Farm Press Blog

Pesticides on brink of ban over honey bee losses

  • A neonicotinoid ban might cost Europe up to $23 billion and put 50,000 jobs on the chopping block.
  • For U.S. agriculture and California, the neonicotinoid outcome in Europe may serve as a regulatory road map.

Honey bees are a massive global business, responsible for a third of the world’s food production. Honey bees provide $15 billion in added U.S. crop value each year, and as the USDA reports, “About one mouthful in three in our diet directly or indirectly benefits from honey bee pollination.”

It’s difficult to overstate honey bee significance to the planet’s food security. And since 2006, after the bullrush onset of Colony Collapse Disorder, scientists and beekeepers have looked for a source of blame; a cause to explain millions of abandoned hives and billions of dead bees.

The EU, mainly based on the research of Italian biologist Marco Lodesani, thinks it has fingered the culprit: neonicotinoid pesticides. According to Businessweek, three years of research led Lodesani to a conclusion of toxic poisoning: “Our findings show that the bee colonies are dying off in such large numbers, and that the link is pesticides,” said Lodesani. He added that the ‘pharma’ link, as he calls it, is strong enough to rule out other suspected causes, such as a deadly virus, as a principle cause for colony deaths.”

The European Food Safety Authority (ESFA), took Lodesani’s report and ran with it. As a result, neonicotinoid pesticides are on the brink of European ban. On Feb. 25, the EU’s 27 member states will vote on a proposed two-year neonicotinoid ban (the vote has been pushed back to March 14-15); ratification will require a majority vote and if passed, the ban will go into effect on July 1. Narrowed down, the neonicotinoid legislation puts three chemicals in the crosshairs: clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam.

The makers of the three pesticides — Syngenta and Bayer CropScience — say the EU is responding in knee-jerk fashion, and label the EFSA report as fundamentally flawed. From a Syngenta release: “Further review has now shown that EFSA based its assessment on unrealistic and excessive seed planting rates between two and four times higher than would be used under modern agricultural practice. Had EFSA used normal sowing rates they would have concluded that the risk to bees is extremely low and that in reality neonicotinoid technology does not damage their health.”

Who is correct? Syngenta and Bayer — or the EFSA and Lodesani? The financial stakes are extremely high: A neonicotinoid ban might cost Europe up to $23 billion over a five year stretch and put 50,000 jobs on the chopping block, according to Businessweek. Europe’s farmer unions, never shy about parking their tractors across from legislative buildings or battling with riot police, are keenly watching the developments.

At present, the proposed ban targets only neonicotinoid pesticide use on crops that are attractive to bees. But Syngenta and Bayer recognize that the proposed legislation is a first-step measure, heavily laden with future intent. If the prohibition of clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam is passed — activist groups will move for a permanent neonicotinoid ban.

Europe’s politicians will pat themselves on the back if a ban is enacted, but beyond the self-congratulations, the questions remain. What about Varroa mites, lack of pollen and nectar supplies, pathogens, and historical bee die-offs before the use of pesticides? The answers appear far more complicated than the research presented by EFSA.

(See related: Honey bee losses defy solitary explanations)

Across the globe, California may be the bellwether location for honey bee significance; and no crop details this better than almonds. California’s 800,000 acres of almonds require 1.6 million bee colonies for pollination services each year (two colonies per acre). Eighty percent of the world’s almonds are grown in California and the 2013 almond crop will likely be worth $3 billion.

For U.S. agriculture and California, the neonicotinoid outcome in Europe may serve as a regulatory road map. The Environmental Protection Agency, currently taking its own look at neonicotinoids, is watching the events play out in Europe. Unless the review process is expedited, EPA’s neonicotinoid findings are expected in 2018.

Twitter: @CBennett71

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Discuss this Blog Entry 22

Anonymous (not verified)
on Feb 21, 2013

The $23 billion and 50,000 job figures come from a rushed, industry funded report that one qualified analyst described as "laughable". No assessment was made of the huge environmental damages from these pesticides, but for the sake of discussion, let's accept those figures. Who should stand those losses? The farmers? The taxpayer? No! These corporations knowingly led farmers and society into an agricultural technology it knew at the outset would be destructive, costly to the environment, and would ultimately fail. No, those losses should be compensated from the billions of ill-gotten profits realized by these environmental criminals.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Feb 21, 2013

Syngenta calling the European Food and Safety Agency's report as 'a knee jerk reaction' is a misuse of the English language. Your knee jerks when the doctor taps it with a rubber hammer, usually within a half a second. The scientific evidence which points to neonics being responsible for bee deaths goes all the way back to 1997. Bayer introduced Imidacloprid - as the product 'Gaucho' for use on sunflowers in France, in 1994. The French watched a million bee colonies die among the sunflowers over he next three years; the bee farmers didn't need a laboratory study, they were walking on carpets of dead bees among the sunflower rows.

But they DID the lab studies; Bayer denied ALL responsibility.
The industry-paid scientists all lined up to say "neonics are good for kids - sprinkle them on your cheerios". Every independent study since 1999 has confirmed that neonics are responsible for the death of over 20 million bee colonies worldwide.

The French government bit the bullet and BANNED the neonics on sunflowers, canola and corn in 2000AD. They have NEVER withdrawn the ban. The Germans, Italians, Swiss and Slovenians followed suit. America did not.
This may have something to do with the fact that the EPA has been directed by a succession of ex-Monsanto lawyers. In the USA, the pesticide companies don't lobby the government; they ARE the government.

We are facing ecological Armageddon. More than 240 million acres of American crops are currently seed treated with the most toxic substance ever devised by the perversion of science. Even the Nazis never came up with anything as toxic as neonics. Imidacloprid is 8,000 times more poisonous to bees than DDT - and it persists in the soil for YEARS.

Goverment will not solve this - they are in the bag. The Scientists will not solve it - they've been lying all the way to the bank for 20 years. Farmers won't solve it because they have to buy the seed Monsanto nd Syngenta order them to plant.

The only people who MAY solve it, is the American People - in whom I place great trust. If they don't, then we are truly heading for ecological disaster and a human health disaster that will make Thalidomide look like a tea-party.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 13, 2013

Many Americans who are addicted to fizzie drinks (soda) and fast foods and other manufactured foods in their diet are ignorant of this. The head of the Department of Agriculture is a Monsanto man appointed by the president. The small percent of Americans who have been fighting against Monsanto may not be enough of a force to effect any change. We can't live without pollinators (bees and other insects), but hey, they don't even teach real science in schools these days....I have little hope, my friend.

Kosta (not verified)
on Apr 21, 2013

Don’t give up hope we outnumber these corporate oligarchs.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Feb 21, 2013

As a commercial beekeeper for 30+ years who has lived with basically no "pay" besides a sore back for the last 10 (as any available funds we acquire goes immediately back into the operation to keep it afloat) I welcome the news this is being considered. ' If the science comes up with conclusive proof this stuff is the culprit and a ban is not put in place I can envision a day when the few remaining semi loads of bees show up at the capital so the sleeping lawmakers can see for themselves what an issue this whole thing really is. That's if the starving masses don't show up first and block the way.

Frustrated beekeeper (not verified)
on Feb 21, 2013

All you specialty crop growers ought to be encouraging the EU to take the 2 year suspension action.
Almond growers in particular should be up in arms that the true cost of inappropriate pesticide applications in other areas of the US is being externalized on you in the form of insufficent numbers of rentable beehives, and often significantly reduced populations in remaining live hives, and much higher rental prices.
Just in case you do not know a very similar discussion over the same chemicals is taking place between beekeepers and the EPA about bee mortality here in the US. Currently EPA is posturing that they intend to do nothing... Without political help from specialty crop growers, LIKE YOU the US bee industry is out gunned. If you think for a minute that there is a pollinator shortage this season, you haven't seen anything yet...

Vaso (not verified)
on Feb 22, 2013

The EPA has been corrupted by the big agribusiness to the point where their main function is to provide a smooth transition for these chemicals from the lab to a field near you. The only hope we have now is efsa and the EU.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Feb 21, 2013

Obama should restrict to use any chemicals in his bee yard at White house. Otherwise, let to apply pesticides around his beehives and buy honey from China.
No, it is not good for bees and US. President has right to protect bees and stop abusing bees and people by "scientists."

Anonymous (not verified)
on Feb 21, 2013

I agree. Obama should just ban all pesticides entirely. The use of these chemicals is suspected of destroying our environment and beekeepers livelihoods, since introduced in 1994, but I thought CCD was not reported until 2006. As for all the other factors attributed to CCD, who cares! Disease, pests, parasites; just ignore these problems and they'"ll just go away eventually.
Obama knows what he is doing to create more government income and control over the masses. Like almond farmers, all people will soon pay for pollination. More and more new backyard beekeepers are taking up the cause of sterilizing every neighborhood of all other pollinating insects, bringing the problems of commercial agriculture to every backyard, like some type of new-age Nazi or New World Order agenda.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Feb 21, 2013

CCD hit France in 1994 and they lost a million colonies by 1997.
The French then did the Science and concluded that neonics were the cause. There is a very interesting history of the French Bee Disaster available at this link here:

Please download it and read.

mnbeekeeper (not verified)
on Feb 27, 2013

I doubt it. CCD was not even an Acronym or a phrase until winter of 2006-2007. The varroa mite which is far more insidious spread around the world during the 1990's.

Dr. Honey Bee (not verified)
on May 15, 2013

Read the report. CCD is just the latest name, it was reported as dwindeling. Hives load these biocides inthe wax and pollen so eventually there is a cumulative effect of CCD. Names of the problem lend only to confusion and inaction which is what the culprits would love. The long term of environmental health is worth the loss of jobs and money. We can feed the hungry IF the bees survive but we will ALL be hungry if they do not!

Anonymous (not verified)
on Feb 21, 2013

Obama promised to bring in compulsory labelling of GM food when he was running for election - but he did a 180 on that as soon as he was in power and tucked up in bed with Pepsico, General Foods and Monsanto. If you are waiting for this President to champion the cause that people should have the right to pesticide-free, properly labelled food, you will be waiting a long time. This administration is pro-pesticide, pro GM and devil take the hindmost.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Feb 21, 2013

For Bayer to come out with a defence statement that Australia is not having problems with Neonics is a bare faced lie. You really don't have to go far here in Australia to find the same CCD that the USA is suffering. The one difference we have here in Australia is that beekeepers can escape Neonics partially, because most of our honey comes from native forests. Neonics are everywhere in Australia and beekeepers are suffering losses from Neonics no doubt about it. It is affecting bees in ways we have never seen before, the bees have a reluctance to thrive, the queen losses are extraordinary, hives are swarming prematually, bees are vanishing. You would think that if there is a problem with bees you would ask the beekeepers what they think it may be. This is not the case anywhere I can hear of. In my opinion as a beekeeper of 37 years, all the new problems that we are experiencing point to the release of Neonics into Australia.

insideToday (not verified)
on Feb 21, 2013

I met Iain Kelly, Ph. D, of Bayer CropScience today. He was asked if he had heard of the European Food and Safety Agency vote coming up. His response was EXACTLY the "knee jerk" line with the added information that he didn't think the vote would necessarily happen on 2/25. Only a billion dollar well oiled machine can coordinate a world wide response from every employee with such precision. Line after line through his presentation it's the same song: it's varroa, it's disease, it's mismanagement, it's lack of forage,. Unfortunately, the truth is this works. Keep telling partial truths suggesting misleading conclusions and presto, the public will eventually buy it. A ban anytime soon? Not likely. The likely next move is to somehow change the subject. I'm expecting some big news announcement that some new game changing information has just been discovered ... should come within a day or two ... has to be before the vote.

Vaso (not verified)
on Feb 22, 2013

These oligarchs are going to cause the extinction of all insect species, and the EPA is going to help them do it. What insanity!

Anonymous (not verified)
on Feb 23, 2013

And here it is, just one day later, another study from the discredited Bayer scientists Cutler and Dupree claiming that bees put on tiny plots of canola (5 acres) showed no contamination. In the original bogus Cutler-Dupree study that was finally found to be invalid by the EPA, the most significant fact, completely disregarded by Cutler and Dupree, was that even though those the 2-1/2 acre test plots represented just .0008 of the forage area they still found clothianidin in the hives, and remember, other studies have shown that as little as one tenth of a part per billion can affect the survival of a colony. Also, according to Henk Tennekes, since the effect of clothianidin is cumulative and irreversible, there is no safe dose.
Once again Bayer uses science as a weapon of industrial terrorism with the intent to deceive rather than inform. We have a world-wide experiment with the neonicotinoids ongoing and the evidence is clear. Given the fundamental inadequacy of their earlier work, Cutler and Dupree have no standing in the world of legitimate science.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Feb 23, 2013

They have already managed to stall the vote in the European Commission - it was due to happen Feb 25th but now it is postponed to March 14th. The UK, Germany and Spain intend to veto the proposal for a ban with their combined votes but they are 4-6 votes short of what they need. Rumour is they are scouring around the smaller nations, looking for those votes; no doubt some big fat grants or concessions will be promised in return.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Feb 23, 2013

Please see this article which goes into all the issue:
'Our Toxic Countryside - Neonicotinoids and Bee Deaths"

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 31, 2013

Hard to tell from the conversation if there are multiple writers or a single writer, there is no discussion.

Sorry, not buying either sides story on this one. Bees are important, but so are pesticides as they help grow more food.

If you want to get rid of pesticides completely, then what happens to the food supply? What about the GM rice that helps to end the Vitamin A blindness? And finally what about that mite problem?

This is the typical echo chamber kind of discussion that you see all over the web, I think that most people view it as that: an echo chamber between same minded people and not a real discussion.

Dr. Honey Bee (not verified)
on May 15, 2013

The echo chamber is in the EPA, "Follow Monsanto". The discussion should long be over, but like all things capitial is the main force behind heel dragging. The pesticide load is over whelming both in the hive and in the soil. Get rid of them and the food supply will be sustainable and healthy and jobs will be created to help on the farms. GM foods are not sustainable miracles, they require a price both monetary and environmentally. The mite problem can be managed by natural cell size and less use of Langstroth hives coupled with large cell foundation for high yield honey production.

on Apr 19, 2013

Pesticides causes a lot of harm to many organisms mostly honeybees. I do agree that pesticides are important but they should cause no harm to environment. The percentage of pesticides increase in the food chain and when it comes to human then it can cause serious trouble. I think organic farming is the only way to control the situation where organic fertilizers and herbicides are used for the growth of plant.
fish and kelp fertilizer

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