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Germany and France ban pesticides linked to bee deaths; Geneticist urges U.S. ban

June 23rd, 2008

“Clothianidin is highly toxic to bees on an acute contact basis…It has the potential for toxic chronic exposure to honey bees, as well as other non-target pollinators, through the translocation [transfer] of clothianidin residues in nectar and pollen,” states the EPA report. “In honey bees, the effects of this toxic chronic exposure may include lethal and/or sub-lethal effects in the larvae and reproductive effects in the queen.”

But a U.S. EPA spokesman says the ban of clothianidin in Germany was the result of an unusual confluence of events. First, the corn being planted did not have a seed coating known as a “sticker” that ensures the pesticide adheres to the seed; second, its application using air-driven equipment blew the clothianidin into a nearby canola field which was in early bloom (and attracting bees) due to unusually heavy rains.

This all conspired to create “unusual circumstances” that resulted in the suspension of clothianidin, said spokesman Dale Kemery. The suspension is in force while Germany reviews how best to limit pesticide “drift” and harmful effects on bees, he said.

“EPA is reasonably confident that a bee kill incident similar to what occurred in Germany will not happen in the United States because the application of neonicotinoid seed treatment products here is restricted to commercial treaters who already use sticker coatings as a standard practice,” Kemery said.

Still, with sticker coatings recommended but not required in the United States, the EPA will be reviewing its policies on seed treatment labels and “developing a policy that will require polymers or other sticker coatings to be applied to seeds with the pesticide,” Kemery said.

The EPA and U.S. Department of Agriculture are engaged in ongoing research into Colony Collapse Disorder; government authorities suspect that the bees are dying because of multiple stressors, including a virus that affects bees, drought and enforced migration as they are shuttled around the country to service a variety of crops.

Bayer CropScience, the maker of the clothianidin seed coating, also said the Germany incident resulting in the bee deaths was an aberration, resulting in part from unusually “high quantities of dust” during the sowing of seeds that had not been treated correctly.

“We are saddened by the loss of the bees and the situation which as resulted for beekkeepers in Baden-Wurttemberg,” said Bayer ecologist Dr. Richard Schmuck in a news release. The company is working with authorities to “further improve application technology,” the release stated, so the corn pesticide “can be made available to farmers again as quickly as possible.”

The international seed and pest-control company, headquartered in Monheim, Germany, reported that it also is working with manufacturers of pneumatic corn-sowing equipment to find ways to avoid “drift of product particles” during sowing.

Cummins, professor emeritus of genetics at the University of Western Ontario, recently published a paper for the London-based Institute for Science in Society called “Saving the Honeybee Through Organic Farming.” In it, he urges a concerted move toward organic farming in general, and the creation of “bee refuges,” or large farms that offer bees a safe haven from insecticide-treated pollens and genetically modified crops. He points to the latest data on CCD, which increased from a 25 percent loss in U.S. commercial hives last year to a 34-35 percent loss this past winter.

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