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Don't be stung by misinformation about bees

Don't be stung by misinformation about bees
I’m sure we all have a Facebook friend who clogs up our news feeds with Game of Throne memes, cookie dough brownie recipes and political rants.

Recently, I saw a link posted on Facebook that caught my attention because it related to a favorite topic of mine: bees. Every spring, I fantasize about starting my own backyard bee hive, until my husband reminds me that, yes, bees sting.

This Facebook post claimed that GMOs are killing bees, and it included a link to a research study supposedly proving it. And like other studies claiming to show the dangers of crops with genetically modified organisms, it was very short on science. I followed the link to read the original research study and realized right away that something wasn’t quite right.

The study monitored the health of only 18 bee hives. That’s right – just 18 bee hives. The researchers fed the bees a diet of corn syrup and sugar water laced with pesticides, not exactly real-world conditions where bees feed on mixed pollen sources in the wild.

By the end of the winter, six out of the 12 hives that were given pesticides had been abandoned, compared to one out of the six control hives.

Again, it’s a very small sample to draw broad conclusions, not to mention that winters can be harsh for both bees and people. You can find an expert’s interpretation of the study on the Biofortified website .

More to the point, the study didn’t have anything to do with GMO crops, even though anti-GMO activists have been quick to share it.

And, of course, it didn’t mention the growing awareness in the ag community about bee health. Iowa farmers and the companies and co-ops that supply farmers are taking action to reduce the potential impact on these important pollinators.

Farmers learn how to reduce risks to pollinators as part of the state’s certified pesticide applicator training, which farmers and farm workers are required to pass in order to apply pesticides in Iowa. I’ve also heard of suppliers that are inviting local beekeepers to meet with Iowa crop farmers to discuss how they can help protect hives.

Some of that effort goes to the safe use of neonic pesticides, which are often used as a seed treatment for grain crops and vegetables. Treated seeds are coated with the neonic pesticide before they are planted in the ground to prevent insect damage before germination.

Because of seed treatments, farmers often can avoid blanket-spraying pesticides on fields when seedlings emerge, reducing the risk of spray drift to neighboring ditches where pollinator-friendly wildflowers grow.

However, it takes more than farmers’ efforts to help protect the bees. Homeowners should also keep bees and other pollinators in mind when maintaining lawns and gardens this summer.

Researchers have found that pesticides approved for home gardens, lawns and ornamental plants, such as roses, have manufacturer-recommended application rates up to 120 times higher than rates approved for agricultural crops. See study here.

For information about how to create a pollinator-friendly yard, visit the Xerecs’ societies “Bring Back the Pollinators” website.

The Scientific Beekeeping website  also takes an in-depth look at the research into neonic pesticides and honeybee health.

Also, for expert answers on how GMOs impact pollinators, or any questions you have about GMOs, visit the GMO Answers website .

By Teresa Bjork. Teresa is senior feature writer at Iowa Farm Bureau Federation