Genetically modified organisms rarely stay put, as we've seen in cases where organic farmers have found their crops cross-bred with GMOs. Pollen has many ways of getting around, including the honey bee.
A new study published in Scientific Reports found that's bad news for beekeepers in Mexico. Mexico is the fourth largest producer of honey in the world, but the livelihoods of beekeepers could be threatened by GMO-soybeans, which makes its way into honey via pollen. The presence of GMO pollen in honey makes it difficult to export the product to Europe, where there's low-tolerance for genetically modified food. The contaminated honey can only be sold at substantially reduced rates if it's not rejected for sale altogether.
Scientists from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute found that soybean crops are the source of GMO pollen in honey from the Yucatan. The authors write that although it's widely believed that self-pollinating soy flowers are not visited by bees, there is clear evidence that this is not the case.
"Bee colonies act as extremely sensitive environmental indicators," said senior researcher David Roubik in a statement. "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."
Although the researchers emphasized that all of the soybean pollen came from plants that have been approved for human consumption, the findings are another example of how GMOs may travel through the environment in unpredictable ways.