Bees have become unwitting carriers of the pesticide glyphosate, the main ingredient in the weed killer Roundup, according to Huffington Post, and they're passing it along in the honey they make.
In 2015, the World Health Organization determined glyphosate is a probable carcinogen, prompting the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to start testing food for the chemical earlier this year. There's no legal limit for the amount of glyphosate acceptable in foods in the United States, but the European Union has established a 50 ppb-limit on the amount of the chemical residue it considers safe. The FDA tests showed "some of the honey showed residue levels double the limit allowed in the European Union."
The FDA has not released formal results about its findings, but the initial tests were uncovered in a Freedom of Information Act request.
Bees are ingesting the chemical as they pollinate plants that have come in contact with glyphosate, and perhaps they're breathing it in as it's being sprayed. But it's not just bees used to pollinate crops sprayed with the weed killer that are bringing glyphosate back to the hive; the FDA documents show traces of glyphosate residue in organic mountain honey, too.
Bee keepers are understandingly frustrated, as the Huffington Post explains:
“I don’t understand how I’m supposed to control the level of glyphosate in my honey when I’m not the one using Roundup,” one honey company operator said. “It’s all around me. It’s unfair.”
It's unfair to those who keep bees, it's unfair to consumers, and it's unfair to the bees. Glyphosate may also be one of the chemicals that is contributing to Colony Collapse Disorder, and there's no way for bees or bee keepers to avoid it — even those that aim to produce organic honey.
What happens next?
A while back I questioned the safety of GMOs for several reasons. One of those reasons is that GMOs are "Roundup-ready," bred with the ability to resist glyphosate. Since glyphosate is considered safe by the FDA, the opportunity for careless amounts of chemicals to be applied to crops is there, creating the opportunity for high levels of residue to show up in our food supply.
Everything is connected in our ecosystem. The FDA may be testing for glyphosate residue, but the agency's findings are practically useless unless limits are set for glyphosate residue in foods. Without limits, these test results are just numbers — and they won't change anything. Those who use glyphosate will have no reason to change the amount they use, and the amount in foods — even foods that would have no reason to come in contact with glyphosate — will remain no big deal in the eyes of the government and the makers of glyphosate. But it will certainly be a big deal to consumers left in the dark — and to the bees.