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Pesticides: Germany bans chemicals linked to honeybee devastation

by Ali­son Ben­jamin

Ger­many has banned a fam­i­ly of pes­ti­cides that are blamed for the deaths of mil­lions of hon­ey­bees. The Ger­man Fed­er­al Office of Con­sumer Pro­tec­tion and Food Safe­ty (BVL) has sus­pend­ed the reg­is­tra­tion for eight pes­ti­cide seed treat­ment prod­ucts used in rape­seed oil and sweet­corn.

The move fol­lows reports from Ger­man bee­keep­ers in the Baden-Würt­tem­berg region that two thirds of their bees died ear­li­er this month fol­low­ing the appli­ca­tion of a pes­ti­cide called cloth­i­an­i­din.

“It’s a real bee emer­gency,” said Man­fred Hed­er­er, pres­i­dent of the Ger­man Pro­fes­sion­al Bee­keep­ers’ Asso­ci­a­tion. “50–60% of the bees have died on aver­age and some bee­keep­ers have lost all their hives.”

Tests on dead bees showed that 99% of those exam­ined had a build-up of cloth­i­an­i­din. The chem­i­cal, pro­duced by Bay­er Crop­Science, a sub­sidiary of the Ger­man chem­i­cal giant Bay­er, is sold in Europe under the trade name Pon­cho. It was applied to the seeds of sweet­corn plant­ed along the Rhine this spring. The seeds are treat­ed in advance of being plant­ed or are sprayed while in the field.

The com­pa­ny says an appli­ca­tion error by the seed com­pa­ny which failed to use the glue-like sub­stance that sticks the pes­ti­cide to the seed, led to the chem­i­cal get­ting into the air.

Bay­er spokesman Dr Julian Lit­tle told the BBC’s Farm­ing Today that mis­ap­pli­ca­tion is high­ly unusu­al. “It is an extreme­ly rare event and has not been seen any­where else in Europe,” he said.

Cloth­i­an­i­din, like the oth­er neon­i­coti­noid pes­ti­cides that have been tem­porar­i­ly sus­pend­ed in Ger­many, is a sys­temic chem­i­cal that works its way through a plant and attacks the ner­vous sys­tem of any insect it comes into con­tact with. Accord­ing to the US Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency it is “high­ly tox­ic” to hon­ey­bees.

This is not the first time that Bay­er, one of the world’s lead­ing pes­ti­cide man­u­fac­tur­ers with sales of €5.8bn (£4.6bn) in 2007, has been blamed for killing hon­ey­bees.

In the Unit­ed States, a group of bee­keep­ers from North Dako­ta is tak­ing the com­pa­ny to court after los­ing thou­sands of hon­ey­bee colonies in 1995, dur­ing a peri­od when oilseed rape in the area was treat­ed with imi­da­clo­prid. A third of hon­ey­bees were killed by what has since been dubbed colony col­lapse dis­or­der.

Bay­er’s best sell­ing pes­ti­cide, imi­da­clo­prid, sold under the name Gau­cho in France, has been banned as a seed dress­ing for sun­flow­ers in that coun­try since 1999, after a third of French hon­ey­bees died fol­low­ing its wide­spread use. Five years lat­er it was also banned as a sweet­corn treat­ment in France. A few months ago, the com­pa­ny’s appli­ca­tion for cloth­i­an­i­din was reject­ed by French author­i­ties.

Bay­er has always main­tained that imi­da­clo­prid is safe for bees if cor­rect­ly applied. “Exten­sive inter­nal and inter­na­tion­al sci­en­tif­ic stud­ies have con­firmed that Gau­cho does not present a haz­ard to bees,” said Utz Klages, a spokesman for Bay­er Crop­Science.

Last year, Ger­many’s Green MEP, Hiltrud Brey­er, tabled an emer­gency motion call­ing for this fam­i­ly of pes­ti­cides to be banned across Europe while their role in killing hon­ey­bees were thor­ough­ly inves­ti­gat­ed. Her action fol­lows calls for a ban from bee­keep­ing asso­ci­a­tions and envi­ron­men­tal organ­i­sa­tions across Europe.

Philipp Mimkes, spokesman for the Ger­man-based Coali­tion Against Bay­er Dan­gers, said: “We have been point­ing out the risks of neon­i­coti­noids for almost 10 years now. This proves with­out a doubt that the chem­i­cals can come into con­tact with bees and kill them. These pes­ti­cides should­n’t be on the mar­ket.”


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