As I wrote last January, many scientists believe that a novel class of pesticides called neonicotinoids–which are insect neurotoxins-has played a major role in CCD worldwide. An Italian entomologist at the University of Padua, Vincenzo Girolami, has research currently undergoing peer review showing that bees can be exposed to lethal levels of these pesticides through the use of seeding machines that sow neonicotinoid-coated seeds. These devices throw up a toxic cloud of pesticide as they work: bees fly through the cloud and either die or take the pesticide back to the hive. Once inside, even at low doses, it can cause disorientation or, as Girolami calls it, “intoxication” of whole hives.
The maker of this pesticide is Bayer CropScience. What does a corporation do when it discovers it may have developed and marketed a dangerous and potentially devastating product? Here in America, you confuse, you obfuscate, and you buy off scientists.
And as Eban skillfully details, that’s exactly what Bayer has been doing for the last decade or so.
Which brings us back to Bromenshenk. He was an expert witness for a group of beekeepers that in 2003 sued Bayer over the pesticide Imidacloprid. Bromenshenk later backed out of the lawsuit and, soon after, Bayer gave Bromenshenk a “research grant.” But it gets worse. Eban reports something the Times piece doesn’t: that Bromenshenk’s consulting company, Bee Alert Technology, is developing diagnostic tools for “various bee ailments.” The company stands to profit from curing bee diseases–and thus it’s rather convenient that Bromenshenk has published research that points the finger towards “treatable” conditions, rather than pesticides, as the primary culprit in bee deaths. Indeed, he had admitted as much to Eban while she was researching her Portfolio piece.
While this tremendous potential conflict doesn’t necessarily invalidate Bromenshenk’s findings, it certainly warrants a mention.
So where does this leave us? In an email exchange with me, the Italian scientist Girolami said he agrees with many of the experts Eban interviewed: The virus/fungus combination is secondary. In Girolami’s opinion, the underlying causes of CCD–the factors that are weakening the hives and making them susceptible to infection and die-offs–are most likely neonicotinoids along with the Varroa mite, a parasite that can infect and destroy hives all on its own.
In fact, last year Italy banned neonicotinoid-coated corn seeds and, according to this report, after the first non-neonicotinoid sowing, nary a hive was lost, although neonicotinoid spraying is still allowed in some areas–and still linked with bee deaths. France has also banned coated seeds–though there, as in Germany, the pesticide lobby has fended off total bans for now. As for the U.S., Bayer successfully convinced a judge to throw out crucial evidence in the beekeeper lawsuit and has, to date, prevented the EPA from releasing the data the agency used to approve neonicotinoids in the first place.