Suspected Pesticide Link To Bee Colony Collapse Stirs Action

Environmentalists, beekeepers seek end to neonic sales.

Published on: Sep 30, 2013

A late summer Chicago press conference held by an environmental advocate, SumOfUs.org was joined by beekeepers in seeking an end to sale of neonicotinoid pesticides – also called neonics – by Bayer and other chemical firms.

Neonicotinoids, some which are Bayer's, include the chemical compounds acetamiprids, clothianidins, dinotefurans, imidacloprids, nitenpyrams, thiacloprids and thiamethoxams. They're highly popular, albeit controversial, with some considered to be the No. 1 product used globally. Some nations have banned their use, however, primarily due to suspected bee colony death syndrome.

Bayer spokesman Lian Kelly, a bee care issues expert, says the firm stands by its neonic products as safe for  insects if used according to labeling guidelines. "In fact, Bayer is in the forefront of developing new products safe for bees," he claims, "and we're involved in new tests right now."

Bee care is getting more press of late due to colony losses which could  impact on food prices, unless resolved.
Bee care is getting more press of late due to colony losses which could impact on food prices, unless resolved.

But a contingent of critics claim chemical company tests – as well as U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lab results – are unreliable.

While Bayer did not take part in the Chicago conference, its company officials did respond to charges on National Public Radio, reports Kelly, who was uncertain when or whether the NPR spots were broadcast.

The choice of Bayer as a focal point for the Chicago session is clearly related to the firm's reputation as a major introduction company for neonicotinoids, Kelly feels. "Our name is associated with this chemistry," he explains.

Defending the firm's bee safety concerns, he says Bayer researchers have been working for more than a quarter century to assure its products do not harm the insects. It launched a specific bee safety program, called "Bee Care" three years ago to bring more outreach information to the proper use of its products, he says.

Bayer recommends low concentrations of neonics be applied to protect bees. But suspicions are that colony losses are resulting from those who do not follow label recommendations.
While Kelly stops short of making such accusation, he says "some misunderstanding" may exist among applicators.

Just what reaction the chemical company will initiate to a petition of 140,000 signatures which SumOfUs.com claims call for Bayer to stop  selling what it calls "bee-killing pesticides," is  uncertain, although the firm has intervened in a threatened industry against SumOfUs.com penned before the Chicago meeting.

"My company's perspective is clearly defensible," says Kelly, "because of good technology and the fact we continue to work on ways to use products properly and our outreach to make sure (they do)."

While there is a vocal lobby placing pesticides at the top of the list of colony collapse culprits, a November USDA-EPA session on the subject concluded that mites are the major concern. That information, says Kelly, is important information for the industry to know when questioning the role of chemicals in bee kills.

Bayer "is not going to take neonicotinoids off the shelf," he vows. "These are valuable products."

As part of Bayer's bee safety concerns, it published a free pamphlet, "Honey Bee Heath," in 2012 which is available at www.beecare.bayer.com.                                 

For more on this subject, see the cover of the October issue of Western Farmer-Stockman.