2003 Report links Bayer pesticide to bee deaths
A new French report has found a significant risk to bees from a Bayer product containing the active ingredient imidacloprid.
A report on bee-deaths, published by the French Comité Scientifique et Technique (CST), shows that the use of the pesticide Gaucho containing the active substance imidacloprid is jointly responsible for the death of hundreds of thousands of bee colonies. Environmental and beekeeper unions are calling for a ban on the agricultural toxin.
The summary of the report states: ‘The results of the examination on the risks of the seed treatment Gaucho are alarming. The treatment of seeds by Gaucho is a significant risk to bees in several stages of life.’ The 108-page report was made by order of the agricultural ministry of France, by the universities of Caen and Metz as well as by the Institut Pasteur.
The use of Gaucho on sunflowers was forbidden in France four years ago because of the high risk to bees. After this bee-deaths did not decrease noticeably – beekeepers are blaming this on the extensive use of agricultural toxins in maize cultivation. The concluding report of the CST backs up this theory: ‘Concerning the treatment of maize-seeds by Gaucho, the results are as alarming as with sunflowers. The consumption of contaminated pollen can lead to an increased mortality of caretaking bees, which can explain the persisting bee-deaths even after the ban of the treatment on sunflowers’.
The pesticide Gaucho is produced by the German Bayer group. With an annual turnover of more than 500 million Euros this is the group’s top selling agricultural agent. Critics assume that the high sales figures are the reason why the company is contesting a ban on its use.
The theory stated by bee institutes, that infestation by Varroa mites could be responsible for bee-deaths, is questioned by Fridolin Brandt of the Coalition against Bayer-Dangers: ‘We have been concerned with Varroa mites since 1977, and for decades they have not been a danger. It is the extensive use of pesticides and the accompanying weakening of the bees which is leading to the bee-deaths.’ Brandt has been a full-time beekeeper for more than 30 years.
Maurice Mary, spokesman of the French beekeepers-union Union National d'Apiculteurs (UNAF): ‘Since the first application of Gaucho we have had great losses in the harvest of sunflower honey. Since the agent is staying in the soil for up to three years, even untreated plants can contain a concentration which is lethal for bees.’ The UNAF, representing about 50,000 beekeepers is calling for a total ban of Gaucho, following the presentation of the CST report.
The Deutsche Berufsimkerbund (DBIB) and the Coalition against Bayer-Dangers are also calling for a ban on its use. In Germany, imidacloprid is used mainly in the production of rape, sugar beet and maize. The situation in German agriculture is comparable to the French: in the past few years almost half of the bee-colonies have died, which has led to a loss of output of several thousand tonnes of honey per year. Furthermore, because bees do the most pollination, there are also losses of output on apples, pears and oilseed rape.
Press release from Coalition against Bayer-Dangers, CBGnetwork@aol.com, www.CBGnetwork.org. Contact CBG Network for copies of the 108-page report of the Comité Scientifique et Technique (in French) and a statement by the Coordination des Apiculteurs de France (in English). See also page 22.
[This article first appeared in Pesticides News No. 62, December 2003, page 17]