April 7, 2012. Minneapolis. Like canaries in a coal mine, honey bees are one of nature’s first-line defenders against harmful toxins and other poisonous substances. They are also the key ingredient in what many call the circle of life, at least in the plant kingdom. But with today’s rampant, global and unexplained die-off of the world’s honey bee populations, bee keepers and other environmental groups have joined forces. They believe they’ve found the culprit – a nicotine-based pesticide manufactured by Bayer CropScience.
States with widespread honey bee die-offs.
Bee keepers from across the nation filed an official motion with the US Environmental Protection Agency asking for an emergency ban on specific pesticides until they can be investigated as the source of the global bee die-off. Quoted in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, commercial bee keeper Jeff Anderson from Eagle Bend, Minn demands, “We are asking the EPA to do its job. Give us products that are safe.”
Anderson is no stranger to battling pesticide corporations and their partners in government. In the 1960’s, he successfully fought all the way to the Minnesota Supreme Court when another pesticide wiped out his bee colonies. Ironically, his family moved their bee hives from California to Minnesota a half century ago specifically to avoid the devastation to his bees caused by the ever-growing use of pesticides.
At the nucleus of the complaint by bee keepers from across the state is the fact that US government agencies work less and less for the people and more and more for multinational corporations who see a way to get rich while at the same time poisoning people and animals. Specifically, the commercial bee keepers and others from across the environmental and consumer safety spectrum, are taking issue with the EPA’s approval of nicotine-based pesticides.
They insist that the EPA did absolutely no actual field testing to find out of the pesticide was safe and how it would interact with the environment, people and animals around it. Instead, as is the norm now, the federal government let Bayer CropScience do its own safety testing and rely 100 percent on whatever conclusion the corporation provided. Of course, Bayer claims their nicotine-based pesticides are safe, “when used properly”.
One such nicotine-based pesticide is made by Bayer CropScience and suspected of being the cause of the global poisoning of the world’s honey bee populations. According to the emergency petition filed with the EPA this week, bee keepers and others argue that the EPA was derelict in its duties to insure only safe products reach the marketplace in the US – especially a product that saturates the nation’s food supply.
Nicotine-based pesticides have been around since the 1990’s when they were introduced as a less toxic way to kill unwanted insects and protect vegetation. Since then, they’ve found their way into hundreds home gardening and home fertilizer products. According to the Star Tribune, 90 percent of all corn seeds are coated with the chemical. When the seeds sprout, every inch of the surface of the plants, including the nectar and pollen the bees eat, as well as the corn humans eat.
Until now, Bayer and the EPA have insisted the nicotine-based pesticides are safe for humans and other mammals when ingested in low quantities. Even insects like honey bees shouldn’t be effected by the pesticide “when used properly”. In larger quantities, the EPA and Bayer warn, the nicotine chemicals can become a neurotoxin to insects like honey bees.
The emergency petition
In all, 30 beekeepers and a number of environmental and food safety groups filed the emergency joint petition with the EPA this week. Among them were the groups Beyond Pesticides and the Center for Food Safety. They are demanding that field tests be done on one of the six nicotine-based chemicals – clothianidin. The petition claims that while the EPA did no testing on the safety of clothianidin, they instead relied on Bayer’s testing, which was inadequate.
Not surprisingly, both Bayer and its defenders in the Environmental Protection Agency are disputing that claim. While Bayer stands by its product’s safety, the EPA had no comment at all. Instead, EPA officials point to an already scheduled review of the entire class of nicotine-based pesticides this coming fall. Beekeepers and those representing other stops along the world’s food chain insist that’s not enough. The world’ bee populations are dieing off as we write this through what has been called the mysterious ‘colony collapse disorder’.
The petitioners insist they’ve found one possible cause of the massive bee die-off due to Bayer’s nicotine pesticides. One Minnesota honey producer warned the Star Tribune, “We are headed in a very dangerous direction.” Vera Krischik, Associate Professor at the University of Minnesota who studies the effects of pesticides on bees, also had a dire warning. “Seventy percent of crops – apples, oranges, zucchini, melons, strawberries – they all need pollinators” she explained, “It’s a huge issue.”
The critics who filed the emergency petition with the EPA theorize that while some studies were done on the effects of nicotine-based pesticides on the fragile bee colonies, none were done on the long term use of the chemicals. It is that data, either purposely or accidentally not gathered, where the petitioners believe they will find their smoking gun. Basically, they fear that repeated use of the pesticides doesn’t start the toxicity level over at 0 each year. Instead they fear, the toxins build up in the plant world until plants are so saturated with the toxic chemical that they become deadly. That’s the threshold critics suggest may have just been crossed, thus resulting in a massive die-off of the Earth’s honey bee populations.
Jeff Anderson, the veteran beekeeper whose grandparents relocated the family’s bee hives to Minnesota and who also successfully won his suit before the Minnesota Supreme Court, believes he understands what’s happening, even with the government and corporate smoke screen. Basically, he believes farmers planting millions upon millions of acres of corn each year are spreading the pesticide into the air, water and soil. There, it attaches to insects, flowering plants, streams and even the wind. It eventually covers the entire US landscape, growing in saturation each year.
“My theory is that some of the things that come up, like dandelions, are coming up toxic” Anderson suggested, “Every year they come up more toxic.” Anderson says his typical die-off in the fall is 15-20 percent. In August and September when his bees do their pollinating, their contact with corn tassels and other contaminated vegetation has caused his bees’ mortality rate to double, and it’s only getting worse.
The opposing argument
Not surprisingly, the EPA is missing in action while the corporation responsible for manufacturing and insuring the safety of its product, Bayer CropScience, insists it is safe. “I tend to believe that Science will win out over emotion,” Jack Boyne, Bayer’s director of communications, told the Star Tribune. Iain Kelly, director of the Bayer bee research team, echoed the same dismissal.
For the US Federal government’s part, the EPA has agreed to speed up its review of the class of nicotine-based pesticides. It now plans to have its safety review done by the year 2018.