Bayer Cropscience and Syngenta, makers of systemic pesticides associated with bee deaths and Colony Collapse Disorder, are the targets of a class-action lawsuit by beekeepers throughout Ontario, Canada, filed earlier this month.
The lawsuit, which seeks $450 million in damages, claims Bayer and Syngenta were negligent in their design, manufacture, sale, and distribution of neonicotinoid pesticides, including nicotine-based neurotoxins imidacloprid, clothianidin, and thiomethoxam.
Beekeepers have experienced damaged or lost bee colonies, lost profits, and unrecoverable costs because of neonicotinoids, often used as a seed treatment on corn, soybeans, and canola.
“We’re experiencing heavy losses and we know it’s the systemic pesticides,” says Jim Coneybeare, a third-generation Ontario beekeeper. “If the government is not going to take action, we need to.”
Like many beekeepers, Coneybeare is now forced to drive his 900 hives far away from commercial crops to keep them safe from pesticides. In other words, he places his bees in fields that are not sprayed or treated.
(Editor’s note: Since I am from Montreal, I wanted to treat Canadian bee losses in my film Vanishing of the Bees; at the time, however, these beekeepers were too hesitant to link their dying bees with Colony Collapse Disorder for fear of losing government aid. Apparently, officials told them it was best not to talk about this phenomenon.)
The Science Behind the Lawsuit Against Bayer and Syngenta
Today, seven years after CCD first began affecting bees, there is insurmountable evidence that Bayer’s and Syngenta’s systemic pesticides kill bees and other pollinators. These poisons have even found their way into our water!
“In terms of toxicity, these systemic pesticides are 5,000 times more toxic than DDT,” says Jean Mance Bonmatin of the French National Center for Scientific Research. “The amounts (used) are very low but the toxicity levels are very high.”
In 2012, Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency determined that insecticide-laden dust from corn planters was primarily responsible for bee losses. And preliminary residue results showed that insecticides used to treat corn seed were detected in approximately 70 percent of dead bee samples analyzed.
Neither Bayer nor Syngenta have taken any responsibility for the losses, maintaining that the risk to bees from pesticides is low. Grain Farmers of Ontario, meanwhile, is actively campaigning to preserve insecticide-treated seed because the organization claims growers could potentially lose three to 20 bushels per acre to insect pressure without these poisons.
(More bushels of poisonous food at the expense of bees and beings? Really?)
In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency has done nothing to curb the use of these poisons, despite lawsuits and heavy protest against companies like Bayer and Syngenta. The European Commission did restrict systemic-pesticide use for two years.
Affected Canadian beekeepers and companies involved in beekeeping services, such as honey production, queen-bee rearing, and pollination, are invited to join the class-action suit against Bayer and Syngenta.
“We can’t let this get researched for years while our bees are dying,” says Coneybeare.
Watch the below video from The Globe And Mail, in which scientists demand action be taken against these pesticides that are killing bees.
In this episode of 16×9: Flight of the Bees, honeybees are dying by the tens of millions. But it might be the human factor – our trust in science – that’s killing the species.
Maryam Henein is an investigative journalist, professional researcher, and producer of the award-winning documentary Vanishing of the Bees.
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