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Originally published March 2 2015

Malnutrition threatens the world's poor as chemicals kill off pollinators

by Julie Wilson staff writer

(NaturalNews) You've likely heard biotech industry claims that, without genetically modified (GM) crops and their associated pesticides, the world would starve. Not only has that been proven completely untrue, but new research suggests the opposite; GM crops and pesticides may actually be contributing to world hunger.

In recent times, there's been a lot of talk about neonicotinoids (an insecticide resembling nicotine that kills a variety of pests) and the potentially irreversible damage they're inflicting on the environment, especially the impact on bees.

Without pollinator insects, we wouldn't have fruit or flowers. We also wouldn't have luxury items like coffee or chocolate. Pollinator insects facilitate the reproduction in 90 percent of the world's flowering plants, according the PBS television series Growing a Greener World.

The ecosystems that many species rely on would collapse, creating an unlivable environment for many plants and animals.

Do pollinators contribute to nutritional health?

Many experts have predicted that the continued decline of bees would have a devastating effect on the world's food supply.

Now, we know that as a fact.

Researchers from the University of Vermont (UVM) and Harvard University have, for the first time, tested this theory and found that what people eat in four developing countries is reliant upon pollinator insects.

"The take-home is: pollinator declines can really matter to human health, with quite scary numbers for vitamin A deficiencies, for example, which can lead to blindness and increase death rates for some diseases, including malaria," said UVM scientist Taylor Ricketts, co-author of the new study.

Pollinator insects responsible for nearly half of the world's nutrient supply

Bees aren't the only insects being threatened, but other pollinators are in decline as well, according to a press release by the University of Vermont, and recent studies have shown that pollinator insects are responsible for up to 40 percent of the world's supply of nutrients.

Published in the January 9 issue of the journal PLOS ONE, the study examined the full pathway from pollinators through to detailed surveys about people's dietary habits in Zambia, Mozambique, Uganda and Bangladesh.

After learning about which foods people eat, scientists were able to determine whether or not they get enough vitamins and minerals and then assess the likely impact that a future without pollinators would have on those diets.

"This is the first study that quantifies the potential human health impacts of animal pollinator declines," said Samuel Myers with the Harvard School of Public Health, who is also one of the study's researchers.

While earlier studies have examined the links between pollinators and crop yields, and crop yields and nutrient availability, this latest study actually evaluates whether pollinator declines will really affect human nutrition, Myers explains.

Parts of the developing world could experience "an increase in neural tube defects from folate deficiency or an increase in blindness and infectious diseases from vitamin A deficiency," he said, "because we have transformed our landscapes in ways that don't support animal pollinators anymore."

Conservation should be considered an investment in public health, scientists say

"We find really alarming effects in some countries for some nutrients and little to no effect elsewhere," said Ricketts. For example, researchers predicted little difference in Bangladesh because so many people there are already malnourished.

As for Zambia, scientists project reductions in the intake of vitamin A with pollinator declines; however, "there is so much vitamin A in the diet already that it didn't push very many people below the threshold," Myers explained.

The study, entitled "Do Pollinators Contribute to Nutritional Health?" fits into an emerging field of research that explores how the rapid transformation of Earth's natural systems affects human health.

"Ecosystem damage can damage human health, so conservation can be thought of as an investment in public health," Rickett said.


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