From the Seeds of Change Newsletter:
Germany Bans Pesticides to Prevent Bee Deaths
In late May, the German Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety announced a ban on several pesticides implicated in the massive deaths of honeybees in the southern state of Baden Württemberg.
The ban affects eight neonicotinoid pesticides used in rapeseed and corn production that are alleged to be highly toxic to insects even at very low concentrations. This class of pesticides mimics the natural effects of nicotine and works as a neurotoxin to insects, causing paralysis that leads to death. Tests on dead bees from the affected region showed a buildup of the pesticide clothianidin (produced by Bayer Crop Science and manufactured under the trade names Poncho and Prosper) in 99 percent of the animals. The poison had been applied as a seed treatment, and according to Walter Haefeker, president of the European Professional Beekeepers Association, “Beekeepers in the region started finding piles of dead bees at the entrance of hives in early May, right around the time corn seeding takes place.”
The link between poison and bee death was so obvious that it prompted Germany’s federal agricultural research agency, the Julius Kuehn Institute, to issue a press release with the statement, “It can unequivocally be concluded that a poisoning of the bees is due to the rub-off of the pesticide ingredient clothianidin from the corn seeds.”
Bayer Crop Science attributes the deaths to an application error, blaming a seed company that neglected to use a substance to bind the pesticide to the treated seed, causing airborne dispersal of the chemical.
Across the Atlantic, Bayer faces a lawsuit from North Dakota beekeepers who blame the corporation for the death of thousands of bee colonies in 1995, when imidacloprid (trade named Gaucho), perhaps the most widely used neonicotinoid pesticide, was applied to the local rapeseed crop. In 1999 France banned Gaucho for use on sunflowers following the death of one third of the nation’s bees following the widespread use of the chemical, and has subsequently banned its use on sweetcorn and rejected Bayer’s application for clothianidin.
Joseph Cummins, a scientist for the Institute of Science in Society (ISIS), a non-profit group directed at “providing critical and accessible scientific information to the public and to promoting social accountability and ecological sustainability in science” (according to the group’s website), has pointed to the ability of neonicotinoid pesticides to be damaging even when introduced to bees at sub-lethal levels. If the animals don’t die, the poison impairs the ability to navigate to the hive, and compromises immune systems, making bees susceptible to parasitic fungi and other disease agents implicated in Colony Collapse Disorder.
For more information, visit www.i-sis.org