Bayer Pesticide 'Poncho' Causes Bee
in 11,500 Colonies in Germany
Thomson Financial / American Bee Journal 1aug2008
FRANKFURT - Bayer AG's seed treatment Poncho has been linked to bee deaths at 11,500 bee colonies in southwestern Germany since May and 700 beekeepers have filed damage reports, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported, citing the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg. Poncho, containing the active ingredient clothianidine, is used on seeds to protect the growing plant against insects." In early June the European authorities issued an alert regarding allegations of adulteration of Indian honey. The contamination of Indian honey with lead parallels similar problems with Chinese honey over two decades ago when beekeepers in the country-side stored Chinese honey in steel drums that were not food lined. Europe has also found adulteration of both the Hungarian and Indian honey. Indian honey was found to be both adulterated with isoglucose and contaminated with high levels of lead that ranged from 200-600 ppb. On June 2, the European authorities issued an import alert concerning findings of adulteration in Indian honey. The lead contamination reportedly occurred in organic honey. This has spurred European demand for organic honey from Brazil; organic foods, we note, have a huge market in Europe where "green practices" have become very much part of the mass culture. The situation in Europe's honey market will become clearer in the summer.
Mass Mortality: We beekeepers are attached to our bees!
Massensterben: Wir Imker hängen an unseren Bienen!
Von Carina Cebulj
Pesticides’ Bad Buzz
AL MEYERHOFF / Minneapolis Star Tribune 1aug2008
It's not hard to get these products to the market. Bees suffer as a result. We do, too.
It's likely that most people have never heard of Gaucho. And no, it's not a South American cowboy. I'm talking about a pesticide.
There is increasing reason to believe that Gaucho and other members of a family of highly toxic chemicals — neonicotinoids — may be responsible for the deaths of billions of honeybees worldwide. Some scientists believe that these pesticides, which are applied to seeds, travel systemically through the plant and leave residues that contaminate the pollen, resulting in bee death or paralysis. The French refer to the effect as "mad bee disease" and in 1999 were the first to ban the use of these chemicals, which are currently only marketed by Bayer (the aspirin people) under the trade names Gaucho and Poncho. Germany followed suit this year, and its agricultural research institute said it concluded that the poisoning of the bees was because of the rub-off of the pesticide clothianidin (that's Pancho) from corn seeds.
So why did the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2002 grant an "emergency" exemption allowing increased use of Gaucho — typically invoked during a major infestation — when only a few beetles were found in blueberries? Why did the agency also grant a "conditional" registration for its close relative, Pancho, allowing the chemical on the market with only partial testing? And why is the agency, hiding behind a curtain of "trade secrets," still refusing to disclose whether the additional tests required of companies in such cases were conducted and, if so, with what results?
Therein lies a tale. Most pesticides, we're told, are safe. So we add about 5 billion pounds a year of these deadly chemicals to our world, enough to encircle the planet if it were packaged in 100-pound sacks. Sure, they are regulated — but badly — under the antiquated Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act. This law allows a chemical on the market unless it's proved to pose "an unreasonable risk," far too weak a standard.
Gerard Eyries, a Bayer marketing manager, said in connection with the French action that "imidacloprid [that's Gaucho] left a small residue in nectar and pollen, but there was no evidence of a link with the drop in the bee population." Bayer also blamed seedmakers and suggested that there may be "nonchemical causes" for this massive bee kill. But Bayer may not be entirely objective here. In 2006, Gaucho sales topped $746 million.
Something is killing the bees, though. Some scientists suspect a virus; others mites, even cell phones. (Bees are not known to use phones, though, having their own communications system — a dance called the "waggle.")
Here in the United States, the bee kill is a big problem. Domesticated bees were brought here on the Mayflower. Today, they contribute at least $15 billion to the nation's agricultural economy. For example, California's $2-billion-a-year almond crop is completely dependent on honeybees from about 1.5 million hives for pollination. This year, more than 2.4 million bee colonies — 36 percent of the total — were lost in the United States, according to the Apiary Inspectors of America. Some colonies collapsed in two days.
Part of the problem is how we farm. Rather than rotating crops, farmers grow the same one each year. This "monoculture" creates a breeding ground for pests. Farmers then use chemicals that kill not only the target organism but other life forms as well — like honeybees. That this approach may now be coming back to bite big-production agriculture is not without some irony. For decades the agriculture industry has been its beneficiary — with farmworkers, consumers and local communities the victims. But, actually, we're all in trouble.
No independent government testing is required before a pesticide is registered for use. Large gaps in basic scientific knowledge about pesticides remain, including their environmental "fate" (where they end up) and their toxicity to humans and to wildlife. A problem pesticide may be removed from the market only after a long process and full trial — something that should be done before. The Food Quality Protection Act of 1996 improved control of residues in our food. That didn't help the bees.
Rachel Carson was vilified by an industry smear nearly 50 years ago, after the release of her book, "Silent Spring." "If we were to follow the teachings of Miss Carson," said American Cyanamid, the maker of DDT, "we would return to the Dark Ages ... insects, vermin and disease would once again inherit the Earth." But, as Carson so eloquently put it in a CBS documentary in 1964: "Man's attitude toward nature is today critically important simply because we now have acquired a fateful power to alter and destroy nature. But man is part of nature, and his war is inevitably a war against himself."
Al Meyerhoff, an environmental attorney in Los Angeles, wrote this article for the Los Angeles Times.