If someone would have asked me prior to 2007 what I know about Bayer Science, I would have told them that the German chemical and pharmaceutical company discovered baby aspirin. I have many a memory of being given those little pink sugar pills to ward off a fever. Today, thanks to the honeybees, I know a little more about this 150-year-old company.
Dr. Marijn DekkersBayer, AG Chairman of the Board of Management, describes their aspirin invention as a “true international star.” If that is the case, then I would venture to say that neonicitinoids, Bayer Science’s nicotine-based systemic pesticide, is a veritable, global bee killer. But more on that later.
A salesman by the name of Friedrich Bayer and a dyer named Johann Friedrich Weskott founded Bayer back in 1863 in Barmen, now a district of the city of Wuppertal, Germany. The company’s initial objective was to manufacture and sell synthetic dyestuffs.
Somehow they ended up inventing aspirin in 1897, a modification of salicylic acid or salicin, found in willow bark, which is a natural remedy for reducing fever and inflammation. What they don’t often talk about is that two years prior, Bayer marketed diacetylmorphineas, an over-the-counter cough syrup better known as “Heroin,” derived from the Greek word “Heros” because of its perceived “heroic” effects upon a user.
At the turn of the century, Bayer Science introduced a cross to its corporate logo and became part of IG Farben, a German chemical company conglomerate. Later, in World War II, IG Farben used slave labor in factories, notably the sub-camps of the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp. In fact, IG Farben owned 42.5 percent of the company that manufactured Zyklon B, a chemical used in the gas chambers of Auschwitz and other extermination camps.
After World War II, the Allies broke up IG Farben, and Bayer reappeared as an individual business. The Bayer executive Fritz ter Meer, whom the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal sentenced to seven years in prison, was made head of the supervisory board of Bayer in 1956, after his release. Now that’s loyalty.
In the late 70s and beyond, Bayer purchased several drug-related companies. In 2002, Bayer AG bought more companies and fused them with their own agrochemicals division to form Bayer CropScience.
Today, Bayer Science has its bratwurst-shaped fingers in a little bit of everything: polymers, drugs, insecticides, and erectile dysfunction. And they have locations all over the world from Argentina to Vietnam. In fact, they are one of the world’s leading companies in the areas of crop protection (i.e. pesticides), nonagricultural pest control, seeds, and plant biotechnology. In addition to conventional agrochemical business, they are also involved in genetic engineering of food alongside Monsanto.
Bayer will tell you that its employees are folks with a “thirst for knowledge, inquiring minds, and enthusiasm.” At the Annual Stockholders’ Meeting of Bayer AG, Dr. Marijn Dekkers claimed that Bayer’s more than 110,000 employees are constantly discovering new things and trying new approaches to help relieve diseases, ensure food supplies, and save energy, according to the July 19, 2013 edition of India Pharma News.
“[We] do this with passion and commitment–and with the goal of steadily making the world a little better.”
Crimes Of A Corporation
In 2012, Bayer enjoyed the highest sales in their history, with sales of €39.8 billion or $52.46 billion. In August of 2013, they celebrated 150 years of doing business by throwing festivities all around the world.
“However, the unpleasant periods of the company’s history [were] totally … omitted from the celebrations,” states the Coalition against Bayer Dangers in a press release dated July 31, 2013. “Topics such as environmental contamination, pesticide poisoning, worker protests, and collaboration with the Third Reich [were] simply ignored.”
Here are just some of the atrocities the company has been found guilty of:
• In the late 1970s through 1985, Bayer knowingly sells contaminated hemophilia blood products, causing a serious public health problem. Estimates range from 6,000 to 10,000 hemophiliacs in the United States becoming infected with HIV. These products caused large numbers of hemophiliacs to become infected with HIV and hepatitis C.
• In October 2001, Bayer is taken to court after 24 children are killed and 18 severely poisoned in the remote Andean village of Tauccamarca, Peru. The kids drink a powdered milk substitute contaminated with the insecticide methyl parathion. A Peruvian Congressional Subcommittee finds significant evidence of criminal responsibility by Bayer and the Peruvian Ministry of Agriculture.
• In 2006, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announces that Bayer CropScience’s genetically modified rice has contaminated the U.S. rice supply. Oops. Shortly after the public learns of the contamination, the E.U. bans imports of U.S. long-grain rice.
Now to err is human and forgiveness is key, but these accidents come with irreparable consequences.
Is innovation worth these types of risks? At Bayer, each and every day, [their] 110,000 global employees strive to live [their] mission: “Science for a Better Life.”
But a better life according to whom?
Bees And Bayer
In December 2010, beekeeper Tom Theobald, who is a prominent figure in the documentary film Vanishing of the Bees, discovered an internal memo online from the EPA’s Environmental Fate and Effects Division, asserting that the systemic pesticide clothianidin is a major concern for non-target insects, mainly honeybees. Watch our segment here.
Beekeepers and environmentalists state that the EPA ignored its own requirements and failed to properly study the impacts of the chemical on bees. Nonetheless, the EPA granted a conditional registration to Bayer in 2003, contingent on the submission of a field study establishing that the pesticide would have no unreasonable adverse effects on pollinators.
Since the EPA doesn’t conduct its own studies, choosing to let the fox guard the henhouse instead, Bayer later submitted a field study. Critics describe the study as weak, poorly designed, and deficient, and yet clothianidin remains on the market. The Precautionary Principle of putting people over profits is non-existent in this country. No other studies have been done to replace it. The EPA still claims there’s no proven link to bee colony die-offs from exposure to the chemical. Bayer is off the hook.
Like other members of the neonicotinoid family, clothianidin gets taken up by a plant’s vascular system. The bees then take the poisons back to the hive in the form of contaminated pollen and nectar, which then affects future generations. More and more scientists, beekeepers, filmmakers, activists, and the general public believe these ‘sub-lethal’ neonics are the number one culprit behind Colony Collapse Disorder.
Think about it: Clothianidin, for instance, is used on more than 88 million acres of corn across America. Corn is wind pollinated, meaning it’s not a crop bees typically forage for pollen. But if there’s nothing else around and they’re hungry, they’ll pollinate corn if it’s tasseling. That’s a lot of corn pollen. Clothinidian is also used on crops such as canola, soy, sugar beets, sunflowers, and wheat.
There are many of you out there who constantly bash Monsanto and with good reason. But to say Monsanto is solely responsible for killing our bees only propagates misinformation and doesn’t force Bayer to take accountability.
While Monsanto claims they are here to feed hungry mouths, Bayer too is just as passionately trying to figure out ways to grow considerably more food on limited land mass, given the expectation that in 30 years’ time an estimated nine billion people will be living on the planet.
Getting Away With Murder
Currently the EU has issued a provisional ban on the use of another neonic, the most popular in the clan: imidacloprid. The corn seed treatment is pending further action. With annual sales of more than €600 million (and that was in 2001), imidacloprid is one of the top selling products of Bayer CropScience. It is marketed under a variety of names including Gaucho, Admire, Confidor, and Winner.
The two-year ban on neonicotinoids, a controversial class of insecticides, was enacted in May by the European Commission following recent scientific evidence linking the chemical to the global crash of bee populations.
Recently the multinational chemical company Syngenta AG (NYSE: SYT), based in Basel, Switzerland filed a legal case to oppose the ban. Bayer soon joined to challenge the new restrictions.
“It denounces the decision based on a ‘flawed process, an inaccurate and incomplete assessment by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and without the full support of EU member states,’” according to the September fifth issue of Europolitics information society.
“We are also trying to defend our reputation, which was significantly harmed, particularly considering the significant investments we have made over a number of years in bee health and sustainable agriculture in general,” added a company spokesman, defending the use of legal action for a measure presented as temporary.
Bayer CropScience is calling the ban “unjustified,” saying it goes beyond the commission’s existing regulatory framework. The German chemical giant also said the commission failed to take into account other factors that are contributing to bee die-offs, including loss of habitat, climatic factors, and mites and viruses.
Meanwhile in America, several beekeepers and non-profit organizations like Center For Food Safety and Beyond Pesticides filed a lawsuit against the EPA. (Incidentally, during the making of Vanishing of the Bees, I interviewed Bayer in North Carolina, located not far from Burt’s Bees headquarters. They forbid us to film or tape record the conversation but affirmed that their neonics are safe when people follow the label, putting the onus on the beekeepers or farmers.
Of course there are several variables that come into play but at the core, it’s the systemic pesticides that are slowly killing the bees’ immune system, making it impossible for them to swarm to the next soon-to-be-lost habitat or to fight that pathogen or this parasite. They can’t. They’re being poisoned.
I like to tell people that we are the bees. They are a symbol of our great potential when we work as a unified field. But like these virgin sisters of toil, we too are being poisoned, slowly. Poisoned with fear, with shit processed food, getting cancer, developing allergies, falling prey rather suddenly to auto immune diseases, which, by the way, are under-studied and running rampant. They get us sick with one section of their company and then sell us drugs to supposedly make us well with their BigPharma wing.
The same hypocrisy goes with bees. On one hand, they kill bees and with the other, Bayer launches a “Bee Care Center” in Monheim, Germany, which serves as a “scientific and communication platform” for bee health.
It’s a race to unlock nature’s secrets. Science for a better life. But at what cost?
Maryam Henein is an investigative journalist, professional researcher, and producer of the award-winning documentary Vanishing of the Bees.