Are Monsanto and High-Fructose Corn Syrup to Blame for Honeybee Disappearances?

The answer is more nuanced than you might think.

Mar 2, 2014 at 1:35PM

Perhaps we shouldn't be so surprised when we fundamentally change the way certain species have been living for eons, and then suffer in unpredictable ways.

In 2006, industrial honey producers started reporting that entire colonies of Western honeybees were disappearing. The phenomenon later became known as colony collapse disorder.

The disappearance of these bees is of vital importance for us humans, as many plants that we eat every day depend on honeybees for pollination. While some studies say the problem isn't nearly as serious as some may think, most of the focus has gone toward blaming companies producing agricultural herbicides and pesticides, such as Monsanto, Syngenta, and Dow Chemical.

But a new study recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is painting a more nuanced picture of how and why these colony collapses might be taking place, and the blame isn't being placed entirely on the usual suspects.

First, a little history
When we take honey from bee colonies, we are taking much of the food they'll eat during the winter months. Some hobbyists like to leave enough honey in a hive to guarantee the bees can get by though the winter, but most commercial operators remove the honey, sell it, and replace it with high-fructose corn syrup, or HFCS.

Back in the 1970s, studies were done to see if this was a safe practice, and the industry was given the go-ahead. But the most recent study seems to have uncovered what scientists may have missed 30 years ago.

HFCS and honey: a key difference
It isn't so much that high-fructose corn syrup is inherently bad for bees -- or even that it kills them -- but that it lacks the same enzymatic make-up of honey.

When those enzymes aren't present, they don't interact with some of the pollen the bees bring back, which -- when mixed together -- induces specific detoxification genes. These genes help create natural immunity to some of the toxins present in herbicides and pesticides that many predict are responsible for the disappearance of bees.

In essence, the researchers are saying that though the chemicals are still the likely culprits for the demise of certain honeybee colonies, it is the lack of natural immunity -- via HFCS replacement -- that is really to blame.

How could this affect different businesses?
While some may say this is bad news for Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland, two of the largest producers of HFCS, I don't think the volume of HFCS provided just for honeybees would be significant enough to cause alarm.

The group this most likely will affect will be honey producers themselves. Having already dealt with colony collapse disorder, if more evidence comes forward supporting the ill-effects of HFCS, they could be forced to leave honey for bees to eat. This would turn the economics of the business upside down, and make it far less profitable.

The most likely scenario would be that honey producers turn to the scientific community to come up with a solution that is cheap and allows for extraction of honey, but doesn't disrupt the delicate enzymatic make-up that provides bees with their natural immunity.

The scary thing is that tests may prove this to be possible, only to have our kids find out 30 years later -- once again -- that there was something we missed.

Sometimes, it's pretty difficult to outsmart Mother Nature.

Using science to treat our maladies
While it's pretty clear I have my own reservations about our ability to always provide an alternative superior to what nature provides, I also can't deny the advances that have been made either. For instance, biotechnology companies seem poised to change the way we treat cancer forever. And while that's a good thing for patients, it can also provide a windfall for investors.

In The Motley Fool's brand-new free report "2 Game-Changing Biotechs Revolutionizing the Way We Treat Cancer," find out about a new technology that big pharma is endorsing through partnerships, and the two companies that are set to profit from this emerging drug class. Click here to get your copy today.

Brian Stoffel and The Motley Fool have no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

4 in 5 Americans Are Ignoring Buffett's Warning

Don't be one of them.

Jun 12, 2015 at 5:01PM

Admitting fear is difficult.

So you can imagine how shocked I was to find out Warren Buffett recently told a select number of investors about the cutting-edge technology that's keeping him awake at night.

This past May, The Motley Fool sent 8 of its best stock analysts to Omaha, Nebraska to attend the Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholder meeting. CEO Warren Buffett and Vice Chairman Charlie Munger fielded questions for nearly 6 hours.
The catch was: Attendees weren't allowed to record any of it. No audio. No video. 

Our team of analysts wrote down every single word Buffett and Munger uttered. Over 16,000 words. But only two words stood out to me as I read the detailed transcript of the event: "Real threat."

That's how Buffett responded when asked about this emerging market that is already expected to be worth more than $2 trillion in the U.S. alone. Google has already put some of its best engineers behind the technology powering this trend. 

The amazing thing is, while Buffett may be nervous, the rest of us can invest in this new industry BEFORE the old money realizes what hit them.

KPMG advises we're "on the cusp of revolutionary change" coming much "sooner than you think."

Even one legendary MIT professor had to recant his position that the technology was "beyond the capability of computer science." (He recently confessed to The Wall Street Journal that he's now a believer and amazed "how quickly this technology caught on.")

Yet according to one J.D. Power and Associates survey, only 1 in 5 Americans are even interested in this technology, much less ready to invest in it. Needless to say, you haven't missed your window of opportunity. 

Think about how many amazing technologies you've watched soar to new heights while you kick yourself thinking, "I knew about that technology before everyone was talking about it, but I just sat on my hands." 

Don't let that happen again. This time, it should be your family telling you, "I can't believe you knew about and invested in that technology so early on."

That's why I hope you take just a few minutes to access the exclusive research our team of analysts has put together on this industry and the one stock positioned to capitalize on this major shift.

Click here to learn about this incredible technology before Buffett stops being scared and starts buying!

David Hanson owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway and American Express. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway, Google, and Coca-Cola.We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

©1995-2014 The Motley Fool. All rights reserved. | Privacy/Legal Information