- New research shows that glyphosate, a main ingredient in the world’s most common weed-killer, can be harmful to honeybees.
- According to the study, worker bees exposed to glyphosate when they are young are more likely to die from exposure to bacteria later in life.
- The study adds to other scientists’ findings that glyphosate can have a negative impact on honeybee populations.
- Monsanto, which makes the weed-killer Roundup, denied that glyphosate, the product’s main ingredient, is harming bees.
In a study published Monday, researchers at the University of Texas at Austin found the abundance of beneficial bacteria in honeybees’ guts is lowered when the bees are exposed to an amount of glyphosate similar to concentrations found in the environment. According to the study, glyphosate can damage the microbiota in a honeybee’s gut, and worker bees exposed to glyphosate when they are young are more likely to die from exposure to bacteria later on. Honeybees rely on the microbiota to gain weight and defend themselves against deadly infections.
This paper adds to the growing evidence from several other studies on the effect of glyphosate on honeybees. In July, Chinese researchers found that honeybee larvae exposed to glyphosate are less likely to survive, and a 2015 study found that glyphosate “impairs the cognitive capacities” honeybees need for navigation.
In a statement to The Guardian, however, a Monsanto spokesperson denied that glyphosate has a negative impact on honeybees.
“No large-scale study has found any link between glyphosate and the decline of the honeybee population,” the spokesperson said. “More than 40 years of robust, independent scientific evidence shows that it poses no unreasonable risk for humans, animal, and the environment generally.”
Given Roundup’s global popularity, its potentially harmful effects on honeybees could help explain the decline in honeybee populations. Colony Collapse Disorder, in which a majority of worker bees disappear from their colony, is less prevalent than a few years ago, but it remains a concern, according to the EPA.
Honeybees are crucial to food systems, as pollinators are needed to produce about one-third of the food we eat. According to some estimates, the number is even higher. In the United States alone, bees are contributing billions of dollars to the agricultural industry each year.
Glyphosate has also been shown to affect other animal guts, such as those of lab rats, according to Quartz. The chemical’s impact on people’s health, however, is still a controversial subject.
This summer, a jury in San Francisco ordered Monsanto to pay $US289 million in damages to a school groundskeeper who was diagnosed with cancer after using Roundup for years. After the trial, the Environmental Working Group released a report saying residues of the chemical had been found in a variety of common foods, including granola bars and cereal.
That said, the trial is not evidence for claims that Roundup or glyphosate may cause cancer, and research has so far not shown support for such a link. Only further studies can determine whether the chemical has a connection to cancer.
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