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Home | Friday 29th August 2008 | Issue 644

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Back in SchNEWS 593 we reported on the sudden extinction of millions of bees, in countries all around the world, and the effect it all might have on food crop pollination. In America three quarters of a million colonies (60-70% in some areas) were lost but, despite coining the natty phase ‘colony collapse disorder’, scientists were at loss as to what was causing it. In the meantime, the costs for farmers using rented bees to pollinate their crops doubled.

Finally though, a breakthrough has been made and whaddya know! the fingers of suspicion have ended up pointing back at those friends-to-the-people multi-national corporations! Bayer pharmaceutical in this case.

In recent years they’ve been peddling a new pest-controlling chemical concoction containing a nerve toxin called Clothianidin. The always-slack and amenable-for-a-backhander US Environmental ‘Protection’ Agency duly passed it fit for use in 2003, despite cheerfully acknowledging the lack of necessary safety research data, merely asking Bayer if they’d think about submitting it at some time later. With the US market at it’s mercy, the profits of doom could begin to be exploited by Bayer, despite the French having banned an older relative of the chemical in 1999 and subsequently declining approval for Clothianidin. French researchers found that bees were a lot more sensitive to the pesticides than Bayer claimed.

But sales rocketed, although not under the name Clothianidin, as it's not really safe-sounding and snappy. It was rebranded as Poncho and now sprayed all over corn, sugar beet and sorghum crops. The nerve toxin gets into all parts of the plant that grows from the coated seeds.
Within two years, bees started disappearing in large numbers.

While Bayer CropScience bleat that studies have shown that bees’ exposure to the pesticide is minimal or non-existent if the chemical is ‘used properly’, German state-sponsored research recently examined a large number of dead bees and established Clothianidin as the culprit, leading to German regulators banning its use three months ago.

German beekeepers and consumer advocacy groups have launched a complaint to force an official investigation of Bayer and how much they knew or suppressed research. And now in the US, a New York environmental group called the National Resources Defense Council, last week filed a lawsuit against the EPA.

Who’d have thought humble pesticides could have been bad for the environment. Whether Bayer ever get more than a slap on the wrists (they certainly won’t be returning the loot they’ve made) or whether bee populations recover as bee-keepers start trying to keep their bees away from contaminated areas remains to be seen.

* See Coalition against Bayer Dangers

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