EPA sued after allegations Bayer pesticide killing honeybees
By Rick Wills
Thursday, August 28, 2008
For nearly two years, Jim Doan painstakingly has kept his thousands of bee colonies away from crops treated with a type of pesticide created by Bayer AG.
"We keep bees away as much as we can. I don't want them anywhere near it," said Doan, of Hamlin, N.Y., the state's largest beekeeper.
Doan suspects a connection between pesticides and the mysterious, global bee die-off known as Colony Collapse Disorder. And it's a suspicion shared by most of the commercial keepers who haul their bees in tractor-trailers to pollinate everything from Florida oranges to Pennsylvania pumpkins.
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"Lots of beekeepers have done careful observations, and they have pretty good instincts about the way bees behave. And many of them think that CCD is caused by pesticides," said Troy Fore, president of the American Beekeeping Federation in Jessup, Ga. The federation has 1,100 members.
Beekeepers now have some support.
The National Resources Defense Council, a New York environmental advocacy group, last week filed a lawsuit against the federal Environmental Protection Agency. The lawsuit accuses the agency of withholding information about the risks that honeybees face from pesticides.
"I am glad that someone filed suit to find out what's in these products," Doan said. "This information should have been out there when the chemical was released."
Dave Hackenberg, the largest beekeeper in Pennsylvania, said: "I think the noose is tightening. I am convinced that pesticides are a large part of the problem."
In Germany, two top-ranking executives of Bayer AG, including the company's CEO, are being accused by the group Coalition Against Bayer Dangers of "knowingly polluting the environment."
"We are aware that Coalition Against Bayer Dangers has filed allegations against Bayer AG's CEO with regard to bee safety as it relates to the use of Bayer Crop Science pesticides. We are unaware of any investigation being initiated by the prosecutors," said Greg Coffey, a spokesman for Bayer Crop Science Inc. in Research Triangle, N.C.
Bayer AG is the corporate parent of Bayer Corp., which has operations in Robinson. The German company's Medrad Inc. has manufacturing and research facilities in Allegheny and Butler counties.
The U.S. lawsuit was filed after the EPA failed to respond to a request in July made under the Freedom of Information Act, said Josh Mogerman, a Chicago-based spokesman for the National Resources Defense Council.
"This is an aggressive lawsuit. This is potentially a crisis that affects every dinner table in the world. And if there is information of value to the scientific community, they ought to know about it," Mogerman said.
The EPA, which has posted some requested information on its Web site, said it had no intention of withholding information and did not reply to the council's request promptly because the information requested was so vast.
Honeybees add about $15 billion to U.S. agricultural output each year. The two-year bee die-off has led to sharp price increases for growers. Pumpkin growers, for instance, now are paying $95 to $105 to rent a single bee colony, compared with $55 to $65 last year.
Even smaller beekeepers, like Jim Fitzroy of Penn Hills, are concerned.
"I have not had problems with CCD, but I know many people who have. I am spending a lot more on supplemental feedings to avoid CCD," said Fitzroy, who keeps about 15 hives at home and in the Allegheny National Forest.
The lawsuit seeks information connected with the EPA's 2003 approval of clothianidin -- a pesticide used to treat corn, sugar beet and sorghum seeds.
"This is not an assumption of guilt. We are not going in with the assumption that there is some kind of conspiracy," said Mogerman of the National Resources Defense Council.
The same chemical is under fire in Germany, where there was a large bee die-off this past spring.
Bayer AG says the die-off occurred because the pesticide was used improperly. And the bees in Germany died inside their hives, not -- as in the case with Colony Collapse Disorder -- far from their hives.
"Field studies have demonstrated that when used according to label directions and applied correctly, clothianidin will not harm bees. All of the EPA's study requirements have been conducted and have been submitted to the agency," said Bayer AG's Coffey.
Nearly two years since CCD first was identified, there is no evidence linking the phenomenon exclusively to pesticides, a particular pathogen or virus, said May Berenbaum, chairwoman of the department of entomology at the University of Illinois at Urbana.
"We just don't know," she said. "It is unbelievably complicated. Bees are as complicated as people -- except they don't talk."
Rick Wills can be reached at email@example.com or 724-779-7123.