(Earth Focus: Episode 44) Honey bees, the essential pollinators of many major US crops, have been dying off in massive numbers since 2006. This threatens the American agricultural system and the one in twelve American jobs that depends on it. There is growing evidence that a new class of pesticides -- nerve toxins called neonicotinoids, which are used on most US crops including almost all corn -- may be toxic to bees. The Environmental Protection Agency allowed neonicotinoids on the market without adequate tests to determine their toxicity to bees. Environmentalists want neonicotinoids banned until needed safety tests are done. While the US government is slow to act and neonicotinoid sales reap billions for the chemical industry, bees continue to die. Earth Focus reports.
A combo of pesticides takes a toll on their memory and communication skills
Honeybees learn and remember the locations of flowers, but a new study shows they may be losing their way.
Photograph by John Kimbler, My Shot
Published February 13, 2013
A single honeybee visits hundreds, sometimes thousands, of flowers a day in search of nectar and pollen. Then it must find its way back to the hive, navigating distances up to five miles (eight kilometers), and perform a "waggle dance" to tell the other bees where the flowers are.
A new study shows that long-term exposure to a combination of certain pesticides might impair the bee's ability to carry out its pollen mission.
"Any impairment in their ability to do this could have a strong effect on their survival," said Geraldine Wright, a neuroscientist at Newcastle University in England and co-author of a new study posted online February 7, 2013, in theJournal of Experimental Biology.
Wright's study adds to the growing body of research that shows that the honeybee's ability to thrive is being threatened. Scientists are still researching how pesticides may be contributing to colony collapse disorder (CCD), a rapid die-off seen in millions of honeybees throughout the world since 2006.
"Pesticides are very likely to be involved in CCD and also in the loss of other types of pollinators," Wright said. (See the diversity of pollinating creatures in a photo gallery from National Geographic magazine.)
Bees depend on what's called "scent memory" to find flowers teeming with nectar and pollen. Their ability to rapidly learn, remember, and communicate with each other has made them highly efficient foragers, using the waggle dance to educate others about the site of the food source.
Their pollination of plants is responsible for the existence of nearly a third of the food we eat and has a similar impact on wildlife food supplies.
Previous studies have shown certain types of pesticides affect a bee's learning and memory. Wright's team wanted to investigate if the combination of different pesticides had an even greater effect on the learning and memory of honeybees.
"Honeybees learn to associate floral colors and scents with the quality of food rewards," Wright explained. "The pesticides affect the neurons involved in these behaviors. These [affected] bees are likely to have difficulty communicating with other members of the colony."
The experiment used a classic procedure with a daunting name: olfactory conditioning of the proboscis extension reflex. In layman's terms, the bee sticks out its tongue in response to odor and food rewards.
For the experiment, bees were collected from the colony entrance, placed in glass vials, and then transferred into plastic sandwich boxes. For three days the bees were fed a sucrose solution laced with sublethal doses of pesticides. The team measured short-term and long-term memory at 10-minute and 24-hour intervals respectively. (Watch of a video of a similar type of bee experiment.)
This study shows that when pesticides are combined, the impact on bees is far worse than exposure to just one pesticide. "This is particularly important because one of the pesticides we used, coumaphos, is a 'medicine' used to treat Varroa mites [pests that have been implicated in CCD] in honeybee colonies throughout the world," Wright said.
The pesticide, in addition to killing the mites, might also be making honeybees more vulnerable to poisoning and effects from other pesticides.
Stephen Buchmann of the Pollinator Partnership, who was not part of Wright's study, underscored how critical pollinators are for the world. "The main threat to pollinators is habitat destruction and alteration. We're rapidly losing pollinator habitats, natural areas, and food-producing agricultural lands that are essential for our survival and well being. Along with habitat destruction, insecticides weaken pollinators and other beneficial insects."
Chemical giants Bayer CropScience and Syngenta are both disputing the conclusions of a report from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) that says that bees might be at risk from neonicotinoid insecticides produced by the two companies. The report cited ‘the importance of bees in the ecosystem and the food chain’ and states that three neonicotinoid insecticides – clothianidin,imidacloprid and thiamethoxam – should only be used ‘on crops not attractive to honey bees’.
Bayer CropScience, which produces clothianidin and imidacloprid, argued in a written statement that it ‘has generated extensive safety data for its neonicotinoid-containing crop protection products’ that have confirmed ‘the absence of any unacceptable risk’. Bayer added: ‘We do not believe that the new EFSA reports alter the quality and validity of these risk assessments and the underlying studies.’
EFSA was asked by the European commission to assess neonicotinoids last year following the publication of two studies1 in Science2 linking the pesticides to declining bee populations. EFSA evaluated the latest scientific research on clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam, as well as regulatory approval data for the pesticides submitted by Bayer and Syngenta.
Focusing on the use of neonicotinoids as seed treatment or granules, EFSA assessed the acute and chronic effects on bee colony survival and development, on bee larvae and bee behaviour, and the risks posed by sub-lethal doses. Although the report ‘identified a number of risks posed to bees’ by the three neonicotinoid insecticides, EFSA acknowledged that in some cases it ‘was unable to finalise the assessments due to shortcomings in the available data’.
EFSA’s findings were embraced by environmental groups and scientists who previously have argued that neonicotinoids are a key factor in declining bee populations. Citing the report, neonicotinoid opponents say the EU should now enact an immediate ban of neonicotinoids. France, Germany and Italy have already banned some uses of these pesticides.
Frédéric Vincent, spokesman for health and consumer policy at the European commission tells Chemistry World that the ‘commission has concerns over findings of the EFSA report’. The commission has asked Bayer and Syngenta to provide ‘feedback’ by 25 January. ‘As far as we're concerned it's quite clear,’ he says. ‘If the report and ensuing studies highlight that there is a problem with these products, then the commission, together with member states, will take the necessary measures.’
Bayer CropScience contends that previous research has shown that ‘poor bee health and colony losses are caused by multiple factors, the parasitic Varroa mite being the key issue’. Syngenta, which produces thiamethoxam, took a more forceful stance in its response to the report. ‘We believe that that EFSA has found itself under political pressure to produce a hurried and inadequate risk assessment, which even they acknowledge contains a high level of uncertainty,’ the company said. ‘We intend to deploy all means at our disposal to defend the use of this product.’
Syngenta also cited figures contained in a study issued earlier this week by the Humboldt Forum for Food and Agriculture describing ‘the value of neonicotinoid seed treatment in the European Union'. The study, financed by Syngenta, Bayer CropScience, the European Farmers Union and others, says a neonicotinoid ban would cost the EU economy €17 billion (£14 billion) over the next five years and threaten 50,000 jobs.
David Goulson, a biologist at Stirling University in Scotland and author of one of the two Science studies that triggered the EFSA assessment, described the Humboldt Forum study as ‘laughable propaganda designed to scare politicians into inaction’, adding: ‘The economic calculations have no basis in fact.’ He says that he supports an immediate ban on use of neonicotinoid seed treatments for oilseed rape, sunflower and maize. ‘The scientific community is already largely agreed,’ he says. ‘I hope that politicians will take the EFSA's statement very seriously.’
Finally, what Sharilyn Stalling has been telling people for years has been proven!
See this email and the attached PDF.Effects of Neonics on Bees
Henk Tennekes has just sent through this vitally important report from the
Directorate General Policy unit of the European Parliament.
DIRECTORATE GENERAL FOR INTERNAL POLICIES
>POLICY DEPARTMENT A: ECONOMIC AND SCIENTIFIC POLICY
>"Existing Scientific Evidence of the Effects of Neonicotinoid
>Pesticides on Bees"
>>1. Although bee declines can be attributed to multifarious
>>causes, the use of
>>neonicotinoids is increasingly held responsible for recent
>> 2. Neonicotinoids show high acute toxicity to honeybees.
>>3. Chronic exposure of honeybees to sub-lethal doses of
>>neonicotinoids can also
>>result in serious effects, which include a wide range of
>>behavioural disturbances in
>>bees, such as problems with flying and navigation, impaired memory
>>reduced foraging ability, as well as reduction in breeding success
>> 4. Recent scientific findings are urging to reassess the bee
>>safety of approved uses of
>>neonicotinoid insecticides at European level. A current review,
>>carried out by the
>>European Food Safety Authority EFSA (on behalf of the European
>>give new insights into this issue.
>> As long as there are uncertainties concerning the effects of
>>neonicotinoids on honey
>>bees,the Precautionary Principle in accordance withwith the
>>Regulation (EC) No
>>1107/2009should be applied when using neonicotinoids.
It is a summary of what the EU experts and Reporter States regard as 'the
state of the evidence' on neonicotinoids and honeybee/ wild bee deaths.
It appears to overwhelmingly support the position that Imidacloprid,
Clothianidin and Thiamethoxam are directly responsible for the mass-death
of bee colonies in Europe and the UK.
It recommends that - since the evidence is so strong - that the European
Commission shoiuld apply thePrecautionary Principle and ban or
suspend the use of these systemic pesticides.
This does not mean of course that the European Commission will act
immediately on this recommendation but it suggests that a decision will be
made by the end of December 2012.
This is fantastic news - hope it transforms into regulatory action before
the next planting season.
Please read the attached document carefully and distribute to relevant
Dan Rather took a closer look at Colony Collapse Disorder. In the report, he speaks of the importance of bees, and how bekeepers around the world are reporting loosing up to 30-60% of hives per year! The EPA, who has approved the use of neoicotinoid pesticides has nothing to do with the testing of the chemicals. They allow the companies that make them such as Bayer to provide their own research. It is a great watch, and I highly recommend it.
Watch and spread!
Source: Oldham Chronicle, UK
Reporter: Janice Barker
Date online: 23/07/2009
Oldham Euro-MP Chris Davies has a bee in his bonnet about the endangered insects.
He used his first question of the new term at the European Parliament to highlight the alarming decline of British bees.
In the last two years bee numbers have dropped by around 30 per cent and the Government recently announced funding of around £2 million to study the decline.
Liberal Democrat Mr Davies wants the European Commission to consider banning insecticides called neonicotinoids, used to protect plants from insects. Its use has been linked to bees dying, and led to severe restrictions in France and Germany. Mr Davies said: “The Commission needs to consider a ban on these chemicals before the bee decline starts showing up in food shortages.
“Better to take action now as a precaution than risk the destruction of bee colonies because we left it too late.
“Protecting the environment isn’t just about the big visible changes like the melting ice in Greenland or the pollution in our atmosphere, it’s also about protecting the tiny creatures who keep our plants growing and our world running.”
Bees are believed to contribute £120 million per year in direct economic benefits to Britain by pollinating commercial crops.
About a third of food comes from plants pollinated by them. Scientists are trying to discover the reasons why bees have been disappearing in large numbers. Many studies focus on the varroa mite parasite that weakens colonies by feeding on bees.
Neonicotinoids are less studied despite evidence from Germany and France in particular that they can cause bee colony numbers to collapse.
Press Release, Sept 19, 2008
Coalition against Bayer Dangers (Germany)
Italy bans Pesticides linked to Bee Devastation
Neonicotinoids now suspended in four European countries
The Italian government banned the use of several neonicotinoid pesticides that are blamed for the deaths of millions of honeybees. The Ministero del Lavoro della Salute e delle Politiche Sociali issued an immediate suspension of the seed treatment products clothianidin, imidacloprid, fipronil and thiamethoxam used in rapeseed oil, sunflowers and sweetcorn. The Italian government will start a monitoring program to further investigate the reasons of recent bee deaths.
Italy followed Germany and Slovenia which banned sales of clothianidin and imidacloprid in May. In France imidacloprid has been banned on sunflowers already since 1999. In 2003 the substance was also banned as a sweetcorn treatment. Bayer´s application for clothianidin was rejected by French authorities.
The two substances are produced by the German company Bayer CropScience and generated €800 million in 2007. Imidacloprid is Bayer´s best-selling pesticide.
In August the German Coalition against Bayer Dangers brought a charge against Werner Wenning, chairman of the Bayer Board of Management, for marketing dangerous pesticides and thereby accepting the mass death of bees all over the world. The charge was introduced in cooperation with German beekeepers who lost thousands of hives after poisoning by the pesticide clothianidin in May this year.
Harro Schultze, attorney of the Coalition against Bayer Dangers said: “The Public Prosecutor needs to clarify which efforts Bayer undertook to prevent a ban of imidacloprid and clothianidin in Germany after sales of both substances were stopped in France. We´re suspecting that Bayer submitted flawed studies to play down the risks of pesticide residues in treated plants”.
Neonicotinoid pesticides are systemic chemicals that work their way through the plant and attack the nervous system of any insect it comes into contact with. The substances also get into the pollen and the nectar and can damage beneficial insects such as bees.
The Press Release of the Italian Government: www.ministerosalute.it (top right: “Tutela patrimonio apistico: sospensione cautelativa dei prodotti fitosanitari utilizzati nel trattamento di concia delle sementi”)
Sep 19, 2008, The News & Observer (Raleigh)
Italy is latest to ban sale of Bayer pesticide
Pesticides made by Bayer CropScience have been banned in a third European country after the chemicals were linked to bee deaths.
Italy this week followed Germany and Slovenia in banning sales of chemicals used to coat crop seeds, including clothianidin and imidecloprid, according to a statement by the Italian health ministry and the German consumer watchdog group, Coalition Against Bayer Dangers. Both pesticides are made and sold by Bayer CropScience, a German company that has its U.S. headquarters in Research Triangle Park.
Beekeepers in the three countries blame the pesticides for killing large numbers of honeybees. Clothianidin and related pesticides generated about $1 billion of Bayer CropScience's $8.6 billion in global sales last year. Sabine Vollmer, Staff Writer
Press Release, August 25, 2008
Coalition against BAYER Dangers (Germany)
Pesticides cause mass death of bees
Germany: Charge against Bayer´s Board of Management
The German Coalition against Bayer Dangers today brought a charge against Werner Wenning, chairman of the Bayer Board of Management, with the Public Prosecutor in Freiburg (south-western Germany). The group accuses Bayer of marketing dangerous pesticides and thereby accepting the mass death of bees all over the world. The Coalition introduced the charge in cooperation with German beekeepers who lost thousands of hives after poisoning by the pesticide clothianidin in May this year.
Since 1991 Bayer has been producing the insecticide Imidacloprid, which is one of the best selling insecticides in the world, often used as seed-dressing for maize, sunflower, and rape. Bayer exports Imidacloprid to more than 120 countries and the substance is Bayer´s best-selling pesticide. Since patent protection for Imidacloprid expired in most countries, Bayer in 2003 brought a similarly functionning successor product, Clothianidin, onto the market. Both substances are systemic chemicals that work their way from the seed through the plant. The substances also get into the pollen and the nectar and can damage beneficial insects such as bees.
The beginning of the marketing of Imidacloprid and Clothianidin coincided with the occurrence of large scale bee deaths in many European and American countries. Up to 70 per cent of all hives have been affected. In France alone approximately 90 billion bees died within ten years, reducing honey production by up to 60%.
Harro Schultze, attorney of the Coalition against Bayer Dangers said: “The Public Prosecutor needs to clarify which efforts BAYER undertook to prevent a ban of Imidacloprid and Clothianidin after sales of both substances were stopped in France. We´re suspecting that Bayer submitted flawed studies to play down the risks of pesticide residues in treated plants”. In France Imidacloprid has been banned as a seed dressing for sunflowers since 1999 and in 2003 was also banned as a sweetcorn treatment. The Comité Scientifique et Technique, convened by the French government, declared that the treatment of seeds with Imidacloprid leads to significant risks for bees. Bayer´s application for Clothianidin was also rejected by French authorities.
“Bayer´s Board of Management has to be called to account since the risks of neonicotinoids such as Imidacloprid and Clothianidin have now been known for more than ten years. With an annual turnover of nearly 800 million Euro neonicotinoids are among Bayer´s most important products. This is the reason why Bayer, despite serious environmental damage, is fighting against any application prohibitions”, says Philipp Mimkes, speaker of the Coalition against Bayer-dangers. The Coalition demands that Bayer withdraw all neonicotinoids from the market worldwide.
The accusation of flawed studies is confirmed by the Canadian Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) which judged on Bayer´s Clothianidin application: “All of the field/semi-field studies, however, were found to be deficient in design and conduct of the studies and were, therefore, considered as supplemental information only. Clothianidin may pose a risk to honey bees and other pollinators, if exposure occurs via pollen and nectar of crop plants grown from treated seeds”. PRMA adds: “It should also be noted that Clothianidin is very persistent in soil, with high carry-over of residues to the next growing season. Clothianidin is also mobile in soil.”
In May 2008 German authorities blamed clothianidin for the deaths of millions of honeybees. The German Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) suspended the registration for eight pesticide seed treatment products, including Clothianidin and Imidacloprid, on maize and rape.
The case is filed by the Public Prosecutor in Freiburg (Tel: +49-(0)761 2050) under the file number 520 UJs 1649/08
· The Guardian: Germany bans chemicals linked to bee devastation www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/may/23/wildlife.endangeredspecies
· Sierra Club urges EPA to suspend nicotinyl insecticides: http://www.sierraclub.org/biotech/whatsnew/whatsnew_2008-07-30.asp
· Press Release of the Research Centre for Cultivated Plants (German): http://www.jki.bund.de/cln_044/nn_813794/DE/pressestelle/Presseinfos/2008/1605__BienensterbenClothianidin.html__nnn=true
· Bee-keepers and environmental groups demand prohibition of pesticide "Gaucho"
· French Institutes Finds Imidaproclid Turning Up in Wide Range of Crops
· 2003 report from the "Comité Scientifique et Technique de l’Etude Multifactorielle des Troubles des Abeilles" http://agriculture.gouv.fr/IMG/pdf/rapportfin.pdf
San Francisco Chronicle, August 19, 2008
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is refusing to disclose records about a new class of pesticides that could be playing a role in the disappearance of millions of honeybees in the United States, a lawsuit filed Monday charges.
The Natural Resources Defense Council wants to see the studies that the EPA required when it approved a pesticide made by Bayer CropScience five years ago.
The environmental group filed the suit as part of an effort to find out how diligently the EPA is protecting honeybees from dangerous pesticides, said Aaron Colangelo, a lawyer for the group in Washington.
In the last two years, beekeepers have reported unexplained losses of hives - 30 percent and upward - leading to a phenomenon called colony collapse disorder. Scientists believe that the decline in bees is linked to an onslaught of pesticides, mites, parasites and viruses, as well as a loss of habitat and food.
$15 billion in crops
Bees pollinate about one-third of the human diet, $15 billion worth of U.S. crops, including almonds in California, blueberries in Maine, cucumbers in North Carolina and 85 other commercial crops, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Not finding a cause of the collapse could prove costly, scientists warn.
Representatives of the EPA said they hadn't seen the suit and couldn't comment.
Clothianidin is the pesticide at the center of controversy. It is used to coat corn, sugar beet and sorghum seeds and is part of a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids. The pesticide was blamed for bee deaths in France and Germany, which also is dealing with a colony collapse. Those two countries have suspended its use until further study. An EPA fact sheet from 2003 says clothianidin has the potential for toxic chronic exposure to honey bees, as well as other pollinators, through residues in nectar and pollen.
The EPA granted conditional registration for clothianidin in 2003 and at the same time required that Bayer CropScience submit studies on chronic exposure to honeybees, including a complete worker bee lifecycle study as well as an evaluation of exposure and effects to the queen, the group said. The queen, necessary for a colony, lives a few years; the workers live only six weeks, but there is no honey without them.
"The public has no idea whether those studies have been submitted to the EPA or not and, if so, what they show. Maybe they never came in. Maybe they came in, and they show a real problem for bees. Maybe they're poorly conducted studies that don't satisfy EPA's requirement," Colangelo said.
Request for records
On July 17, after getting no response from the EPA about securing the studies, the environmental group filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act, which requires the records within 20 business days absent unusual circumstances.
When the federal agency missed the August deadline, the group filed the lawsuit, asking the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., to force the EPA to turn over the records.
Greg Coffey, a spokesman for Bayer CropScience in Research Triangle Park, N.C., said controlled field studies have demonstrated that clothianidin, when used correctly, will not harm bees. He added that all of EPA's requirements for conditional registration of clothianidin have been submitted to the agency.
An EPA spokesman, Dale Kemery, said the agency couldn't comment on the documents required under the conditional registration because the matter is the subject of litigation.
Generally, the EPA has taken the position that the bee deaths occurred under unusual circumstances. In Germany, the corn lacked a seed coating that ensured that the pesticide stuck to the seed, and equipment blew the pesticide into a nearby canola field where bees fed.
The EPA is "reasonably confident" that a bee kill similar to Germany's wouldn't happen in the United States because use is restricted to commercial applicators who use stickier coatings, according to Kemery.
But because the stickier coatings aren't required, Kemery said, the EPA will review its policies on seed-treatment labels.
In California, according to the 2006 Pesticide Use Report Summary, about 3 pounds of clothianidin was used, all on corn. Other members of the neonicotinoid class, registered for a longer period of time, have been used more frequently, including 127,000 pounds on broccoli, grapes, lettuce and oranges. Some pesticides were used in buildings.
"We've been monitoring the bee die-off situation for a couple of years, and it's a complex puzzle that may also involve mites, viruses and other factors," said Glenn Brank, communications director for the state Department of Pesticide Regulation.
The agency is conducting its own review of environmental data from registered neonicotinoid pesticides as well as watching enforcement reports from counties for any unusual environmental incidents involving bees, he said. None was noted, Brank said.
Scientists presenting at the American Chemical Society national meeting Monday reported that dozens of pesticides had been found in samples of adult bees, broods, pollen and wax collected from honeybee colonies suspected to have died from symptoms of colony collapse disorder, including some neonicotinoids.
Entomologist Gabriela Chavarria, director of Natural Resources Defense Council's Science Center, said over the years bees have had to withstand devastating problems.
Bees pick up deadly farm and home chemicals when they visit flowers, or encounter chemical drift from aerial and other applications. Fifteen years ago, queen bees imported from China brought varroa mites that attacked broods of worker bees. Microscopic tracheal mites invade the hives.
And now the new pesticide, clothianidin, is another problem, Chavarria said. Scientists must find out whether the toxicity has been sufficiently studied, she said.
"We want this information now. We cannot continue to wait. Bees are disappearing. Our whole existence depends on them because we eat. The flowers need to be pollinated, and the only ones to do it are the bees."
Honeybees, which pollinate everything from almonds to apples to avocados, began abandoning their colonies in 2006, destroying about a third of their hives.
Since then, their numbers have not improved. A survey of beekeepers in the fall and winter 2007 by the Bee Research Lab and the Apiary Inspectors of America showed that beekeepers lost about 35 percent of their hives compared with 31 percent in 2006.
· Mass death of bees in Germany: Approval of Bayer´s pesticide Poncho suspended www.cbgnetwork.de/2517.html
· The Guardian: Germany bans chemicals linked to honeybee devastation
· Sierra Club urges EPA to suspend nicotinyl insecticides: www.sierraclub.org/biotech/whatsnew/whatsnew_2008-07-30.asp
· Press Release of the Research Centre for Cultivated Plants (German): www.jki.bund.de/cln_044/nn_813794/DE/pressestelle/Presseinfos/2008/1605__BienensterbenClothianidin.html__nnn=true
· Bee-keepers and environmental groups demand prohibition of pesticide "Gaucho"
· French Institutes Finds Imidaproclid Turning Up in Wide Range of Crops
2003 report from the "Comité Scientifique et Technique de l’Etude Multifactorielle des Troubles des Abeilles" http://agriculture.gouv.fr/IMG/pdf/rapportfin.pdf