The last speaker of the day at MSBA’s annual conference was Jerry Hayes–the beekeeper who is now working for Monsanto. I couldn’t help but notice that a number of people left before Hayes got up to speak, and I happened to overhear one pair of gentlemen heatedly discussing Monsanto as they walked past me, so I am sure their departure was related to Hayes’ presentation.
I also noticed that Hayes put on the MSBA beekeeper’s shirt that Erin had given each of our speakers–and I wondered if that too was a PR move, though he had brought his family to Maine with him, and they’d apparently done some sight-seeing (what a perfect time of year to visit, too–the forests were at peak fall foliage!) and Hayes was practically gushing about how lovely Maine is–but of course, those of us who live here already know that!
Jerry Hayes worked in Florida as the state apiarist there, and also writes the “In the Classroom” portion of the American Bee Journal. Apparently he and Tony have a long history, and it was rather entertaining to see the two men ribbing each other good naturedly throughout the course of the day.
However, at the beginning of this year Hayes went to work for Monsanto at Beeologics, which Monsanto has recently purchased (see this link to an article from the Huffington Post for more info on that).
Hayes’ presentation was called “Monsanto’s Commitment to the Honeybee Industry”. He talked a lot about the problems beekeepers are facing, which he considers to be 70-80% due to the varroa mite. I should hope by now that this is not news to beekeepers.
Calling bees “flying dust mops”, Hayes explained that they are exposed to, and pick up all sorts of chemicals within a 2 miles radius. Apparently he took samples from his own hives following a period of non-treatment, and was surprised to find a number of chemical pesticides in the comb, including coumaphos, fluvalinate, chlopyrifos, and coumaphos oxon. There were several more, but these had the highest percentages–in fact, coumaphos and fluvalinate are now present in 100% of hives, according to Jerry Hayes.
“We eat very well because of chemicals.” Hayes said. He talked about how Monsanto is working to figure out how to feed the world on a given amount of agricultural land, that they are working to decrease the amount of pesticides farmers need to spray onto their crops and into the open environment. He even went so far as to say that Monsanto wants sustainability too, and that they are working toward a chemical-free world.
According to Hayes 40% of our produce is currently imported, and Monsanto is working the make the US self-sustaining.
He also went on to say that the Bt toxin is specific to Lepidoptera insects–butterflies and moths, caterpillars and the like, and has no effect on Apis mellifera–the honeybee.
Until now beekeepers have been on their own. There has been little help for beekeepers struggling with pests and pathogens simply because the beekeeping industry is a small one, and none of the large research corporation wanted to be bothered with it. Then in 2006 Colony Collapse Disorder emerged and bees and beekeeping received unparalleled media attention, which drums up resources for beekeepers. Monsanto has made the commitment to invest in research for the benefit of the honeybee. Hayes calls it a collaboration between Monsanto and scientific research. He believes it’s worth the gamble to put our trust in Monsanto, he says “…certainly they’ve made mistakes, but in this instance Monsanto may be able to make big changes in the beekeeping industry.”
It was a bit disappointing that there wasn’t a lot of discussion about how Monsanto and Beeologics were working to solve problems plaguing bees, though in passing Hayes briefly mentioned Remebee, which is a medication to fight off the Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus, reducing the risk of CCD. And also that there had been some talk about the possibility of inserting a gene in the soybean (for example) to produce more nectar for bees to reduce the need for migratory beekeepers.
To conclude his presentation Hayes reminded the beekeepers that we do need help, and that Monsanto was offering their financial backing for the time being. He asked that we support him in this endeavor so that Monsanto would continue to offer the support that bee-research so desperately needs.
Personally I was left with mixed feelings following Jerry Hayes’ presentation. He was a very knowledgeable and articulate speaker, and seemed very passionate about helping honeybees and beekeepers. However, knowing what I know about Monsanto’s products and business practices, it’s difficult to accept their “help” with something I prize so highly–namely my honeybees. And the idea of altering plants even further, even if it’s to produce more nectar for pollinators in order to reduce the need to move honeybee colonies, rubs me the wrong way. Nature is a beautiful thing all on it’s own–and changing the way these organisms perform seems degrading.
So what say you? Do you feel Monsanto really has the honeybee’s best interests at heart? How would you feel about a GM-crop that offered pollinating insects more nectar to reduce the need for migratory beekeeping?
Check out the next post in this series: 10 tips on how to avoid GMOs