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Published on August 20th, 2009 | by Cate Nelson

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The “Bee Problem”: Is HFCS To Blame?

There is new evidence that high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) may be a culprit in what is known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), or the disappearance of honeybees.

Colony Collapse Disorder has killed off more than one-third of the bees in the United States.

Beekeepers know that when there isn’t nectar readily available to their hives, as in the winter months, some turn to supplements. Traditionally it was (guess what) honey. But that’s what you want to harvest, so many turn to cheaper substitutions. Cane or beet sugar, mixed with water, was seen as acceptable as long as you removed the part of the comb containing the sugar once bees started producing again. It was important to keep the bees fed so they’d keep brooding and ready to produce honey.

Except it hasn’t only been the occasional sugar-water substitution. We’ve substituted the substitute. People have also turned to high fructose corn syrup.

And once again, it seems our need for convenience and affordability has cost us: a new study shows that a contaminant from heat-exposed HFCS may be killing off the bees.

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Long have pesticides taken most of the blame for colony collapse disorder. Another culprit has been certain mites, which occur naturally in Asia but that Western bees cannot fight so easily.

But seriously, Cate...high fructose corn syrup? Surely you’re pulling my antenna. Stay with me, here, guys.

Hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) is a heat-formed contaminant and is the most noted toxin to honey bees.

HMF is not something that keepers can currently test for. Researchers are working to find a solution to this part of the “bee problem.”

But for right now, farmers and keepers end up…hoping?

Former FDA researcher Renee Dufault has tirelessly worked with me on the issues regarding high fructose corn syrup (with more topics to come), and I thank her!

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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About the Author

I'm a mama of two young boys and a wonderful, early teen stepdaughter. We live in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains in rural Virginia. We have a dozen Americana pullets and a rooster, and we're working toward a more sustainable lifestyle. It's awesome to watch my 4-year-old collect our hens' eggs! I love outdoor time with the kiddos, camping, reading, NPR, and writing.



  • http://almonddoctor.blogspot.com The Almond Doctor

    I dont want to be a critic of your hypothesis that HFCS causes colony collapse disorder, but you have jumped to conclusions not cited by your source. By reading the abstract closely, Honey also forms HMS (“Currently, there are no rapid field tests that would alert beekeepers of dangerous levels of HMF in HFCS or honey” Cited from abstract).

    I can only speak for beekeepers of California who deal with almond growers with the following statements. Most do not use HFCS. Most beekeepers are aware of the dangers of “old sugar water.” Most of all, Farmers and beekeepers are not just “hoping,” they are just as involved in finding a solution as the researchers working for the USDA. Your allusion that growers and keepers are doing nothing when this problem occurs is ludicrous. If it was something as simple as HFCS, I can personally guarantee you the problem would be solved – beekeepers and growers are not stupid, ignorant people who are unaware of the changes in their environment and farming practices. Furthermore, if it was just HFCS, why do organic beekeepers suffer from the same problem?

  • http://greenoptions.com/author/sdsavage Steve Savage

    Almond doctor is right. This post implies that HFCS is unique in having HMF as a potential contaminant. HMF can occur in just about any sugar-rich commodity, for instance it is formed in sun dried raisins or prunes or tomatoes. I’m as concerned about bees as anyone, but this is obviously a complex issue and going after all the standard punching bags is unhelpful. The other side of the coin is figuring out how to restore the populations of the wild pollinators that got plants pollinated in America long before we were dependent on exotic, European honeybees.

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