Pesticide makers seek answers as bee losses sting ag
The companies point to a vicious insect mite as one of many factors harming the bees.
Corn Seed Treatments
But environmental scientists say evidence increasingly points to pesticides coating corn seeds as the problem, not mites. In recent years, U.S. corn seed suppliers have offered more corn seed pre-treated with types of neonic insecticides so that as the plant grows it repels harmful pests.
A study published last year by scientists at Purdue University in Indiana found evidence that planting the coated corn generates dust that contains very high levels of the neonics that can move beyond the fields where the seeds are planted. The researchers said they found the poison in the soil as well and in pollen collected by bees as food. The neonics were present on dead bees collected for study.
The study's co-author, Purdue University scientist Christian Krupke, said the issue needs more research.
Syngenta and Bayer say they are doing just that. This month both companies announced they were helping fund research grants awarded to Iowa State University and Ohio State University and a Canadian farm group to study the impact of insecticidal seed treatment dust on bee losses.
"This research will provide valuable information," Jay Overmeyer, an ecotoxicology expert at Syngenta, said in a statement.
A May 1 report funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that nearly one in three managed honey bee colonies in the United States were lost over the winter of 2012-2013. The losses are 42 percent higher than losses seen the previous winter, the report found. Fewer bees spells higher food prices, according to the government.
U.S. officials say there is no conclusive proof that pesticides caused the bee deaths, and they cite many other factors, including the mites.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said it is "working aggressively to protect bees and other pollinators from pesticide risks through regulatory, voluntary and research programs" but sees no need for a moratorium on pesticides. The EPA has said it will study the situation, but many experts say immediate action is needed.
"One third of the food supply depends on pollinators to be productive," said Doug Gurian-Sherman, a scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists. "It's hard to say that these are definitively the cause of major bee declines. But there is a lot of data coming together that should be seriously examined."