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When GMO soybean pollen blows into the honey

Smithsonian reports GMO soybean pollen threatens Mexican honey sales, says a new study, "Transgenic soybean pollen (Glycine max L.) in honey from the Yucatán peninsula, Mexico " published online February 7, 2014 in Scientific Reports.

When GMO soybean pollen blows into the honey.
Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Mexico is the third largest exporter of honey, 40% of domestic production is obtained from Yucatan, Campeche and Quintana Roo, and 98% of the honey that comes from the Yucatan Peninsula is exported to the European Union. The release of transgenic grains will ruin the beekeeping sector that is essential not only for the economy and agriculture but also for the conservation of ecosystems, reports the November 1, 2012 article, "Monsanto's bile against Mexico's honey."

Now, in a new study, a Smithsonian researcher and colleagues helped rural farmers in Mexico to quantify the genetically modified organism soybean pollen in honey samples rejected for sale in Germany. Their results appeared today, February 7, 2014 in the online journal, Scientific Reports. Authors of the study are Villanueva-Gutiérrez, R., Echazarreta-González, C., Roubik, D.W., Moguel-Ordóñez, Y.B. Also, you may wish to see, "Honey Export Import Report - Planetexim."

Mexico is the fourth largest honey producer and fifth largest honey exporter in the world

A Smithsonian researcher and colleagues helped rural farmers in Mexico to quantify the genetically modified organism (GMO) soybean pollen in honey samples rejected for sale in Germany. David Roubik, senior staff scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, and colleagues developed the ability to identify pollen grains in honey in Panama and in Mexico during the 1980s and 1990s when they studied the effects of the arrival of Africanized bees on native bees. "Nobody else can do this kind of work in the 'big field' environment and be confident that what they are seeing are soybean pollen grains," says Roubik, according to the February 7, 2014 news release, "Smithsonian reports GMO soybean pollen threatens Mexican honey sales."

Researchers found that six honey samples from nine hives in the Campeche region contained soy pollen in addition to pollen from many wild plant species. The pollen came from crops near the bee colonies in several small apiaries.

Due to strict European regulations, rural farmers in the Mexican Yucatan face significant price cuts or outright rejection of their honey crop when their product contains pollen from GMO crops that are not for human consumption. The regional agricultural authorities, furthermore, seemed unaware that bees visited flowering soybeans to collect nectar and pollen. You also may be interested in the article, "View Legal Comments - Center for Food Safety."

"As far as we could determine, every kind of GMO soybean grown in Campeche is approved for human consumption," explains Roubik, according to the news release. "But honey importers sometimes do no further analysis to match GMO pollen grains with their source."

To test the honey for GMO pollen, researchers from the Smithsonian, El Colegio de la Frontera Sur la Universidad Autonoma de Yucatan and el Instituto Nacional de Investigaciones Forestales, Agropecuarias y Pecuarias sent the nine samples to Intertek laboratory in Bremen, Germany, for genetic analysis. Also, you may wish to see the article, "Monsanto's bile against Mexico's honey - Americas Program."

Two samples tested positive for GMO pollen

"We cautiously interpret these results as significant for elsewhere in Mexico where some five times the GMO soy grown in Campeche is found and beekeeping is alive and well, not to mention the rest of the world," says Roubik in the news release. "Bee colonies act as extremely sensitive environmental indicators. Bees from a single colony may gather nectar and pollen resources from flowers in a 200-square-kilometer area. With an economy based on subsistence agriculture associated with honey production, the social implications of this shift in the status of honey are likely to be contentious and have profound implications for beekeeping in general."

You also can check out the articles, "Honey Trade Information Brief.pdf - SADC Trade" or "The geography of honey production in Mexico | Geo-Mexico." Germany is Mexico's main export market for honey, with almost US $35 million in purchases in 2004 (66% of honey total exports).

The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, headquartered in Panama City, Panama, is a unit of the Smithsonian Institution. The Institute furthers the understanding of tropical nature and its importance to human welfare, trains students to conduct research in the tropics and promotes conservation by increasing public awareness of the beauty and importance of tropical ecosystems.

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