Bayer counters European bee studies
The release of scientific reports from two European studies published in Science magazine last week caused a stir. Major newspapers of the nation published articles accepting the studies as proof of worldwide bee disappearance being caused by the neonicotinoid family of insecticides.
Because a British study showed a reduction of bumble bee queen bees after the bees were fed imidacloprid and honeybees exposed to thiamethoxam being disoriented and not returning to the hive in large numbers, the insecticides are being blamed for the worldwide decline in both types of pollinators.
According to a Bayer CropScience environmental toxicologist, the French study overdosed the bees by 20 percent to 30 percent in comparison to real world field exposure levels. At the high levels tested in this study, behavioral effects are expected. As for the bumble bee study, concentrations were probably three to six times above typical field exposure levels. But the same levels in previous tests did not show effects to bumble bee colonies, and these latest results were a surprise.
“Our company and other chemical companies have always been looking at the safety of these products beyond whether we are killing bees or other non-targeted insects. In the field of ecotoxicology, the key regulatory end points are fatality, growth and reproduction. So, we are also looking at whether the colonies are able to reproduce and the growth of individual bees, including larvae, because we are trying to protect all the life stages,” said David Fischer, Bayer CropScience, Ph.D., environmental toxicology and risk assessment.
The Washington Post in its Friday edition ran an article with a lead paragraph that gave credit to the new research about neonicotinoid insecticides as starting to “unravel the mystery of why bees are disappearing in alarming numbers worldwide.” It also claimed the new studies “point to flaws in the way pesticides are evaluated by regulators.”
Bayer CropScience registered some of the first neonicotinoid insecticides following testing that the Environmental Protection Agency accepted as having appropriate pollinator safety, and the company has established a Bee Health Center for research in Europe and another one is being established in North Carolina. For both reasons and because the company hasn’t shied away from answering questions, Bayer CropScience spokespeople are often quoted.
Of course, the Washington Post article by Marc Kaufman, quoted British and French researchers as saying the studies are proof of consequences from non-lethal doses of the insecticides. Fischer was quoted as saying the research as conducted doesn’t really show anything. But the writer found a University of Illinois researcher, May Berenbaum, to suggest that bees are at risk from this family of insecticide.