By Janice Arenofsky
High-fructose corn syrup is a hot topic in the national debate on diet, with opponents attacking it, as Daniel Engber has suggested, as unhealthy, unnatural and unappetizing, while corn refiners have volleyed back that it’s safe, natural and tasty. Now the food additive has been implicated in the decline of another maker of sweeteners — honeybees.
Although researcher Blaise W. LeBlanc agrees that colony collapse disorder in honeybees probably results from a variety of environmental stresses such as mites, pesticides and infections (like Nosema ceranae), his recent, published experiments target a toxic byproduct of high-fructose corn syrup, which besides being an ingredient in processed human foods such as cereals, whole wheat bread and beverages, is also used as a nutritional supplement for bees.
LeBlanc, a former research chemist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Tucson and currently an instructor at nearby Pima Community College, identified the byproduct hydroxymethylfurfural, or HMF, as a potential culprit in colony collapse disorder.
He found that under four different temperatures (ranging from 89 degrees F to 156 degrees F), high-fructose corn syrup degraded enough in bees to cause ulceration and dysentery; above 120 degrees F, HMF levels doubled and bee deaths multiplied dramatically as observed in colony collapse. The syndrome is a serious threat — it destroyed 28.6 percent of total managed U.S. honeybee colonies, according to a survey from fall 2008 to spring 2009, and that followed more severe losses the two winters before.
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