"If there ain’t no bees, there ain’t no food." –Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Florida.
The growing problem of colony collapse disorder, the systematic and permanent disappearance of bees from their hives, is a lot more serious than the attention it’s been getting in the media. Honeybees are critical to agricultural pollination, and if US policy does not create a solution to the problem soon, the country will face food shortages the likes of which it has never seen.
If we have nothing to eat, we’re not going to be able to stay alive, guys. This is a really big deal.
For over five years, researchers in Europe have maintained that nicotine-based pesticides called neonicotinoids, manufactured by Bayer (of Bayer pharmaceuticals) and sold in the US and Europe under the deceptively amiable names Poncho, Gaucho, and Cruiser, are playing a large role in the mass bee deaths. After a definitive incident in which two thirds of bees in Germany’s Baden-Württemberg region died directly following an application of Bayer neonicotinoids (examinations of the dead bees showed that 99% of them had buildups of the pesticides in their bodies), the German government banned their use on any of the country’s crops. In France, neonicotinoids have been banned since 1999, when the pesticides were first introduced and a third of French bees promptly died. Italy has since followed suit, banning the nicotine-based pesticides on its own crops.
In contrast with European governments, the United States government is not only continuing to allow widespread use of neonicotinoids, but has drastically cut funding for pesticide research. In May of 2008, the USDA eliminated the only federal program that tracks the use of pesticides and fertilizers on American farms. Of the federal farm bill’s $28 million in “specialty crop” grants, not one penny has been allotted for proposed research into the specific effects of pesticide residues in American bees.
Agencies like the Sierra Club have urged the EPA to suspend Bayer’s licenses to distribute the bee-killing pesticides in the United States, citing not only the bans in Europe, but the growing evidence that even when neonicotinoids are used in doses small enough not to kill the bees, they may be causing the confusion, memory loss, and navigational impairment that lead them to abandon their hives.
“We are becoming increasingly concerned that pesticides may affect bees at sub-lethal levels, not killing them outright, but rather impairing their behaviors and their abilities to fight off infections.” -Dr. Maryann Frazier of Penn State, Congressional hearing on colony collapse disorder, June 26, 2008.
In Catch-22 style, the EPA says it won’t ban the use of the Bayer pesticides unless it has the data to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that they’re harming our bees, and yet will neither fund new research nor even show public the information it already has about how the pesticides are harming the bees. Instead, it is approving the use of new Bayer pesticides that Europe won’t even consider legalizing. In 2003, the EPA approved the pesticide clothianidin under the condition that Bayer submit studies about its product’s impact on bees. Suspiciously, it has since completely ignored Freedom of Information Act requests to make these study results public, or to even confirm that Bayer ever submitted the studies at all. In August 2008, the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) sued the EPA to release its information about the effects of pesticides on bee colonies. So far, the information has not been produced.
The German company Bayer does its largest business in the United States, and is a member of hundreds of lobby groups fighting so-called “trade barriers” like environmental or health and safety laws. It donated $120,000 to Bush’s first electoral campaign.
The USDA and EPA need to respond now to agencies and researchers all over the country who are demanding an end to the use of Bayer’s nicotine-based pesticides on American crops. Please call or write your Senators and Representatives and insist that they take action on this vital issue now.