Assessing the Environmental Safety of Transgenic Plants: Honey Bees as a Case Study

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Abstract or Summary

Bees play an important role in the pollination of a wide range of plants and are likely to encounter genetically engineered crops (often termed “genetically modified” or “GM”) during their foraging period, especially insect-resistant crops since these crops have been cultivated worldwide. Thus, it is important to assess potential impacts of these crops on the nontarget organism honey bee (Apis mellifera L.), the most important pollinator species worldwide. In the present study, we gathered all scientific data related to the effects of insect-resistant GM crops (mostly corn and cotton, and also oilseed rape, rice, soybean, and wheat) on honey bees. Assessments included feeding honey bees with purified insecticidal toxins or transgenic pollen collected from GM crops producing such toxins, namely protease inhibitors (PIs), Cry or VIP toxins from Bacillus thuringiensis. RNAi-producing and herbicide-tolerant crops were also included. A total of 64 peer-reviewed studies have been published between 1994 and 2017. We also compiled 18 studies submitted to and examined by the US EPA between 1993 and 2002. Our analyses converge to the conclusion that the studied Cry proteins, RNAi or herbicide-tolerance proteins do not negatively affect the survival of honey bees and have no potential sublethal effect in controlled laboratory conditions or in field/semifield trials. The risk of PI will mainly depend on their concentration in pollen and need to be assessed case by case.


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