On November 18, Bayer CropScience celebrated the opening of their Clayton Bee Care Center, purportedly “a 1,200-square-foot facility which will create new approaches and solutions to benefit pollinator health and the global food supply.”
On the announcement, beekeepers issued their own advice to the public and their peers: “Be Care Full.”
“It’s basically what you call ‘a front,’” says David Hackenberg, the beekeeper who first sounded the alarm in 2007 about mass honeybee disappearances, better known as Colony Collapse Disorder. “Look, I haven’t been there, but it seems that as of late, all the chemical companies want to be our new friends.”
The Bayer initiative is ironic. Why? Because according to bee advocates and a growing number of studies from around the world, Bayer’s systemic nicotine-based pesticides are the main culprit behind Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).
“While some good may come of these efforts, past experience shows that Bayer is inclined to distort and misuse science when their billions are at stake,” says beekeeper Tom Theobald.
According to a glowing press release, the company has been serving the agricultural and beekeeping community for more than 25 years.
This latest care center—the first was established in 2012 at the global headquarters in Monheim, Germany— is aimed at developing “sustainable solutions to some of the world’s most pressing issues in honey bee health through advanced research and development.” (Aside from a laboratory, office facilities, and a greenhouse, the Clayton site includes a nine-hole golf course.)
Unsurprisingly the emphasis of the center is placed on diseases, parasites, extreme climatic, and environmental factors. Pesticides don’t rule high on the list of concerns.
“It would be far more beneficial to bee health if Bayer would withdraw their bee-killing family of systemic chemicals, the neonicotinoids, which many are beginning to characterize as ‘The Plutonium of Pesticides,’” adds Theobald.
These neurotoxins are especially insidious because they are entrenched in the soil or enrobed in seeds (many of which happen to be genetically modified by Monsanto), which means the chemicals become part of the plant’s vascular system. Bees then take the poisons back to their hive in the form of nectar and pollen.
Systemic pesticides inflict sub-lethal damage. The effects are often only seen in subsequent generations (bees are regularly reproducing and beekeepers are constantly splitting hives). As the bees go into their stores for food, the chemicals slowly weaken their immune system, disrupt digestion, impair navigational abilities, and subtly harm their brains.
Water soluble, these pesticides also migrate readily and are drawn up in toxic amounts by non-target plants, remaining lethal for years if not decades, says Theobald. And they can produce death to pollinators in exposures as low as one tenth of a part per billion. With brand names like “Gaucho” and “Poncho,” these systemics became widely used in 2003, not long before the advent of Colony Collapse Disorder.
And yet Bayer maintains that if labels are followed, their products are safe to bees and not the cause of CCD.
Not long after the release of Vanishing of the Bees in 2010, Bayer and other chemical companies began inviting beekeepers, such as Hackenberg, to meet behind closed doors. At first, beekeepers seemed hopeful, but after a handful of meetings it became pretty obvious that the chemical companies were just buying time. Nothing was changing. And nothing has changed. Despite a lawsuit against the EPA, unlike Europe, the US has not banned these pesticides.
It is up to us to be the change that we want to see. These chemical companies our poisoning our planet and are not going away any time soon. The first step toward affecting change is education. HoneyColony is dedicated to saving bees (read our Bee Manifesto), and putting honesty back into our food supply. Want to help our bees? Consider buying a Bee the Change teeshirt. Proceeds go to The Pollination Project!
Maryam Henein is an investigative journalist, professional researcher, and producer of the award-winning documentary Vanishing of the Bees.