by F. William Engdahl
July 05, 2012
Birds and bees are something
most of us take for granted as part of nature.
"teaching about the birds and the bees" to explain the process of
human reproduction to young people is not an accidental expression.
Bees and birds contribute to the essence of life on our planet.
study by the US Department of Agriculture estimated that,
"…perhaps one-third of our total diet is
dependent, directly or indirectly, upon insect-pollinated
The honey bee,
Apis mellifera, is the most important pollinator of
Honey bees pollinate over 70 out of 100 crops
that in turn provide 90% of the world’s food. They pollinate most
fruits and vegetables–including apples, oranges, strawberries,
onions and carrots.2
But while managed honey bee populations have
increased over the last 50 years, bee colony populations have
decreased significantly in many European and North American nations.
Simultaneously, crops that are dependent on insects for pollination
The phenomenon has received the curious designation
of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), implying it could be caused by
any number of factors. Serious recent scientific studies however
point to a major cause: use of new highly toxic systemic pesticides
in agriculture since about 2004.
If governments in the EU, USA and other countries fail to impose a
total ban on certain chemical insecticides, not only could bees
become a thing of the past. The human species could face staggering
new challenges merely to survive.
The immediate threat comes from
the widespread proliferation of commercial insecticides containing
the highly-toxic chemical with the improbable name, neonicotinoids.
Neonicotinoids are a group of insecticides chemically similar to
nicotine. They act on the central nervous system of insects. But
also on bees and small song birds. Recent evidence suggests they
could also affect human brain development in newborn.
Some five to six years back, reports
began to circulate from around the world, especially out of the
United States, and then increasingly from around the EU, especially
in the UK, that entire bee colonies were disappearing.
over a million beehives have died across the United States and
beekeepers in 25 states report what is called Colony Collapse
Disorder. In winter of 2009 an estimated one fifth of bee hives in
the UK were lost, double the natural rate.3
claimed it was a mystery.
And in the USA a fact sheet from the
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Bayer AG’s Clothianidin, a
widely used neonicotinoid, warned:
"Available data indicate that clothianidin on corn and canola should result in minimal acute toxic
risk to birds.
However, assessments show that exposure to treated
seeds through ingestion may result in chronic toxic risk to
non-endangered and endangered small birds (e.g., songbirds) and
acute/chronic toxicity risk to non-endangered and endangered
Alarming UK results
A private UK research organization, Buglife and the Soil
Association, undertook tests to try to determine cause of the bee
death. They found that the decline was caused in part by a group of
pesticides called neonicotinoids.5
Neonicotinoids are "systemic"
chemicals that kill insects by getting into the cell of the plant.
In Britain it’s widely used for crops like oilseed rape and for
production of potted plants.
The neonicotinoids are found in the UK
in products including Chinook, used on oilseed rape and Bayer UK
720, used in the production of potted plants which then ends up in
gardens and homes around the country.
The new study examined in
detail the most comprehensive array of peer-reviewed research into
possible long-term effects of neonicotinoid use. Their conclusion
was that neonicotinoid pesticides damage the health and life cycle
of bees over the long term by affecting the nervous system.
"Neonicotinoids may be a significant factor
contributing to current bee declines and could also contribute to
declines in other non-target invertebrate species."6
organization called for a total ban on pesticides containing any neonicotinoids.
The president of the UK Soil
Association, Peter Melchett, told the press that pesticides were
causing a continued decline in pollinating insects, risking a
multimillion pound farming industry.
"The UK is notorious for taking
the most relaxed approach to pesticide safety in the EU; Buglife’s
report shows that this puts at risk pollination services vital for
UK agriculture," he said. 7
Indeed in March 2012 Sir Robert Watson,
Chief Scientist at the British Government’s Department of
Environment announced that his government was reconsidering its
allowance of neonicotinoid use in the UK.
Watson told a British
"We will absolutely look at the University of Stirling
work, the French work, and the American work that came out a couple
of months ago. We must look at this in real detail to see whether or
not the current British position is correct or is incorrect. I want
this all reassessed, very, very carefully." 8
To date no policy
change has ensued however.
Given the seriousness of the scientific
studies and of the claims of danger, a prudent policy would have
been to provisionally suspend further use of neonicotinoids pending
further research. No such luck.
In the United States the government agency responsible for approving
or banning chemicals deemed dangerous to the environment is the
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
In 2003, over the clear
warnings of its own scientists, the EPA licensed a neonicotinoid
Clothianidin, patented by the German Bayer AG together with a
Japanese company, Takeda. It is sold under the brand name Poncho.
was immediately used on over 88 million acres of US corn in the 2004
crop and since that time, the shocking death of more than one
million beehives across the corn prairies of the Midwest has been
The political appointees at EPA at the
time allowed Bayer to receive a license for Poncho despite the
official judgment of EPA scientists that Clothianidin was,
toxic to bees by contact and oral exposure" and that is was "highly
mobile in soil and groundwater - very likely to migrate into
streams, ponds and other fields, where it would be absorbed by
...and go on to kill more bees and non-target insects
like butterflies and bumblebees.
The warning, from a leaked EPA memo
dated September 28, 2005 summarizes the Environmental Fate and
Effects Division’s Environmental Risk Assessment for Clothianidin,
which it said,
"will remain toxic to bees for days after a spray
application. In honey bees, the effects of this toxic exposure may
include lethal and/or sub-lethal effects in the larvae and
reproductive effects to the queen." 10
The EPA scientists judged it to be many
times more toxic than Bayer’s other nicotinoid, Imidacloprid, sold
under the brand name Gaucho, which itself is,
"7,000 times more
toxic to bees than DDT." 11
DDT was banned in the USA in 1972 after
numerous studies proved its toxic effects on both animals and
Then in January of this year another US
Government agency, the US Department of Agriculture, published a
significant new report from scientists under the direction of
Jeffrey Pettis of the USDA Bee Research Laboratory.
published in the German scientific journal, Naturwissenschaften, was
The Pettis study concluded after careful
control experiments with bees exposed and not exposed to
neonicotinoids clearly demonstrated that there was,
between sub-lethal exposure to imidacloprid (Bayer’s Gaucho - w.e.) at
the colony level and the spore production in individual bees of
honey bee gut parasite Nosema."
Moreover, the study went on,
results suggest that the current methods used to evaluate the
potential negative effect of pesticides are inadequate. This is not
the first study to note a complex and unexpected interaction between
low pesticide exposure and pathogen loads…
We suggest new pesticide
testing standards be devised that incorporate increased pathogen
susceptibility into the test protocols.
Lastly, we believe that
subtle interactions between pesticides and pathogens, such as
demonstrated here, could be a major contributor to increased
mortality of honey bee colonies worldwide."12
Renowned Dutch toxicologist, Dr. Henk
Tennekes reported that, unlike claims from Bayer and other
neonicotinoid manufacturers, bees living near maize fields sprayed
with the toxic pesticides are exposed to the neonicotinoids
throughout the entire growing season, and the toxin is cumulative.
"Bees are exposed to these compounds and several
other agricultural pesticides in several ways throughout the
During spring, extremely high levels of clothianidin and thiamethoxam were found in planter exhaust material
produced during the planting of treated maize seed.
We also found neonicotinoids in the soil of each field we sampled, including
unplanted fields." 13
Effect on Human Brain?
But most alarming of all is the evidence that exposure to
neonicotinides has horrific possible effects on humans as well as on
birds and bees.
Professor Henk Tennekes describes the
"Today the major illnesses
confronting children in the United States include a number of
psychosocial and behavioral conditions.
disorders, including learning disabilities, dyslexia, mental
retardation, attention deficit disorder, and autism - occurrence
is more prevalent than previously thought, affecting 5 percent
to 10 percent of the 4 million children born in the United
Beyond childhood, incidence rates of chronic
neurodegenerative diseases of adult life such as Parkinson’s
disease and dementia have increased markedly.
These trends raise
the possibility that exposures in early life act as triggers of
later illness, perhaps by reducing the numbers of cells in
essential regions of the brain to below the level needed to
maintain function in the face of advancing age.
childhood exposures to pesticides have emerged as a significant
risk factor explaining impacts on brain structure and health
that can increase the risk of neurological disease later in
There is also growing evidence
suggesting persistent exposure to plants sprayed with neonicotinoids
could be responsible for damage to the human brain, including the
recent sharp rise in incidents of autism in children.
Tennekes, referring to recent studies of
the effects of various exposures of neonicotinoids to rats, noted,
"Accumulating evidence suggests that
chronic exposure to nicotine causes many adverse effects on the
normal development of a child.
Perinatal exposure to nicotine is
a known risk factor for sudden infant death syndrome,
low-birth-weight infants, and attention deficit/hyperactivity
Therefore, the neonicotinoids may adversely affect
human health, especially the developing brain." 15
Referring to studies recently published
in the magazine, Science, Brian Moench noted:
The brain of insects is the intended
target of these insecticides. They disrupt the bees homing behavior
and their ability to return to the hive, kind of like "bee
autism." But insects are different than humans, right? Human and
insect nerve cells share the same basic biologic infrastructure.
Chemicals that interrupt electrical impulses in insect nerves will
do the same to humans. But humans are much bigger than insects and
the doses to humans are miniscule, right?
During critical first trimester
development a human is no bigger than an insect so there is every
reason to believe that pesticides could wreak havoc with the
developing brain of a human embryo.
But human embryos aren’t out
in corn fields being sprayed with insecticides, are they?
study showed that every human tested had the world’s best-selling
pesticide, Roundup, detectable in their urine at concentrations
between five and twenty times the level considered safe for drinking
The most alarming part of the
neonicotinoid story is that governments and the EU to date are
content to take little or no precautionary steps to stop even
suspected contamination from neonicotinoids pending through
long-term tests that would determine finally if they are as
dangerous as considerable and growing scientific evidence says.
Bayer AG and neonicotinoids
In early 2011 the UN Environment Program (UNEP) published a report
on bee mortalities around the world. Bayer neonicotinoids, Poncho
and Gaucho, are listed there as a threat to numerous animals.
According to the UN report,
insecticides such as those used as seed coatings, which migrate from
the roots through the entire plant, all the way to the flowers, can
potentially cause toxic chronic exposure to non-target pollinators.
Various studies revealed the high toxicity of chemicals such as Imidacloprid, Clothianidin, Thiamethoxam and associated ingredients
for animals such as cats, fish, rats, rabbits, birds and earthworms.
Laboratory studies have shown that such chemicals can cause losses
of sense of direction, impair memory and brain metabolism, and cause
Yet Bayer AG shows no signs of
voluntarily stopping production and distribution of its toxic
The German pharmaceutical giant counts
among its historic achievements one it prefers today to forget– the
first synthesis of something it marketed as cough medicine in 1898
under the trade name, Heroin, taken from the "heroic" feeling it
gave to Bayer workers on whom it was tested. 18
According to the
German citizen watchdog group, Coalition against BAYER Dangers,
Gaucho and Poncho have been among BAYER’s top-selling pesticides:
"In 2010, Gaucho sales were valued at US$ 820 million while Poncho
sales were valued at US$ 260 million.
Gaucho ranked first among BAYER’s best-selling pesticide, while Poncho ranked seventh. It is
striking that in the 2011 Annual Report no sales figures for Gaucho
and Poncho are shown."19
Ban in many EU Countries
Unlike the United States, several EU countries have banned use of
neonicotinoids, refusing to accept test and safety reports from the
chemical manufacturers as adequate.
One case in point was in Germany
where the Julius Kühn-Institut - Bundesforschungsinstitut für
Kulturpflanzen (JKI) in Quedlinburg a state-run crop research
institute, collected samples of dead honeybees and determined that
clothianidin caused the deaths.
Bayer CropScience blamed defective seed
The company gave an unconvincing counter claim that
the coating came off as the seeds were sown, which allowed unusually
high amounts of toxic dust to spread to adjacent areas where bees
collected pollen and nectar.
The attorney for a coalition of groups
filing the suit, Harro Schultze stated,
"We’re suspecting that Bayer
submitted flawed studies to play down the risks of pesticide
residues in treated plants. Bayer’s… management has to be called to
account, since the risks… have now been known for more than 10
Significantly, in Bayer’s home country,
Germany, the German government has banned Bayer’s neonicotinoids
France and Italy have imposed similar bans. In Italy,
the government found that with the ban, bee populations returned in
number, leading to an upholding of the ban despite strong chemical
Despite the alarming evidence of links
between neonicotinoids and bee colony collapse disorder, as well as
possible impacts on human foetal cells and brains, the reaction so
far in the European Union Commission has been scandalously slow.
Brussels has been so weak in responding that the Office of EU
Ombudsman has initiated an investigation into why.
Ombudsman Nikiforos Diamandou said he had opened an investigation
after a complaint from the Austrian Ombudsman Board, who said the
European Commission had failed to take account of the new evidence
on the role of neonicotinoids in bee mortality.
"In its view, the
Commission should take new scientific evidence into account and take
appropriate measures, such as reviewing the authorization of
relevant substances," said a statement from the EU Ombudsman’s
The ombudsman has asked the Commission
to submit an opinion in the investigation by June 30, after which it
will issue a report.
Recommendations by the ombudsman are
non-binding. The Commission in response has said it has asked the
European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) to carry out a full review of all
neonicotinoid insecticides by April 30 and that it would take
appropriate measures based on the findings.22
Giving EFSA final say on food safety for
Europe’s consumers and insects is tantamount to asking the foxes to
guard the hen house today.
EFSA is heavily influenced by members
with conflicts of interest and dubious ties to the same agribusiness
interests represented by Bayer AG and other agriculture chemical
Bayer is one of six global companies
tied to development of patented GMO seeds and related chemicals,
controlling inputs into the entire food chain.
As a tightly
...control the global seed, pesticide and agricultural biotechnology
markets. This concentration of power over world agriculture is
As one observer noted, it enables them to,
the agricultural research agenda; dictate trade agreements and
agricultural policies; position their technologies as the
‘science-based’ solution to increase crop yields, feed the hungry
and save the planet; escape democratic and regulatory controls;
subvert competitive markets." 24
Dutch toxicologist Tennekes and Alex Lu,
associate professor of environmental exposure biology at Harvard’s
Department of Environmental Health are among a growing number of
scientists around the world calling for an immediate and global ban
on the use of the new neonicotinoid pesticides.25
Professor Lu calls
for a very simple test:
"I would suggest removing all neonicotinoids
from use globally for a period of five to six years. If the bee
population is going back up during the after the ban, I think we
will have the answer."
That should be more than food for thought in
Washington, Brussels and elsewhere.
S.E. McGregor, Insect pollination of cultivated crop plants, 1976,
USDA Agriculture. Handbook 496, p. 1
Coalition against BAYER Dangers
(Germany), Countermotion to shareholder meeting: BAYER Pesticides
causing bee decline, Press Release, April 11, 2012.
Louise Gray, Beekeepers lose one
fifth of hives, 24 August, 2009, The Telegraph, accessed in
Anon., Clothianidin a Neonicotinoid
Pesticide Highly Toxic to Honeybees and other pollinators, March 20,
2007, accessed in
Michael McCarthy, Government to
reconsider nerve agent pesticides, The Independent, 31 March 2012,
Henk Tennekes, They’ve turned the
Environment into the Experiment and WE are all the experimental
Subjects, January 19, 2011, accessed in
Jeffrey S. Pettis, et al -
Pesticide exposure in honey bees results in increased levels of the
gut pathogen Nosema - Naturwissenschaften-The Science of Nature, 13
Henk Tennekes, Honey Bees Living Near
Maize Fields Are Exposed To Neonicotinoids Throughout The Growing
Season, January 5, 2012, accessed in
Henk Tennekes, Prenatal
exposures to pesticides may increase the risk of neurological
disease later in life, March 20, 2012, accessed in
Henk Tennekes, The neonicotinoids may
adversely affect human health, especially the developing brain,
March 20, 2012, accessed in
Brian Moench, Autism and Disappearing
Bees A Common Denominator?, April 2, 2012, Common Dreams, accessed
Coalition against BAYER Dangers
(Germany), op cit.
Richard Askwith, How aspirin turned
hero: A hundred years ago Heinrich Dreser made a fortune from the
discovery of heroin and aspirin, Sunday Times, 13 September 1998,
Coalition against BAYER Dangers
(Germany), op cit.
ENS, German Coalition Sues
Bayer Over Pesticide Honey Bee Deaths, August 25, 2008, accessed in
Roberta Cruger, Nicotine Bees
Population Restored With Neonicotinoids Ban, May 15, 2010, accessed
Henk Tennekes, EU response to bee
death pesticide link questioned, April 24, 2012, accessed in
Olivier Hoedeman, Corporate Europe
Observatory, Open letter regarding conflicts of interest EFSA’s
Management board , Brussels, March
4, 2011, accessed in
Andrew Olsen, Chemical Cartel,
Chemical Cartel, June 28, 2010; see also, F. William Engdahl, Saat
der Zerstörung: Der Dunkele Seite von Genmanipulation.
Henk Tennekes, Imidacloprid and
Colony Collapse Disorder - Scientists Call for Global Ban on
Bee-Killing Pesticides, April 5, 2012, accessed in