including David Hackenberg, CCD’s poster child and the main character in our film.
While CCD is a complex issue no-doubt, I told Eyal that our findings pointed to another cause: newfangled chemicals called systemic pesticides. Instead of being applied to leaves, they are enrobed on seeds and/or entrenched in the soil, allowing for the poison to literally become part of the plant.
Consequently, honeybees bring the systemics back to the hive in the form of pollen and nectar and store it in their honeycomb. When future generations dip into their reserves, they ingest toxins that target their central nervous system, affect their navigational capabilities and impair their memory. More importantly, the chemicals compromise their immune system – the number one key to fighting any kind of insult to the body, including a virus like IAPV.
As a scientist Eyal didn’t quite agree with our conclusions.
“While I am also concerned with the world we are going to leave to our children, those who are using so-called facts that are based on pseudo or incomplete scientific work are as dangerous as the chemical companies who don’t release the data they have,” he concluded.
Which brings us back to Monsanto, arguably the most detested chemical company on the face of the planet.
Why were they drawn to Beeologics? Was it because the competition (Syngenta and Bayer Crop Science) had also expressed interest? Or was it because they’d identified some low-hanging fruit to add to their portfolio of proprietary life forms? Perhaps Monsanto, which boasts a revenue of more than $10.5 billion per year, plans on buying anything and everything to do with gene manipulation?
Considering that the honey bee has been sequenced, how long before we bear witness to a genetically modified bee? I’ve been saying this since 2008 for the record!
… Introducing pesticide-resistant SUPER BEE Patent # 2457842149…
If seeds are any indication, Apis Melifera may also soon belong to Monsanto. Kill the bees with GM and pesticides, offer a band aid solution by creating a bee that is resistant to all the crap peddled on the market and then persuade/force beekeepers to buy Monsanto bees or else. It’s wicked genius.
But surely Monsanto and many others would call all of this paranoid phooey.
Take one well known scientist/beekeeper’s take on the subject.
“Honeybees aren’t an organism that anyone, who understands anything about their molecular biology, would advise as a subject for genetic modification,” he recently told colleagues on the online Bee List. “Do you really think that Monsanto envisions that there would be any substantive return on investment on a patented bee? It would need to be propagated by instrumental insemination, so there would be a very limited market. This discussion is beginning to sound like the Twilight Zone.”
Insect inoculation may be the latest rave, but is it the best solution?
Today we know that subsequent research failed to confirm a link between CCD and IAPV and found that although IAPV can result in honey bee mortality, the symptoms are not consistent with those of bees dying from CCD.
With that said, why does Monsanto’s site claim that ”the Remebee® product line is now proving to be a viable solution to “Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), “Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus (IAPV) infection and other diseases that threaten the world’s bee population.”
Is this just bad advertising copy?
Opponents meanwhile wonder whether using an antiviral agent will result in any significant decline of CCD when we now know that bees around the country and across the world are constantly exposed to an array of highly toxic pesticides that are known to have serious effects not only on our virgins of toil, but a range of other pollinators.
Perhaps anti-viral remedies are the next generation of products used to combat agricultural pests and pathogens but they don’t deal with the root of our problems such as native bee extinctions & unsustainable agriculture (ie GE crops, pesticides and herbicides). In the end we will still have a polluted environment.
Furthermore there may likely be unknown effects in gene expression, in anti-viral abilities, and in their cability to evolve inherent defenses against viruses, etc, adds Brian Dykstra, who holds a degree in both environmental policy & in progress pollination biology. He also manages Ethnobeeology’s FB page.
And yet Beeologics is confident that the acquisition comes at an ideal time and that they are in safe hands.
Shortly after the purchase, Nitzan Paldi (CTO and co-founder of Beeologics) posted a blog where he stated that Monsanto’s “leadership team and scientists are just as passionate about helping growers and agriculture as [they] are.”
“As a scientist, it’s gratifying that research we’ve been working on may have an opportunity to be tapped for much broader use in agriculture; potentially helping growers around the world meet the ever increasing demands being placed on agriculture worldwide.”
And if you still have doubts fear not!
According to a Monsanto press release we should not be concerned, because it will be business as usual. Beelogics will continue to “promote bee health” under the new ownership. And Monsanto will simply use “the base technology from Beeologics as a part of its continuing discovery and development pipeline.” Whatever that means.
How is using science to circumvent the laws of nature ever a positive thing?Facelifts and stem cell research aside of course.
To further reassure folks, the press release goes to describe Monsanto as “a leading global provider of technology-based solutions and agricultural products that improves farm productivity and food quality.” They even state that they are into sustainability.
Jaw-dropping. Apparently Monsanto is experiencing delusions about its identity. Because the Monsanto most know is pretty much a ‘U.S. backed bioterrorist organization worthy of international intervention.’
In the past two decades, Monsanto’s seed monopoly has grown so powerful that they control the genetics of nearly 90% of five major commodity crops including corn, soybeans, cotton, canola and sugar beets!!
They make gobs of cash and yet sue farmers in poor countries who make less than $500 per year. In many cases farmers are forced to stop growing certain organic and conventional crops to avoid genetic contamination and potential lawsuits. Between 1997 and 2010, Monsanto admits to filing 144 lawsuits against America’s farmers, while settling another 700 out of court for undisclosed amounts. Due to these aggressive lawsuits, Monsanto has created an atmosphere of fear in rural America and driven dozens of farmers into bankruptcy.
As one person recently remarked on our FB page, “it’s a shitty business model to create something that can’t be controlled except by suing the hell out of people.”
And in India, thousands of farmers have committed suicide – by drinking insecticide no less – because they were promised harvests and income only to have crops fail and debts surmount thanks to their newly planted GM seeds.
So you be the judge. Is Monsanto really getting into bee protection? Or is this another example of man tampering with the bees – with seemingly a lot more money?
Remembee is currently being reviewed for potential commercial sale by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Another product RemebeePro, is also on its way. For more on RNA interference watch this video.