Wik-Bee Leaks: EPA Document Shows It Knowingly Allowed Pesticide That Kills Honey Bees

honey bee collection

The world honey bee population has plunged in recent years, worrying beekeepers and farmers who know how critical bee pollination is for many crops. A number of theories have popped up as to why the North American honey bee population has declined—electromagnetic radiation, malnutrition, and climate change have all been pinpointed. Now a leaked EPA document reveals that the agency allowed the widespread use of a bee-toxic pesticide, despite warnings from EPA scientists.

The document, which was leaked to a Colorado beekeeper, shows that the EPA has ignored warnings about the use of clothianidin, a pesticide produced by Bayer that mainly is used to pre-treat corn seeds. The pesticide scooped up $262 million in sales in 2009 by farmers, who also use the substance on canola, soy, sugar beets, sunflowers, and wheat, according to Grist.

The leaked document (PDF) was put out in response to Bayer's request to approve use of the pesticide on cotton and mustard. The document invalidates a prior Bayer study that justified the registration of clothianidin on the basis of its safety to honeybees:

Clothianidin’s major risk concern is to nontarget insects (that is, honey bees). Clothianidin is a neonicotinoid insecticide that is both persistent and systemic. Acute toxicity studies to honey bees show that clothianidin is highly toxic on both a contact and an oral basis. Although EFED does not conduct RQ based risk assessments on non-target insects, information from standard tests and field studies, as well as incident reports involving other neonicotinoids insecticides (e.g., imidacloprid) suggest the potential for long-term toxic risk to honey bees and other beneficial insects.

The entire 101-page memo is damning (and worth a read). But the opinion of EPA scientists apparently isn't enough for the agency, which is allowing clothianidin to keep its registration.

Suspicions about clothianidin aren't new; the EPA's Environmental Fate and Effects Division (EFAD) first expressed concern when the pesticide was introduced, in 2003, about the "possibility of toxic exposure to nontarget pollinators [e.g., honeybees] through the translocation of clothianidin residues that result from seed treatment." Clothianidin was still allowed on the market while Bayer worked on a botched toxicity study [PDF], in which test and control fields were planted as close as 968 feet apart.

Clothianidin has already been banned by Germany, France, Italy, and Slovenia for its toxic effects. So why won't the EPA follow? The answer probably has something to do with the American affinity for corn products. But without honey bees, our entire food supply is in trouble.

 

Related: 

Beekeeper Who Leaked EPA Documents: "I Don't Think We Can Survive This Winter"

Timeline of a Bee Massacre: EPA Still Allowing Hive-Killing Pesticide

Ariel Schwartz can be reached on Twitter or by email.

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41 Comments

  • Fleendar the magnificent

    Thank you for this article. VERY informative and shows WHO is responsible for CCD and mass killoffs of honeybees. There is no mystery behind CCD,it's poisoning by contact and ingestion that kills the entire hive.
    Our food production is under attack by these huge corporations and herbicide producers and people need to know the truth about what's bing done to their foods and how it's affecting honeybees. If we lose bees,we die, as most of our foods require bee pollination.

  • Sam Gerald

    This is one of those things I hate to see, the destruction of such a precious natural resource through carelessness and greed. Not to mention the complicity of agencies that are meant to be protecting the environment, and our health.

    Although it's easy to point fingers at the larger firms that stand to make quite a bit through the sale of these products, there are actually some really good smaller companies that would be utterly appalled at this kind of thing. If by chance you're looking for a decent family owned pest control company that doesn't put up with this kind of thing and goes even further than the EPA requires, this link might be helpful. http://www.domyownpestcontrol....

  • A

    My friend is the honey bee queen of one of the more prominent states in this and wow will she be pissed. I found it funny though. Sort of like the fact that I will find oil  and gas profits funny because I'm with them, funny.

  • virginia mariposa

     Apparently Monsanto, the manufacturer of this pesticide, exports to all countries that haven't banned it yet (I think they're based in Canada).  We must become stringently vigilant or we will go the way of the bees.  Albert Einstein said after the bees go, everything, including humans, dies on the planet.  Sobering and true.  Monsanto should be outlawed internationally!  We are already dangling by a thread for the bats, which eat insects that harm crops, are also dying by the thousands of immune collapse.  It's far more serious than it sounds.

  • michael huebert

    Bayer's home country, Germany, along with France, Italy, and Slovenia have banned the neonicotinoids. Bees were able to survive the single and mixed infections, but the neonics are the straw that broke the camel's back. They are immunosuppressive to anything animate.
    Ariel, I hope you can stay safe. If you can continue to work and investigate this, connect the mechanism of action of nicotine on the nervous system. I can share some of my knowledge of physiology, pharmacology, toxicology, immunology, epidemiology, and experience as a beekeeper. It is time for Paul Hawkins book title, "Blessed Unrest".

  • Bell Jordan

    If Clothianidin kills honeybees it probably is not the single cause of colony collapse disorder (CCD), although possibly a contributing factor. CCD does not kill bees, it causes them to fly away from the hive, and they are unable to find their way back. See this NYT article http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10..., which also purports to have discovered CCD vectors. This disorder is complicated and scary.

  • Kirk Patrick

    This is the same EPA that said - despite no Congressional approval - that they will start enforcing Carbon Taxes - on harmless Carbon Dioxide that plants breathe. Lisa Jackson should go to jail - period.

    Notice how each and every appointee is some lesbian chick? Sonia Sotomayer, Elena Kagan, Kathleen Sebelius, Lisa Jackson, Margaret Chan. So much for the theory that "A female president would end all wars". The shoulder-padded, sexually deprived women in power are more corrupt than any man ever was.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L...

  • Kirk Patrick

    OMG - pesticide is more dangerous than Carbon Dioxide that plants breathe??

    To all the douche bags who used this tragedy to promote their Global Warming Agenda - you should all be dipped in a giant vat of this pesticide. Go to hell.

  • Rodger Cockrum

    I hope that the beekeepers manage to sue the Hell out of Bayer as well as the individual bureaucrats that were paid off by Bayer. The crop producers who lost polination, such as tomatoes, peppers, melons, etc should also be entitled to remuneration. This is criminal fraud and without severe penalties on government bureaucrats who participate in it, this will only get worse.

  • Baja K

    Clothianidin is also used on tobacco. Why tobacco, the Sixth Most Pesticide Intensive Crop, is routinely left off of lists of where certain pesticides are used remains unexplained.

    What better way to discredit any "health concerns" of pesticide makers and government apologists than by simply, legitimately, pointing out the links to the most popularly-hated industry on the map?

    If few care if "dirty" and "sinful" smokers live or die, what about the effects on wildlife down wind and down stream near tobacco plantations? Maybe they should have "Quit the habit" of living near tobacco operations?

    Incidentally, clothianidin, is just ONE pesticide made by "health industry", Bayer, that appears on lists of tobacco pesticides. Is Bayer the supplier? Who asks? Bayer does not seem to have yet been dragged into any hearings on "smoking and health" to explain itself. Bayer, and the many other tobacco pesticide suppliers (including BASF), naturally, prefer to blame "smoking" (behavior of unwitting victims) and the tobacco plant (an "act of God") for the effects of typical pesticide contaminated cigarettes.
    But some "lefties" blame "smoking" too. Go figure. Infiltration? Naive belief of corporate "science"?

  • ntesla

    The plot thickens… Fast Company and Ariel Schwartz please look at White Nose Syndrome (WNS) a malady that is killing colonies of Bats on the east coast down through the southern U.S.
    First seen in 2006 in New York.
    Bats are key in keeping insect populations manageable. Some of these insects are pollinators as well.
    The US fish and wildlife web page has data about WNS and claims it is a mystery ailment.
    hmmm…Bats eat bugs, bugs collect, and distribute pollen which comes from plants covered in Clothianidin.

    Come on people start flooding the EPA and U.S. wildlife services with email complaints and concerns.
    And thank you Fast Company for bringing this to a wider audience!

  • racetoinfinity

    So corrupt and typical of the two-party corporatist state we've become in the U.S. that even though they know they're damaging the food chain/supply in the medium & long run grievously, they go for the short term greed. By them, I mean our government bought and paid for by big business including Bayer and Big Agra.

  • Grizzly Joe

    Until Mankind begins to recognize "greed" as the greatest flaw in its character, these things will continue ... but not for very much longer. There is little hope of long term survival of our specie. In a mere "hic-cup" of time, the Human race has wantonly plundered and violated this planet, primarily to feed the excesses of relatively few people.
    Here we find ourselves, at the early part of the 21st. Century, and taken as a whole, "Earthlings" are a horrid example of stewards who have utterly failed in our concerted obligation to preserve this world for generations to follow. Those who will be left to welcome in the 22nd. Century will undoubtedly curse us for our behavior.
    Were it not for the ever present pursuit of personal wealth and aggrandizement, at any cost to our fellow man, and to this planet - the only "home" we have - Earth could have been a paradise for all.

    I wholeheartedly disagree with "Gorden Gecko" from the movie "Wall Street": "GREED is NOT GOOD!"

  • Walter Haefeker

    The German bee monitoring has been misused in this discussion again in an attempt to divert attention away from Clothianidin as a suspect. Actually, the whole point of this research project was to perform scientific theatre in order to create the public impression that pesticides are not to blame for colony losses. See my article from a few years ago:

    http://www.beekeeping.com/arti...

    Over the years, press release after press release went out, claiming, that the scientific data showed, that the varroa mite was the key culprit. The actual data produced by the project were so poor, that the French regulatory body AFFSA dismissed them, when Bayer tried to use them in the approval process.

    Just a few months ago, it was discovered, that a significant portion of the varroa data had been misallocated in the database for years. Until very recently, nobody had looked at the data closely enough to discover this glaring error. This is not surprising, since the PR spin for the project was predetermined and the actual data did not matter that much.

    The industry goal of regulatory inaction was accomplished and the products stayed on the market until the major disaster in 2008, where the connection became too obvious to deny.

    Walter Haefeker
    President
    European Professional Beekeepers Association
    Member of the Board of Directors
    German Professional Beekeepers Association
    Deutscher Berufs und Erwerbsimkerbund e.V

  • Rob

    I'm calling shenanigans.

    There have been several studies which attempted to pinpoint common environmental factors associated with Colony Collapse Disorder. If it were caused by this or any other pesticide, it would have been immediately flagged as a suspect, even if the pesticide wasn't considered harmful to bees.

  • benny andthejets

    Widespread use of this proven bee-killing pesticide could certainly have been a contributing factor to CCD, though. Your comment also suggests the belief that Government agencies work in a logical fashion, in keeping with best scientific practices. A quick perusal of policies regarding stem-cell research and drug laws shows this not to be the case.

  • Dan

    The system is just and fair. The FDA is keeping us safe. The EPA is protecting the environment. If you look at the past record, recklessness and corruption used to be a problem, but we know better now. It's now hard to believe the the foolish things we used to think and do in distant past, but hindsight is 20/20. Thank goodness we know everything now and are no longer suffering in the ignorance of last Thursday.

  • gene kimmitt

    sorry but are you serious. do you really believe that the fda is 100% legit without any corruption. they are possible one of the most currpt in taking bribes and falsifying information for their own cheque book. and no the system is not fair and far from just.

  • Fernando Fernald

    this is so stupid. everybody will do a profit for a few years and then everybody will be broke because there are no more bees in the planet. In China, in a small town, they ended killing all the bees yeas ago with pesticides, and they now use feathers to do the pollination. The bees never came back.
    Who was the idiot that didn't make studies on nontarget insects?
    You can't go and wipe every single bacteria in a field and pretend that you won't have any problems later.
    Is common sense.
    Who the hell is in charge of the Government and the EPA? Monsters? Serial killers? no bees, no food.