(Beyond Pesticides, October 4, 2011) In September, Bayer CropScience announced that it plans to phase-out its most acutely toxic pesticides, all remaining World Health Organization (WHO) class I products, by the end of 2012. While this is a positive development, Beyond Pesticides points out that other Bayer pesticides, such as its bee-killing insecticides imidacloprid and clothianidin, will remain on the market.
Activists around the globe have mixed reactions to Bayer’s announcement, which comes over 15 years after Bayer first promised to phase-out its WHO Class I products. Philipp Mimkes of the Coalition Against Bayer Dangers based in Germany said, “This is an important success for environmental organizations from all over the world who have fought against these deadly pesticides for decades. But we must not forget that Bayer broke their original promise to withdraw all class I products by the year 2000. Many lives could have been saved. It is embarrassing that the company only stopped sales because the profit margins of these chemical time bombs have fallen so much.”
Acutely toxic pesticides with a WHO Class I rating are extremely toxic and present an immediate hazard to farmworkers and others in the vicinity of pesticide applications. The WHO estimates the number of people who are poisoned by pesticides at three to 25 million per year. At least 40,000 people are killed accidentally by pesticides and the estimated number of unreported cases is much higher. The Coalition Against Bayer Dangers believes that Bayer products contribute enormously to the millions of poisonings each year.
The WHO hazard class is based only on acute poisoning hazard and does not include factors such as cancer, endocrine disruption, reproductive effects, neurotoxicity, kidney and liver damage, birth or developmental defects, or environmental and wildlife hazards. Pesticides such as Bayer’s popular imidicloprid and clothianidin-based products —which have been linked to bee colony collapse disorder (CCD), reproductive effects, and other environmental hazards”” would not be affected by the company’s recent decision.
Clothianidin and imidicloprid are members of the neonicotinoid family of systemic pesticides, which are taken up by a plant’s vascular system and expressed through pollen, nectar and gutation droplets from which bees then forage and drink. Neonicotinoids kill sucking and chewing insects by disrupting their nervous systems. Beginning in the late 1990s, these systemic insecticides began to take over the seed treatment market. Clothianidin is Bayer’s successor product to imidacloprid, which recently went off patent. Both are known to be toxic to insect pollinators, and are lead suspects as causal factors in CCD. Together, the two products accounted for over a billion dollars in sales for Bayer Crop Science in 2009. Imidacloprid is the company’s best-selling product and among the most widely used insecticides in the U.S.
In a September 15, 2011 press release, Bayer CropScience CEO Sandra Peterson said, “With this commitment we fulfill our promise to end the production and marketing of these formulations. Our WHO Class I replacement initiative is fully in line with our commitment to sustainable agriculture and global food security.”
While it is difficult to take sustainable agriculture claims seriously from the primary producer of imidacloprid, organic and sustainable agriculture advocates are happy to see these outdated, toxic pesticides removed from the market. “We welcome this long overdue move from Bayer. We have ample evidence from the ground to prove that we don’t need hazardous pesticides in our farming. [Organic farming] is fast-spreading in different parts of India and data shows that the incomes of farmers improve when they eliminate pesticides from their agriculture,” adds Kavitha Kuruganti, National Convener of Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA), a nationwide network of more than 400 organizations in India.
In its 1995 Annual Report, Bayer Cropscience first promised to “replace products with the Classification I of the World Health Organization with products of lower toxicity” within five years. However, the company failed to keep its promise. Bayer still sells products that contain active ingredients in WHO Class 1a (extremely hazardous) and 1b (highly hazardous), including thiodicarb, fenamiphos, aldicarb and ethoprophos. Bayer has a world market share in pesticides of 20%.
For more information on the hazards posed by pesticides to bees, see Beyond Pesticides Pollinator Protection program page.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.