Advocates of genetic engineering portray it as a precision technology whose effects can be predicted and limited to the modified organism. So it is appropriate that the case that could destroy that bogus image was predicted long ago.

In June researchers at Jena University in Germany showed that modified genetic material in pollen from GM rape could cross the species barrier, and was positively identified in bacteria from the guts of honeybees. That, although alarming, was no surprise because it is known that bacteria habitually take in and use DNA from other organisms.

In a rational world that finding alone (even its possibility) would be enough to stop GMO development dead in its tracks, because if GE material after its release into the environment can jump into other organisms, Pandora’s box has had its lid blown well and truly off.

It wasn’t enough - but it did shed light on a puzzle for American beekeepers. New World bees suffer a bacterial disease called American foulbrood (AFB), outbreaks of which have been successfully controlled by the antibiotic tetracycline for 40 years. In 1996 resistance to tetracycline appeared in bee bacteria in Argentina, the US, and shortly afterwards Canada, the three countries which show 98 percent of the world’s GM crops.

This remarkable coincidence is so far unexplained; but since the German research a nasty suspicion has formed in beekeeping circles. What had bees in those specific countries been collecting? Pollen from GM crops such as rape, maize and soya. And what was used as a “market gene” in many of these crops? Why, a gene for tetracycline resistance in bacteria!

The transfer of antibiotic resistance to bugs in farm animals, most of which are of course given GM feed, has been widely feared. Research to look at gene transfer in animal guts is on-going at Leeds University, where publication by MAFF of early results has been unaccountably held up.

Circumstantial this bee story may be, but it can only be a matter of time before one of these backwoods beekeepers needs to make a trip into town for supplies and posts a few diseased bees to a laboratory which can identify the source of the resistance. If it is GM. Then the splattering from the faeces/fan interface should waken even the dozy US and Canadian public, whose own governments have for years forcefully silenced or cast out the numerous dissidents among their own researchers.

A senior researcher at a British institute describes this scenario as “entirely plausible”, and of course we no know for certain that modified genes cannot be confined to the target organisms.

Article published in Private Eye Magazine

News | Beedata home