Thursday, 17 May 2007

Organic Bees and AgriBusiness

Organic Bees Surviving Colony Collapse Disorder Better - Craig Mackintosh

I know this won’t come as a surprise to many of our readers, nor to the many organic beekeepers that have been commenting on our posts, but there have been several reports of organic bee colonies surviving where the ‘industrial’ bee colonies are collapsing. Here is the latest to come to my attention :

Pollination, as practised for 1000s of years?
Sharon Labchuk is a longtime environmental activist and part-time organic beekeeper from Prince Edward Island…. In a widely circulated email, she wrote:

I’m on an organic beekeeping list of about 1,000 people, mostly Americans, and no one in the organic beekeeping world, including commercial beekeepers, is reporting colony collapse on this list. The problem with the big commercial guys is that they put pesticides in their hives to fumigate for varroa mites, and they feed antibiotics to the bees. They also haul the hives by truck all over the place to make more money with pollination services, which stresses the colonies.

Her email recommends a visit to the Bush Bees Web site, where Michael Bush felt compelled to put a message to the beekeeping world right on the top page:

Most of us beekeepers are fighting with the Varroa mites. I’m happy to say my biggest problems are things like trying to get nucs through the winter and coming up with hives that won’t hurt my back from lifting or better ways to feed the bees.

This change from fighting the mites is mostly because I’ve gone to natural sized cells. In case you weren’t aware, and I wasn’t for a long time, the foundation in common usage results in much larger bees than what you would find in a natural hive. I’ve measured sections of natural worker brood comb that are 4.6mm in diameter. What most people use for worker brood is foundation that is 5.4mm in diameter. If you translate that into three dimensions instead of one, it produces a bee that is about half as large again as is natural.
By letting the bees build natural sized cells, I have virtually eliminated my Varroa and Tracheal mite problems. One cause of this is shorter capping times by one day, and shorter post-capping times by one day. This means less Varroa get into the cells, and less Varroa reproduce in the cells.

Who should be surprised that the major media reports forget to tell us that the dying bees are actually hyper-bred varieties that we coax into a larger than normal body size? It sounds just like the beef industry. And, have we here a solution to the vanishing bee problem? Is it one that the CCD Working Group, or indeed, the scientific world at large, will support? Will media coverage affect government action in dealing with this issue?

These are important questions to ask. It is not an uncommonly held opinion that, although this new pattern of bee colony collapse seems to have struck from out of the blue (which suggests a triggering agent), it is likely that some biological limit in the bees has been crossed. There is no shortage of evidence that we have been fast approaching this limit for some time.

We’ve been pushing them too hard, Dr. Peter Kevan, an associate professor of environmental biology at the University of Guelph in Ontario, told the CBC. And we’re starving them out by feeding them artificially and moving them great distances. Given the stress commercial bees are under, Kevan suggests CCD might be caused by parasitic mites, or long cold winters, or long wet springs, or pesticides, or genetically modified crops. Maybe it’s all of the above… - InformationLiberation

That’s funny - that’s just what I said…

Let’s hear it for the natural/organic beekeepers out there! I hope this CCD incident will reinforce that natural systems respond far better to imitation and cooperation than reductionist arbitrary control. Work within the system, observe and learn. There’s a lot more to nature than meets the eye, or the microscope.

Tuesday, 6 February 2007

Indian Schools, Students, GM Debates in Chennai

The School - KFI, under its Urban Outreach Programme, has arranged three talks on different related themes at Ethiraj College, Loyola College, and the Asian College of Journalism between January 18th and 20th. This series of talks in Chennai city around the issue of Genetically Engineered Crops is the beginning of our effort to take important debates around health and food policies to urban consumers and youth in collaboration with CAG (Consumer Action Group). We consider this debate on GE crops as important, as this is a technology that will affect all of us as consumers of food. Ms. Kuruganti will also be attending the TN - State-level Workshop organised by the Consumer Action Group (CAG) on issues and challenges in agriculture in Tamilnadu, as part of CAG's Trade and Livelihoods programme, on the 19th of January.

Democratic GE Decision Making - Kavitha Kuruganti

"Decision-making on GE crops should be democratized"
Debates form the cornerstone for democratizing technology,decision-making and policy formulation in the country.
Very often, the primary stakeholders of such technologies are not informed fully on various nuances and details of the technology being thrust upen them in a top-down decision-making model. Much decision-making is often driven by funding rather than scientific facts and long term vision for the agriculture of this country. Genetic Engineering (GE) in agriculture is one such technology which will directly affect millions of farmers in the country and all of us as consumers of food.
This is something which people should engage themselves on and be clear about acceptance or rejection and the reasons thereof.
Genetic engineering in cultivation is permitted by only 21 countries around the world, despite the introduction of the technology on a commercial basis more than a decade ago in the USA.
Around 70% of the area cultivated with GE crops is in just the USA and Argentina. That speaks volumes about the acceptance and adoption of this so-called "frontier technology".
More and more countries, provinces andcommunities are declaring themselves GE-Free and several suchdecisions have been taken after understanding / experiencing the technology and its ramifications.
Unlike other hazardous technologies like chemical pesticides, Genetic Engineering in agriculture is an irreversible process, once released into the open environment, since the technology involves the modification of living organisms whichreproduce, contaminate, spread, impact eco-systems and so on.
There is growing evidence of the potential environmental and health hazards associated with this technology from across the world. There are fundamental questions unanswered on the very science of GE and its unpredictability and imprecision.
This is true in India too, where the only commercially cultivated GMcrop is Bt Cotton – here, even official reports now indicate that there are changes being witnessed on a large scale in cotton farm ecology.
There are newer pests and diseases emerging as major problems for the cotton farmers each year. The claims of higher yields and better economics have been proven wrong over the past five years for many Bt Cotton farmers, despite claims to the contrary by theindustry.

There is much hype that has been created around the many benefits that are supposed to have accrued to farmers who have adopted the technology. Much of such data has been generated with the industry's funding and unfortunately, the regulators have not made any efforts for systematic and scientific monitoring on the ground. Serious and unacceptable regulatory failures have been compounding the situation related to GE crop development and introduction in India.

In recent times, major farmers' groups, traders and even political parties have stated their rejection of the notion of GE technology being a solution to problems in Indian farming and the deep agrarian crisis being witnessed all around today.
Elsewhere in countries like the UK, Netherlands, Norway, Germany etc., decisions related to such technologies in general and GE in particular, are guided by deliberative democratic processes like citizens' juries, 'consensus conferences', referendums etc. and India has much to learn from such processes in relation to S & T policy making in this country.
- With thanks to Samanvaya, Sumitra. - Press release from Kavitha Kuruganti