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Controversial Agrichemical Company Monsanto Holds Bee Health Conference

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Jun 17, 2013 03:09 PM EDT
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Members of NGO Avaaz hold placards near a giant inflated model of a bee during a demonstration calling the EU to adopt a ban on bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticides in front of the European Parliament in Brussels March 14, 2013. (Photo : REUTERS/Eric Vida)

Controversial agrichemical company Monsanto announced recently the close of the first-ever "Honey Bee Health Summit" held in an effort, according to the company, to bring together and learn from bee experts from both public and private sectors.

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The three-day event included nearly 100 members of the "bee community," including academics and beekeepers as well as those representing government industry sectors.

Held in response to the continuing decline of the insect, Project Apis m (PAm) hosted the event where, Monsanto said, as a company it "learned a great deal about the complex challenges facing beekeepers."

Keynote speakers included Diana Cox-Foster, a professor of entomology at Penn State University, commercial keeper and past president of American Beekeeping Federation David Mendes, honey bee queen breeder and owner of Kona Queen Hawaii, Inc. Gus Rouse and Larry Johnson, row crops grower and commercial beekeeper.

"Healthy honey bees are essential for productive agriculture and the environment," Jerry Hayes, who runs Monsanto's bee industry efforts, said. "As a company focused on sustainable agriculture, Monsanto has made significant investments in collaborations and R&D for the betterment of honey bee health, including the formation of Monsanto's Honey Bee Advisory Council."

However, despite such overtures, many continue to blame the company's pesticides for the bee decline.

"This is a difficult, high stakes battle," Peter Jenkins, a lawyer with the Center for Food Safety, told NBC News in regards to the organization's decision to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in March on behalf of beekeepers and environmental consumer groups who blame a lack of regulation for the crisis.

"They may have a lot of money," he said. "But ... we're going to win."

As evidence of potential validity behind the claim that pesticides are to blame was the announcement in May from the European Union of its decision to ban the pesticides known as neonicotinoids used in everything from commercial farming to personal lawn and garden care.

Similar legislation in the United States would cost manufactures potentially billions of dollars in sales.

Monsanto and its peers, on the other hand, argue that the colony declines have more natural origins in mites and disease - a view the company holds to firmly after the conference.

"The Varroa mite is considered to be a potential leading contributor to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD)," the company stated regarding its own conclusions from the event.

Meanwhile, critics argue that such statements ignore studies like the one published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, which demonstrated, that neonicotinoids attack regions in the honey bee's sister the bumble bee's brain associated with learning and memory.

"Pollinators perform sophisticated behaviors while foraging that require them to learn and remember floral traits associated with food," Newcastle University's Geraldine Wright stated in press release regarding the study. "Disruption in this important function has profound implications for honey bee colony survival, because bees that cannot learn will not be able to find food."

Meanwhile, a report from the U.K.'s Food and Environmental Research Agency that studied the development of bumble bee colonies placed near chemically-treated crops disagrees with these findings, reporting that "exposure of bumble colonies placed in the vicinity of crops treated with neonicotinoids had no major effect on the health of the colonies."

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