SEATTLE — Months after Washington voters narrowly rejected an initiative requiring labeling of genetically modified foods, lawmakers are reviving the GMO debate in Olympia.
One bill would require labeling genetically engineered salmon for sale, even though federal regulators have not yet approved any genetically modified animals for food. Another bill requires many foods containing GMOs to carry a label.
The debate comes as the U.S. Department of Agriculture is considering approval of an apple engineered not to brown. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is also weighing an application for a genetically modified salmon that grows twice as fast as normal.
In Olympia, a public hearing is scheduled Friday in the House Committee on Agriculture & Natural Resources on the bill. That measure also would prohibit genetically engineered finfish from being produced in state waters
The recent report warns that even with intensive research to understand the cause of honeybee colony declines in the United States, losses continue to be high and could pose a serious threat to meeting the pollination demands for some commercial crops. Growers in California have had trouble pollinating almond trees in the winter, for example, and blueberry farmers in Maine face similar pressures.
Many bee experts have focused on pesticides recently, Pehling said. While he agrees that’s a factor, he doesn’t think it’s the biggest one.
The varroa mite, native to Southeast Asia, was introduced to North America in the 1980s.
In about 1987, it reached Snohomish County, Pehling said.
“That’s when I started losing bees,” he said.
The mite lays eggs on young honeybees and the larvae feed off the living bees’ blood, weakening them and making them more susceptible to illness from other factors, Pehling said.
In Asia, the mites feed off the bees as well but those bees are smaller, providing less space and food for the mites and keeping the relationship in balance, he said.
Pesticides can temporarily control the mites but the chemicals collect in the wax in the hives and erode the bees’ health.
“It’s not an acute effect, but it can affect the immune system and shorten life of an adult bee,” Pehling said.
Now, beekeepers are experimenting with “softer” chemicals such as Thymol and essential oils, he said.
He said that whether pesticides are the major cause of bees’ problems or not, they worry many beekeepers.
Neonicotinoids are synthesized, concentrated forms of nicotine made into pesticides.
“These are very long-acting products” that get absorbed into plants and in turn by bees, Thompson said.
“That’s the beekeepers’ big concern right now, they don’t like it,” he said.
Honeybees are not native to North America but have been here since the 17th century, Pehling said. They have managed to mostly live in balance with other species, he said.
Dozens of bees are native to Washington state, including some variety of bumblebees, he said. Pehling keeps bumblebee hives as well as honeybees, he said.
One species, the western bumblebee, has experienced some decline in recent years but “most of (the native species) are doing OK,” he said.
Because of honeybees’ role as prolific pollinators, their decline could spell serious trouble for American agriculture, experts say.
The USDA estimates that a third of all food and beverages are made possible by pollination, mainly by honeybees. Pollination contributes to an estimated $20 billion to $30 billion in U.S. agricultural production each year.
A consortium will study the problem this year with the hopes of putting in place measures to help reduce bee deaths next growing season, said Laurie Davies Adams, executive director of the San Francisco-based Pollinator Partnership, which is overseeing the project.
Farmers, beekeepers, pesticide manufacturers, corn growers, government researchers and academics will study this summer ways to address the corn dust problem by changing the lubricant used in the machinery, as well as trying to improve foraging conditions for bees at the same time the pesticides are applied.
“It’s not in anybody’s interest to kill bees,” she said. “It just isn’t.”
Erika Bolstad of the McClatchy Washington Bureau contributed to this story.