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High Fructose Corn Syrup Could Affect Bee Health

No one factor is to blame for mass bee deaths, but industrial diets may be making bees more susceptible to harmful pesticide exposure.

Macro shot of a bee gathering nectar from a yellow flower

Photo: staflo (flickr)

Many staple food crops rely on bees to distribute pollen.

In the effort to figure out what’s behind colony collapse disorder, scientists have developed a new hypothesis: High fructose corn syrup could be partly to blame.

Commercial bees are often fed high fructose corn syrup in place of honey in their hives — a practice that started in the 1970s, when research deemed it safe.

Multiple Factors

In 2006, the USDA formed a task force to figure out why bees were disappearing from hives.

Research has pointed to a number of contributing factors including parasitic mites, disease, changing pesticides, habitat loss and nutrition.

Another seems to be the consumption of high fructose corn syrup.

Bad Diet

But it isn’t the high fructose corn syrup itself that’s harming bees. Rather, the bees are thought to miss out on immunity enhancements conferred by natural honey when given the artificial substitute.

A group of researchers from the University of Illinois found that when bees are exposed to enzyme p-coumaric — which is found in honey — their immune system becomes stronger. P-coumaric comes from pollen walls and sticks to bees’ legs.

Pesticides have changed since the 1970s, and without the honey to help bees adapt, bees may be more susceptible to exposure.

Read More:

  • Researchers find high-fructose corn syrup may be tied to worldwide collapse of bee colonies (Phys.org)
  • High Fructose Corn Syrup May Be Partly Responsible for Bees’ Collapsing Colonies (Smithsonian.com)
  • Feds: Many Causes For Dramatic Bee Disappearance (NPR)
Liz Leslie

Liz Leslie is a journalist based in Chicago. When she's not writing about food, she's likely eating food. Or dreaming about food.

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