Remember all those stories about mysteriously dying honeybee populations? Looks like we’ve got the cause of Colony Collapse Disorder all figured out, kiddies. Or at least, one very unsurprising chief suspect:
Germany has banned a family of pesticides that are blamed for the deaths of millions of honeybees. The German Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) has suspended the registration for eight pesticide seed treatment products used in rapeseed oil and sweetcorn.
The move follows reports from German beekeepers in the Baden-Württemberg region that two thirds of their bees died earlier this month following the application of a pesticide called clothianidin.
“It’s a real bee emergency,” said Manfred Hederer, president of the German Professional Beekeepers’ Association. “50-60% of the bees have died on average and some beekeepers have lost all their hives.”
Tests on dead bees showed that 99% of those examined had a build-up of clothianidin. The chemical, produced by Bayer CropScience, a subsidiary of the German chemical giant Bayer, is sold in Europe under the trade name Poncho. It was applied to the seeds of sweetcorn planted along the Rhine this spring. The seeds are treated in advance of being planted or are sprayed while in the field.
Well, there’s a shocker. Pesticides kill bees! Even if they’re used on a crop, like sweet corn, that isn’t pollinated by insects (corn is wind-pollinated), the pesticides still end up devastating a lot more insects than those they were aimed at in the first place. The pesticides have a nasty way of getting into the air, the air has a nasty way of getting into the bees, the bees have a nasty way of getting into the hive, and the entire hive has a nasty way of ending up dead as a result.
But guess what, kiddies? The makers of the pesticides refuse to take responsibility for what happens when their product produces something other than the intended result:
The company says an application error by the seed company which failed to use the glue-like substance that sticks the pesticide to the seed, led to the chemical getting into the air.
Bayer spokesman Dr Julian Little told the BBC’s Farming Today that misapplication is highly unusual. “It is an extremely rare event and has not been seen anywhere else in Europe,” he said.
I find that hard to believe. If anyone hasn’t seen it happening, I humbly submit that the just haven’t been looking. Why limit one’s scrutiny to Europe? All of North America has been suffering from declines in bee populations, both domestic and wild, and the local beekeeper from whom my mom buys her honey has complained about it here, too. And yes, the crops in this region are heavily pesticided. The beekeeper’s apiary is right near some local apple orchards, and of course, they spray their apples!
But hey, why take my word for it? I’m just one little resident of Southern Ontario. The scientists know more about it than I do.
Clothianidin, like the other neonicotinoid pesticides that have been temporarily suspended in Germany, is a systemic chemical that works its way through a plant and attacks the nervous system of any insect it comes into contact with. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency it is “highly toxic” to honeybees.
This is not the first time that Bayer, one of the world’s leading pesticide manufacturers with sales of ¤5.8bn (£4.6bn) in 2007, has been blamed for killing honeybees.
In the United States, a group of beekeepers from North Dakota is taking the company to court after losing thousands of honeybee colonies in 1995, during a period when oilseed rape in the area was treated with imidacloprid. A third of honeybees were killed by what has since been dubbed colony collapse disorder.
Bayer’s best selling pesticide, imidacloprid, sold under the name Gaucho in France, has been banned as a seed dressing for sunflowers in that country since 1999, after a third of French honeybees died following its widespread use. Five years later it was also banned as a sweetcorn treatment in France. A few months ago, the company’s application for clothianidin was rejected by French authorities.
So much for it “not having been seen elsewhere in Europe”. France, last time I looked, was still in Europe. Right next to Germany, as luck would have it. Zut alors!
But still the company protesteth too much:
Bayer has always maintained that imidacloprid is safe for bees if correctly applied. “Extensive internal and international scientific studies have confirmed that Gaucho does not present a hazard to bees,” said Utz Klages, a spokesman for Bayer CropScience.
Hey Bayer, I have some international scientific studies that call you a liar.
How about a French government report? Is that international enough for you? Or how about this one, conducted in the US, that finds no significant increase in crop yields for farmers using this expensive toxin? How about what an international beekeepers’ publication has to say (again, about what happened in France)?
I could go on, but you get the idea: When only the company producing this stuff says it’s actually safe, you really have to wonder if you’re not being lied to.
In this case, the lie’s been stung. Hopefully, it will get stung to death before the bees die out altogether.