Collateral Damage: BAYER Pesticide Causes Bee Deaths
Bayer CropScience is facing scrutiny because of the effect one of its best-selling pesticides has had on honeybees.A German prosecutor is investigating Werner Wenning, Bayer's chairman, and Friedrich Berschauer, the head of Bayer CropScience, after critics alleged that they knowingly polluted the environment.
Aug 26, 2008, The News & Observer (Raleigh/USA)
Bayer on defensive in bee deaths
German authorities look into allegation that RTP maker's pesticide harms environment
Bayer CropScience is facing scrutiny because of the effect one of its best-selling pesticides has had on honeybees.
A German prosecutor is investigating Werner Wenning, Bayer's chairman, and Friedrich Berschauer, the head of Bayer CropScience, after critics alleged that they knowingly polluted the environment.
The investigation was triggered by an Aug. 13 complaint filed by German beekeepers and consumer protection advocates, a Coalition against Bayer Dangers spokesman, Philipp Mimkes, said Monday.
The complaint is part of efforts by groups on both sides of the Atlantic to determine how much Bayer CropScience knows about the part that clothianidin may have played in the death of millions of honeybees.
Bayer CropScience, which has its U.S. headquarters in Research Triangle Park, said field studies have shown that bees' exposure to the pesticide is minimal or nonexistent if the chemical is used properly.
Clothianidin and related pesticides generated about $1 billion of Bayer CropScience's $8.6 billion in global sales last year. The coalition is demanding that the company withdraw all of the pesticides.
"We're suspecting that Bayer submitted flawed studies to play down the risks of pesticide residues in treated plants," said Harro Schultze, the coalition's attorney.
"Bayer's ... management has to be called to account, since the risks ... have now been known for more than 10 years."
Under German law, a criminal investigation could lead to a search of Bayer offices, Mimkes said.
On the other side of the Atlantic, the Natural Resources Defense Council is pressing for research information on clothianidin.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved the pesticide in 2003 under the condition that Bayer submit additional data. A lawsuit, which the environmental group filed Aug. 19 in federal court in Washington, accuses the EPA of hiding the honeybee data.
The group thinks the data might show what role chlothianidine played in the loss of millions of U.S. honeybee colonies.
Researchers have been puzzled by what is causing the bees to disappear at what is considered an alarming rate.
The phenomenon, known as colony collapse disorder, threatens a $15 billion portion of the U.S. food supply.
In the U.S. diet, about one in three mouthfuls comes from crops that bees pollinate.
Scientists are looking at viruses, parasites and stresses that might compromise bees' immune system. In the past two years, Congress has earmarked about $20 million to boost research.
Clothianidin, sold under the brand name Poncho, is used to coat corn, sugar beet and sorghum seeds and protect them from pests. A nerve toxin that has the potential to be toxic for bees, it gets into all parts of the plant that grows from the coated seeds.
In 1999, French regulators banned an older relative of Poncho and subsequently declined approval for clothianidin. French researchers found that bees were a lot more sensitive to the pesticides than Bayer CropScience studies had shown.
Three months ago, German regulators suspended sales of chlothianidine and related chemicals after the family of pesticides was blamed for the destruction of more than 11,000 bee colonies.
The Julius Kuehn Institute, a state-run crop research institute in Germany, collected samples of dead honeybees and determined that clothianidin caused the deaths.
Bayer CropScience blamed defective seed corn batches.
The company said that the coating came off as the seeds were sown, which allowed unusually high amounts of toxic dust to spread to adjacent areas where bees collected pollen and nectar.
Bayer paid about $3 million in damages, Mimkes said. Sabine Vollmer, Staff Writer
PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW; August 28, 2008
EPA sued after allegations Bayer pesticide killing honeybees
For nearly two years, Jim Doan painstakingly has kept his thousands of bee colonies away from crops treated with a type of pesticide created by Bayer AG.
"We keep bees away as much as we can. I don't want them anywhere near it," said Doan, of Hamlin, N.Y., the state's largest beekeeper.
Doan suspects a connection between pesticides and the mysterious, global bee die-off known as Colony Collapse Disorder. And it's a suspicion shared by most of the commercial keepers who haul their bees in tractor-trailers to pollinate everything from Florida oranges to Pennsylvania pumpkins.
"Lots of beekeepers have done careful observations, and they have pretty good instincts about the way bees behave. And many of them think that CCD is caused by pesticides," said Troy Fore, president of the American Beekeeping Federation in Jessup, Ga. The federation has 1,100 members.
Beekeepers now have some support.
The National Resources Defense Council, a New York environmental advocacy group, last week filed a lawsuit against the federal Environmental Protection Agency. The lawsuit accuses the agency of withholding information about the risks that honeybees face from pesticides.
"I am glad that someone filed suit to find out what's in these products," Doan said. "This information should have been out there when the chemical was released."
Dave Hackenberg, the largest beekeeper in Pennsylvania, said: "I think the noose is tightening. I am convinced that pesticides are a large part of the problem."
In Germany, two top-ranking executives of Bayer AG, including the company's CEO, are being accused by the group Coalition Against Bayer Dangers of "knowingly polluting the environment."
"We are aware that Coalition Against Bayer Dangers has filed allegations against Bayer AG's CEO with regard to bee safety as it relates to the use of Bayer Crop Science pesticides. We are unaware of any investigation being initiated by the prosecutors," said Greg Coffey, a spokesman for Bayer Crop Science Inc. in Research Triangle, N.C.
Bayer AG is the corporate parent of Bayer Corp., which has operations in Robinson. The German company's Medrad Inc. has manufacturing and research facilities in Allegheny and Butler counties.
The U.S. lawsuit was filed after the EPA failed to respond to a request in July made under the Freedom of Information Act, said Josh Mogerman, a Chicago-based spokesman for the National Resources Defense Council.
"This is an aggressive lawsuit. This is potentially a crisis that affects every dinner table in the world. And if there is information of value to the scientific community, they ought to know about it," Mogerman said.
The EPA, which has posted some requested information on its Web site, said it had no intention of withholding information and did not reply to the council's request promptly because the information requested was so vast.
Honeybees add about $15 billion to U.S. agricultural output each year. The two-year bee die-off has led to sharp price increases for growers. Pumpkin growers, for instance, now are paying $95 to $105 to rent a single bee colony, compared with $55 to $65 last year.
Even smaller beekeepers, like Jim Fitzroy of Penn Hills, are concerned.
"I have not had problems with CCD, but I know many people who have. I am spending a lot more on supplemental feedings to avoid CCD," said Fitzroy, who keeps about 15 hives at home and in the Allegheny National Forest.
The lawsuit seeks information connected with the EPA's 2003 approval of clothianidin -- a pesticide used to treat corn, sugar beet and sorghum seeds.
"This is not an assumption of guilt. We are not going in with the assumption that there is some kind of conspiracy," said Mogerman of the National Resources Defense Council.
The same chemical is under fire in Germany, where there was a large bee die-off this past spring.
Bayer AG says the die-off occurred because the pesticide was used improperly. And the bees in Germany died inside their hives, not -- as in the case with Colony Collapse Disorder -- far from their hives.
"Field studies have demonstrated that when used according to label directions and applied correctly, clothianidin will not harm bees. All of the EPA's study requirements have been conducted and have been submitted to the agency," said Bayer AG's Coffey.
Nearly two years since CCD first was identified, there is no evidence linking the phenomenon exclusively to pesticides, a particular pathogen or virus, said May Berenbaum, chairwoman of the department of entomology at the University of Illinois at Urbana.
"We just don't know," she said. "It is unbelievably complicated. Bees are as complicated as people -- except they don't talk." By Rick Wills
Coalition against BAYER Dangers
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