Bees and pesticides

by Graham White

This spring, American farmers will plant 92 million acres of corn-the largest acreage since 1944,

almost all of it treated with the neonicotinoid pesticide Clothianidin; they will use this pesticide, despite

the fact that the EPA has never fully tested and licensed this product according to the law set down by



Why are the neonicotinoids sc revolutionary? First-off,”neonics” are systemic, they are inside

plants. They are not sprayed onto the outside but are present inside the plant, in: sap, leaves, pollen,

nectar and fruit” Washing or peeling your fruit will not get rid of these pesticides-they are part of your

food, and part of the bees’ food too. The ‘old pesticides’ like DDT were only a danger to bees for a few

days; but neonics remain active inside the plant for the entire growing season.


Secondly, ‘neonics’ are fantastic ally poisonous: lmidacloprid, another famous neonic, is 6000

times more toxic than DDT, and Clothiankdin is even more lethal than that. Just three to five parts per

billion of Clothianidin in solution will kill any bee. What does that mean? lf you dissolved one dessertspoon

of Clothianidin in a thousand tons of water-an average swimming pool volume-that dilution-five

parts per billion would kill any bee” But, that is only the acute dose-which kills on contact. French

research by Bonmatin revealed that the ‘chronic dose, which impairs complex behaviors but does not

kill outright, is less than one fiftieth of the acute dose; around 0.1 parts per billion. These are such

minute amounts of poison that even sophisticated government labs cannot detect this level of



Finally nicotinoids are nerve toxins. They block nerve receptors in the brains of bees and other

insects so nerve-signals cannot travel, Bees poisoned by nicotinoids look like they have Parkinson’s

disease. They shake and tremble; they lose control of complex behaviors like coordinated flight,

navigation and the waggle-dance. Mating-flights become impossible; poisoned foragers do not find

their way home.


These revolutionary poisons are also highly persistent in the soil and water of the fields where

they are used: lmadacloprid has a ‘half-life’of up to two years in soil while Clothianidin’s half-life is

much longer; even after 19 years, half of the Clothianidin that first went into the soil is still present to be

taken up by new crops.


Neonics dissolve readily in water, so these insecticides can travel a long way from the field

where they were first used, to be absorbed again and again by wildflowers on field margins or streambanks.

Thus, the nectar and pollen of wildflowers can also become lethal to bees, butterflies,

bumblebees and other insects.


As Tom Theobald wrote in an earlier article, the EPA registered Clothianidin in 2003, granting it a

‘conditional’ license despite the warnings of their own scientists:


“Clothianidin has the potential for toxic chronic exposure to honey bees, as well as other nontarget

pollinators, through Clothianidin residues in nectar and pollen..ln honey bees, the effects of this

toxic chronic exposure may include lethal and/or sub-lethal effects in the larvae and reproductive

effects in the queen.”


James Frazier, Professor of Entomology at Penn State, wrote: ” Among the neonicotinoids,

Clathianidin is among those most toxic for honey bees…our research indicates that systemic pesticides

occur in pollen and nectar in much greater quantities than previously thought, and that interactions

among pesticides occurs often and should be of wide concern.”


Bayer promised to carry out an additional “lifetime, or chronic exposure study” in 2003- but only

submitted this after four growing seasons in 2007. Now, I am not a professional researcher, but in the

immortal words of Raymond Chandler, “l can spot a tarantula on a slice of Angel food cake when I see

one”, see if you can spot the deliberate mistake here. Bayer went up to Canada and placed just four

beehives in a two and a half acre plot of canola, treated with Clothianidin, surrounded by a vast prairie

of untreated wild flowers. Now-the foraging radius of a bee colony is- conservatively-about 1.5 miles,

this makes for about 3,000 acres. so, in comparison to 3,000 acres of pesticide-laced canola,

represents about 0.0008 of the total area-less than a 15th of one percent.


Not surprisingly, the bees showed few signs of contamination by Ctothianidin, because they

were spending very little time on the pesticide-treated canola. Would you design an experiment like

that? More to the point, if you were the professional policy makers of the EPA” would you ever

conceivably accept such a study as valid science?


Well, the EPA’s own scientists didn’t accept this study and threw it out the window, but the

policy managers brought it back inside, dusted it off and said: “thafs just dandy, we’ll grant this

pesticide a full registration!”. As they say in the movies: “you couldn’t make it up”! lf any beekeeper

colluded in such an obvious scarn, he would be heartily ashamed, but from this evidence, I doubt the

EPA management would be embarrassed if they were caught drink as skunks, dancing bare-ass naked in

front of the Lincoln Memorial, swinging a chicken around their heads and whistling Dixie. These people

see themselves as “untouchable”.


ln 1972, Congress charged the EPA with protecting the American people and their environment.

People saw the agency as their vigilant watchdog: sharp in tooth and claw-fiercely defending while they

slept. But, the price of freedom is eternal vigilance-and while we slumbered, something happened to

the watch-dog. lts teeth fell out, its eyes clouded with cataracts; it became deaf and it appears to have

been castrated. lf the EPA was ever the “people’s watchdog” it arguably became the ‘pesticide

industries pooch’ when George W Bush made Linda Fisher, a Monsanto lobbyist, number two at the

agency in 2010; the EPA’s track record since is not reassuring.


ln 1991 a train was derailed at Dunsmuir above Lake Shasta, spilling 19,000 gallons of a pesticide

called Metam Sodium into California’s Sacramento River; this exterrninated all life for 42 miles

downstream. lt killed a rnillion trout along with millions of other fish, insects, frogs and water birds. lt

poisoned most of the trees on both banks and put 600 people in the hospital. €ongresswoman Barbara

Bsxer later asked Don Clay, an EPA official, why metam sodium was not on the EPA’s register of

‘hazardous chemicals if it could kill people as well as fish? €lay replied: ‘The number of fish killed or the

number of people killed is not the criterion we use in labeling something ‘hazardous”‘. Boxer was livid

with anger, but the EPA still refused to list metam sodium as ‘hazardous’ and 25,000 tons are used

annually in America today.


Linda Fisher, EPA Assistant Administrator of pesticides and former lobbyist for Monsanto

admitted that the EPA had studies from 1987 liking metam sodium to birth defects in lab rats, but she

said. “birth defects were not enough to warrant a ‘hazardous chemical’ designation by the EPA.” One

wonders what the EPA regards as ‘hazardous’? Plutonium maybe?


ln December 2010, on petition by the NRDC, a federal Judge in New York invalidated EPA’s

approval of Bayer’s pesticide spirotetramat {Movento} because it kills bee brood, and ordered the

agency to re-evaluate the chemical in compliance with the law.


The EPA’s own review found that residues of Novento brought to the hive by forager bees

caused “significant mortality” and “massive perturbation” to larval honey bees. But the EPA licensed it



NRDC Senior Attorney Aaron Colangelo said. “EPA admitted to approving the pesticide illegally,

but argued that its violations of the law should have no consequences. The Court ordered the pesticide

to be taken off the market until it has been properly evaluated. Bayer should not be permitted to run

what amounts to an uncontrolled experiment on bees across the country without full consideration of

the consequences.”


Apparently the EP,A will not refuse registration of a pesticide even when it is highly toxic to

bees? Jennifer Sass of the NRDC wrote that of the 94 pesticides licensed by the EPA since 1997, 79%

were granted a ‘condition’ license without completed safety studies. lf the EPA granted licenses to

lmidacloprid, Clothianidin and Spirotetremat-all of which have been independently confirmed as being

‘highly toxic to honey bees’, would they even refuse a license to any bee poison?


The EPA gobbled up $10 billion of taxpayer’s money in 2010. Well, on the basis of how they

protect bees and beekeepers from dangerous pesticides, I have an idea on how to save some money.

Why not fire the entire pesticides department? just pay the janitor to sit at a table with a rubber stamp

and give a conditional license to everything that comes through the door. The result would arguably be

exactly the same as it is currently-everything gets approved, nothing is rejected, and think of the money

you would save!”


According to the EPA database, American farmers used over 1 billion pounds of crop pesticides

in 2007 {500,000 tons- that’s just over three pounds per person, for every person in the U.S.} of these 99

million pounds (50,000 tons) were insecticides. Maryann Frazier’s work at Penn State found up to 37

pesticides in any one load of pollen brought home by bee foragers, and an average of four pesticides per

pollen load. Beekeepers are sending bees out into a landscape that is saturated with a lethal cocktail of

dozens of different bee-poisons.


It appears that bees are ‘expendable’or are mere tollateral damage’ in the undeclared, all out,

‘War against Nature’which is being waged by pesticide companies, in collusian with the EPA.


l’m not sure what beekeepers can do about any of this-but arguing the science is not going to

save the bees; the WPA threw the science out of the window when they licensed Clothianidin against

the advice of their own experts. The so-called ‘science’ is nothing but camouflage to prop up a billion

dollar poisons industry, for which the WPA serves more as sock-puppets than watchdog.


I suspect that political action {French style), and the loss of millions more bee colonies, leading

to crop failures, will be the only things that will finally bring the EPA back to reality, Billions more bees,

butterflies and bumbles will surely die in the coming season, and nobody knows what the implications

are for drinking water and human health.


An agency that consumes $10 billion of taxpayers’ money each year must surely be ethical,

transparent, scientifically scrupulous and accountable, in its enforcement of the Law. Why should the

citizens of the U.S. have to raise more money to drag the WPA kicking and screaming into the courts, to

force it to uphold the very environmental laws it was responsible for policing in the first place?

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