(Beyond Pesticides, May 23, 2008) In the midst of dramatically declining bee populations, the German Office for Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVD) has suspended the approval of eight toxic insecticides believed to be responsible for the fate of these important pollinators. The suspended products include pesticides containing imidacloprid and clothianidin, the majority of which are produced by Bayer Company and have been suspected for years of contributing to declining bee populations.France banned the use of imidacloprid on corn and sunflowers in 1999, and rejected Bayer’s application for clothianidin this year.
Despite the call for prohibition of imidacloprid from German apiarists and environmental groups as early as 2004, a crisis in bee populations–a reported 50-60% loss, finally forced the government to take action. The U.S., where these products are still approved for use, has also been experiencing extremely alarming rates of bee colony collapse, while areas away from cropland have thriving bee populations.
Imidacloprid and clothianidin are both neonicotinoids, meaning that they target nerve cells in a similar way to nicotine, acting as neurotoxins to sucking insects such as beetles and aphids. Clothianidin was approved for use in the U.S. in 2003 as a seed treatment for corn and canola, despite the fact that the EPA acknowledges it is “highly toxic to honey bees.” Imidacloprid has been approved for use in the U.S. since 1994 for soil, seed and foliar uses and is commonly used on rice, cereal, maize, potatoes, vegetables, sugar beets, fruit, cotton, and hops. It is also approved for non-dietary uses on turf, ornamentals, buildings (termites), and cats and dogs (fleas). These two products account for over $1.25 billion in global annual sales for Bayer.
As the global bee crisis mounts, chemical industry officials insisted yesterday at a meeting of the Pesticide Programs Dialogue Committee there is no link between the use of neonicotinoids and colony collapse, citing a lack of scientific evidence. However, imidacloprid has been linked to neural effects in honeybees, including disruptions in mobility, navigation, and feeding behavior. Studies in France (2004) and Italy (2003) both found that imidacloprid caused deleterious effects in honeybees including reduced foraging, disorientation and inability to return to their hives. Maryann Frazier, a senior extension associate in Penn State University’s entomology department said last year that researchers at Penn State and the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that while they cannot tie colony collapse to any single factor, they have zeroed in on a new, unnamed pathogen found in the dead bees, and on the role of pesticides.
Honeybees pollinate over 130 crops, and contribute over $15 billion in annual crop sales in the U.S. alone. It is estimated that 1.1 million bee colonies in the U.S. died last year, which is almost 50% higher than usual annual losses. (Daily Green) This global crisis provides an opportunity for the U.S. to lead the way with France and Germany in protecting our pollinators, an important component of our environment and food system. However, both imidacloprid and clothianidin remain approved for use in the U.S.
TAKE ACTION: The fact that numerous registered pesticides are harmful and/or lethal to the very pollinators we depend upon for a prolific food system indicates there are fundamental problems with the pesticide regulatory system. Contact your U.S. Representative and U.S. Senators and ask them to tell EPA to protect the pollinators and suspend the use of imidacloprid and clothianidin-containing chemicals until good data is available that proves they are not contributing to the die-off of bee populations. Tell them we cannot afford to wait!
The full list of suspended products in Germany is: Antarc (ingredient: imidacloprid; produced by Bayer), Chinook (imidacloprid; Bayer), Cruiser (thiamethoxam; Syngenta), Elado (clothianidin; Bayer), Faibel (imidacloprid; Bayer), Mesurol (methiocarb; Bayer) and Poncho (clothianidin; Bayer).