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German Coalition Sues Bayer on Bee Die-Offs

(Beyond Pesticides, August 28, 2008) The German Coalition Against Bayer Dangers has filed legal action in Germany against Bayer for its role in marketing insecticides that the coalition believes company officials knew were toxic to honey bees. The suit follows recent action by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to force the agency into compliance with its Freedom of Information Act request for scientific studies relating to clothianidin, one of the Bayer-manufactured pesticides tied to bee toxicity.

In May, Germany suspended the approval of eight pesticides linked to a massive bee die-off. Six of the eight suspended are manufactured by Bayer, the other two by Syngenta. Two of the primary active ingredients of concern are clothianidin and imidacloprid, both in the neonicotinoid family of chemicals. They are systemic pesticides, meaning the chemical is incorporated into plant tissue and can therefore be present in pollen and nectar, which is of particular importance to bees. They also have long persistence in the soil and can be absorbed by multiple generations of crops, increasing the likelihood of exposure for bees.

Attorney Harro Schultze, who represents the Coalition Against Bayer Dangers said, “The public prosecutor [in Germany] needs to clarify which efforts Bayer undertook to prevent a ban of imidacloprid and clothianidin . . . We’re suspecting that Bayer submitted flawed studies to play down the risks of pesticide residues in treated plants.” Bayer continues to defend its products, claiming that when properly used they pose no threat to bees. Richard Schmuck, an ecologist at Bayer CropScience, said in June, “All studies available to us confirm that our product is safe to bees if the recommended dressing quality is maintained. This is also shown by the product safety assessments which we have submitted to the registration authorities.”

In France, concern over the effects of neonicotinoids on honeybees led to severe restrictions on imidacloprid beginning in the 1990s and a rejection of Bayer’s application for approval of clothianidin in 2003. These actions followed contentious debates over the science between Bayer scientists, independent researchers and beekeepers. A 2007 examination of the French debate over imidacloprid in the journal Science of the Total Environment reveals that Bayer used outdated and disproved methods (not meeting state of the art detection limits) for its “scientific” studies assessing the effects of imidacloprid on honeybees, actions that call into question all of the scientific studies Bayer has produced regarding its products, in which it has a clear, vested economic interest.

The U.S. and German lawsuits both stress the importance of transparency in pesticide registration, and the importance of valid science when making registration decisions. The NRDC lawsuit against EPA prompted a letter from EPA’s Director of the Office of Pesticide Programs, Debra Edwards, PhD, stating that “EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs ‘sets the bar’ for its exceptional public participation processes and transparency.” NRDC refutes this claim by pointing to several cases in which federal judges rebuked EPA for just the opposite—a lack of transparency and public participation on pesticide regulatory issues. Despite NRDC’s Freedom of Information Act request, EPA still does not have a complete public record of the agency’s decision to approve clothianidin.

Source: Environment News Service


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