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Amid mounting concerns about the potential problems associated from exposure to Roundup and the wide spread use of the glyphosate-based weedkiller, a new study suggests that the herbicide may be partially responsible for the worldwide die off of honey bees, by killing off helpful bacteria in their gut.
Researchers from the University of Texas report that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, may be part of the reason there has been a decline in the honey bee population. Their findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Glyphosate targets one particular enzyme that is usually only found in plants and microorganisms. However, that same enzyme happens to be present in most honey bee gut bacteria, the researchers found. The loss of that gut bacteria means that honey bees are more vulnerable to infections and opportunistic pathogens, the researchers warn.
Since about 2004, experts have warned that honey bees have suffered large population losses. Specifically, honey bee hives have died off by the millions due to what is known as colony collapse disorder. This occurs when most of the worker bees disappear, leaving behind the queen, food and a few nurse bees. This has always occurred, however, since the winter of 2004/2005, these die-offs have occurred in ever-increasing numbers.
The cause has never been fully understood, but has been contributed to Varroa and Acarapis mites, infection and starvation. If the findings of the new study are accurate, glyphosate could be weakening honey bees’ defenses towards all of those potential killers.
“In this study, we investigated the effects of glyphosate exposure on the size and composition of the honey bee gut microbiome,” the researchers indicated. “We found the microbiome was affected by glyphosate exposure during and after gut colonization, and that glyphosate exposure during early gut colonization increased mortality of bees exposed to an opportunistic pathogen.”
The researchers found that the loss of gut bacteria was pronounced three days after exposure to glyphosate, when bees who were exposed were returned to the hive. Some types of gut bacteria were more vulnerable to glyphosate than others. However, they found that young worker bees became more susceptible to a known bee pathogen called Serratia, increasing their risk of death.
In 2016, FDA research found high levels of Roundup contamination in honey.
The agency’s findings were first leaked by the food watchdog group U.S. Right to Know in September 2016. The group obtained records from the FDA, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Many were heavily redacted, blocking out large portions of text. However, the records show that FDA researchers had trouble finding honey that does not contain glyphosate residue.
Roundup Cancer Concerns
This new report on the side effects of Roundup for the honey bee population comes as Monsanto faces thousands of product liability lawsuits brought on behalf of farmers, landscapers and other consumers regularly exposed to the glyphosate-based weedkiller who have developed non-Hodkins lymphoma or other forms of cancer.
According to allegations raised in the Roundup lawsuits, plaintiffs indicate that they may have avoided the devastating cancer diagnosis if Monsanto had provided warnings about the potential health risks and important safety instructions that would have limited exposure.
Last month, the first case to go before a jury in the United States resulted in a $289 million verdict for a California school groundskeeper who is dying from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The case was granted an expedited trial date due to the plaintiff’s failing health, and the jury not only awarded compensatory damages, but added massive punitive damages against Monsanto as a result of the failure to warn the public about the potential health risks associated with Roundup.
There are currently at least 8,000 other claims pending, with a series of additional trial dates expected over the next year if Monsanto fails to reach Roundup settlement agreements or another resolution for the litigation.