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European governments approved Friday a proposal to widen a ban on neonicotinoid pesticides that studies have found are harmful to bees and other pollinators.

The move completely bans the outdoor uses of three neonicotinoids, or neonics, across the European Union. They include Bayer CropScience's imidacloprid, Syngenta's thiamethoxam and clothianidin developed by Takeda Chemical Industries and Bayer CropScience.

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The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) concluded in a new assessment that "most uses" of three widely used neonicotinoids—imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam—pose a risk to wild bees and honeybees, which play a crucial role in pollination across the globe.

The conclusion, based on analysis of more than 1,500 studies, will likely prompt a total ban on the pesticides from all fields across the European Union when the issue comes to a vote next month, the Guardian reported.

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a settlement this week with Syngenta Seeds, LLC over violations of federal pesticide regulations at its farm in Kauai, Hawaii.

The company, a subsidiary of Swiss biotech giant Syngenta AG, agreed to pay a civil penalty of $150,000 and spend another $400,000 on worker protection training sessions.

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will consider allowing the bee-killing pesticide thiamethoxam to be sprayed on the most widely grown crops in the U.S. The application, if approved, would allow the highly toxic pesticide to be sprayed directly on 165 million acres of wheat, barley, corn, sorghum, alfalfa, rice and potato.

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By Joe Sandler Clarke

The lead author of a major study which found that neonicotinoid pesticides harm honey bees has hit back against criticism from the chemical companies that part-funded the work.

Dr. Ben Woodcock from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), said Bayer and Syngenta, which produce the controversial pesticides, had looked to undermine his work after it was published, despite providing $3 million in funding.

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By Joe Sandler Clarke

Bayer and Syngenta repeatedly asked scientists to give them raw data on a major new study which found that neonicotinoid pesticides cause harm to bees before it was published, according to emails obtained under Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Both companies cited their position as co-funders to try to get information from researchers at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), including on experiments paid for by the government backed National Environment Research Council.

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Thousands of Kansas farmers claimed in district court in Kansas City on Monday that Swiss agribusiness giant Syngenta rushed its genetically modified (GMO) corn seed to the U.S. market in 2010 before getting China's approval for imports, which rejected shipments of the corn over GMO contamination and caused turmoil in commodity markets.

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The majority of European Union governments voted against a proposal to authorize two new strains of genetically modified (GMO) maize today.

The two varieties of maize, DuPont Pioneer's 1507 and Syngenta's Bt11, kill insects by producing its own pesticide and is also resistant Bayer's glufosinate herbicide.

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Studies with conflict of interest showed a 50% higher frequency of outcomes favorable to the interests of the GMO crop company. Photo credit: Flickr

One of the main concerns of the anti-GMO crowd is the supposed outsized influence that the biotech industry has over academia, science and public policy. For instance, you might have heard of the term "Monsanto shill"—which refer to professors, scientists and politicians who are paid to push certain products.

Now, a new study published in the Dec. 15 issue of the journal PLOS ONE gives more credence to the anti-GMO concern.

French researchers have determined that financial conflicts of interest can be found in a large number of published articles on GMO crops. Significantly, if a conflict of interest was determined, the study's outcome tended to be more favorable to the company that funded it.

For the study, the research team combed through hundreds of published articles focusing on the efficacy or durability of genetically modified Bt crops and any ties that the researchers carrying out the study had with the biotech industry. These articles focused on GM maize and cotton developed by Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow AgroSciences and DuPont Pioneer. Such crops have been inserted with a pest-resistant toxin called Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt.

A conflict of interest was determined if an author declared an affiliation to one of the biotech companies or received funding or payment from them.

"We found that ties between researchers and the GM crop industry were common, with 40 percent of the articles considered displaying conflicts of interest (COI)," the study states. "In particular, we found that, compared to the absence of COI, the presence of a COI was associated with a 50 percent higher frequency of outcomes favorable to the interests of the GM crop company."

This means that conflicts of interests are not only pervasive in GMO research, it could be leaving an impact.

Thomas Guillemaud, lead author and director of research at France's National Institute for Agricultural Research, told AFP that he and his team found 579 articles that clearly indicated if there was or was not any financial conflict of interest.

Of the 350 articles without conflicts of interest, 36 percent were favorable to GM crop companies. However, of the 229 studies with a conflict of interest, 54 percent were favorable to GM companies.

However, the authors admitted their study had some limitations:

"First, we explored only two characteristics of Bt crops: efficacy and durability. Other characteristics and consequences of these transgenic plants, including all those relating to the environment (e.g. the impact of Bt crops on non-target insects) or health, merit a similar analysis."

"Second, as we used the addresses of authors to identify their affiliations, only one type of affiliation, that relating to employment, was considered. However, authors may have affiliations to GM crop companies of other types, such as being members of advisory boards, consultants, or co-holders of patents, and this could also have a significant impact on the outcomes of studies on GM crops. We did not consider these affiliations as they are not usually reported in articles (COI statements became obligatory in some journals only recently and, as revealed here, they remain very rare). The consideration of other types of affiliation would require a survey that would be difficult to perform given that more than 1,500 authors were considered in this study.

"Third, we have considered only the links between authors and GM crop companies. Other stakeholders (e.g. Greenpeace, The Non-GMO Project, The Organic Consumers Association, The Network of European GMO-free Regions) oppose GM crop companies in being openly against the use of GM crops. An inverse relationship might therefore be expected between the outcomes of studies on GM crops and the presence of COIs relating to these stakeholders. We were unable to test this hypothesis because we identified no financial interests connected with anti-GMO stakeholders, in terms of the professional affiliation of the authors or their declared funding sources.

"Finally, this study focused exclusively on financial COIs. Non-financial COIs, also known as intrinsic or intellectual COI—due to personal, political, academic, ideological, or religious interests—might also have a significant impact on the outcomes of research studies. It is difficult to decipher intellectual COIs and, as for the detection of non-professional affiliations with GM crop companies, it would be a major challenge to perform such an analysis given the large number of authors considered."

But as Guillemaud noted to AFP, "The most important point was how we also showed there is a statistical link between the presence of conflicts of interest and a study that comes to a favorable conclusion for GMO crops."

"When studies had a conflict of interest, this raised the likelihood 49 percent that their conclusions would be favorable to GMO crops," he added. "We thought we would find conflicts of interest, but we did not think we would find so many."

In the midst of three pending mega-mergers between agrichemical corporations, Donald Trump's recent pick of Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Liveris to head the American Manufacturing Council signals yet more serious potential conflicts of interest in top government posts that could damage American farmers, the health of the public and the environment. The council serves as a liaison between the U.S. manufacturing industry and the federal government.

Tuesday, shareholders of agrichemical giant Monsanto approved a proposed takeover of the company by Bayer. Meanwhile, Liveris' company, Dow Chemical, is in the midst of negotiating a merger with DuPont.

"Andrew Liveris should be disqualified for the position due to his likely conflicts of interests. Serving as head of the American Manufacturing Council could allow Liveris to use a government post to benefit Dow Chemical and to line his own pockets," said Friends of the Earth Food Futures campaigner Tiffany Finck-Haynes.

The final decision on the mergers will fall to the Department of Justice, where Trump named Jeff Sessions as potential Attorney General. Sessions, who has received campaign contributions from Monsanto and Bayer, will head the agency investigating the economic impact and antitrust implications of the proposed mergers.

"Donald Trump's picks demonstrates that he is willing to allow corporate interests to control the food that's grown in our country and determine what's on our plates," said Finck-Haynes. "Despite his promise to 'drain the swamp,' his actions prove he is more concerned with advancing corporate interests than protecting the American people, workers and farmers."

The top six agrichemical and seed companies are currently negotiating mergers, which could result in just three powerful multinational corporations controlling this industry. If Monsanto and Bayer, Dow and DuPont and Syngenta and ChemChina form their proposed partnerships, they will control nearly 70 percent of the world's pesticide market, 80 percent of the U.S. corn-seed market and more than 61 percent of commercial seed sales.

The day before Trump's announcement, DuPont's Chief Executive Ed Breen, said a Trump administration won't impact the proposed Dow-DuPont merger. Edward Liveris and Breen, chief executive officers of Dow and DuPont, are expected to earn $80 million from the merger. Meanwhile, Dow already plans to eliminate 2,500 jobs and 8 percent of its Michigan workforce due to its takeover of the smaller company Dow Corning and DuPont is implementing a cost-cutting plan by planning to cut1,700 workers in Delaware, in preparation for the merger.

"Trump's appointment signals that he will rubber stamp these mega-mergers, limiting farming and food options and increasing prices for farmers and consumers," said Finck-Haynes. "The mergers would also further tilt the balance of power away from independent science and the health and safety of the American people towards the influence of chemical corporations."

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Several U.S. state attorneys general will reportedly join the federal antitrust investigations of the pending multibillion dollar deals between DuPont and Dow Chemical Co and Bayer AG and Monsanto Co, respectively.

An online petition to EU Commissioner for Competition: Margrethe Vestager, and Head of the antitrust Authority in the U.S. Department of Justice to block the Bayer-Monsanto mega-mergerSumOfUs

Consolidation of these four already massive companies into two juggernauts—not to mention ChemChina's $43 billion planned combination with chemical and seeds company Syngenta that cleared U.S. scrutiny in August—will completely reshape the global seed and pesticide markets. If the deals are approved, Dow Chemical and DuPont will create one of the largest chemical makers in the U.S, while Bayer and Monsanto will form the largest seed and pesticide company in the world.

Reuters reports that about seven states, including California, have joined the probe of Dow's planned merger with DuPont that would create a $130 billion chemical behemoth. A separate group of state attorneys general have also joined the Bayer-Monsanto investigation. The states are reportedly concerned that companies will increase pesticide and herbicide prices for farmers, and will have less incentive to compete and introduce better and cheaper products.

Critics ask, who will hold these agri-tech giants accountable if the deals close? These mega-deals are especially daunting in a time when U.S. farmers are seeing their incomes falling from slumping crop prices.

According to Reuters, the state attorneys general will be able to supply information on how the mergers would affect their jurisdictions and conduct joint calls to gather data from the companies and its critics and supporters of the deals.

"The involvement of the state attorneys general increases scrutiny of the mega deals and will complicate what are already expected to be tough and lengthy reviews by U.S. antitrust enforcers," Reuters wrote.

Consumer groups have also expressed fears that "farmers get paid less for their crops, more pesticides are used and there are fewer options for consumers at the grocery store," as Wenonah Hauter, the executive director of Food & Water Watch, told EcoWatch after the announcement of Bayer's $66 billion acquisition of Monsanto in September.

The state attorneys general will reportedly investigate DuPont's Altacor and Dow's Intrepid, two chemically different but overlapping insecticides applied on high-value crops such as almonds, pistachios, grapes and apples.

Another concern is Bayer and Monsanto's overlapping cotton seeds. Bayer licenses genetic traits that make seeds resistant to the herbicide Liberty, while Monsanto licenses traits that make seeds resistant to its herbicide Roundup.

Monsanto and Bayer control the two top cotton seed brands in the U.S., respectively, the St. Louis Dispatch reported. That's about 70 percent of all cotton acreage in the country.

"One of the worst things you could do is to link Liberty and Roundup in the same company," Peter Carstensen, a law professor at the University of Wisconsin and leading agricultural antitrust expert, told the Dispatch. "There's no incentive for somebody to develop a third alternative."

DuPont and Dow told Reuters in separate statements they expected to win approval for their deal. Bayer said, it's looking forward to "working diligently with regulators to ensure a successful close." Monsanto did not comment.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) has added seven bee species to the endangered species list, a first for bees. Native to Hawaii, these yellow-faced bees are facing extinction due to habitat loss, wildfires and invasive species.

Cantankerous Yellow-faced Bee photographed in Hawai'i County, Hawaii.SteveMlodinow / Flickr

The tiny, solitary bees were once abundant in Hawaii, but surveys in the late 1990s found that many of its traditional sites had been urbanized or colonized by non-native plants. In March 2009, the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation petitioned the USFWS to list these bee species as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

"The USFWS decision is excellent news for these bees, but there is much work that needs to be done to ensure that Hawaii's bees thrive," wrote Matthew Shepherd, communications director for Xerces, in a blog post responding to the announcement.

Yellow-faced bees are the most important pollinators for many key trees and shrubs in Hawaii. They once populated the island from the coast up to 10,000 feet on Mauna Kea and Haleakalā. They get their name from yellow-to-white facial markings, and they are often mistaken for wasps.

According to Karl Magnacca, an entomologist with the O'ahu Army Natural Resources Program, the bees evolved in an isolated environment and were unprepared for the changes brought by humans. These included new plants, domestic animals such as cattle and goats, as well as ants and other bees that compete with the native Hawaiian bees.

One of the seven species, Hylaeus anthracites, is now found in just 15 locations on Hawaii, Maui, Kahoolawe, Molokai and Oahu. Protection of these areas could be a start to aid the bees.

"Unfortunately, the USFWS has not designated any 'critical habitat,' areas of land of particular importance for the endangered bees," wrote Shepherd.

The listing comes just a week after the USFWS proposed listing another bee, the rusty patched bumble bee, to the endangered species list. During the past 50 years, about 30 percent of beehives in the U.S. have collapsed, according to the the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

On Sept. 9, a new study published in the journal, Scientific Reports, found that the world's most commonly used insecticide, neonicotinoids, caused queen bees to lay fewer eggs and worker bees to be less productive. A Greenpeace investigation of internal studies conducted by chemical makers Bayer and Syngenta showed that these chemicals can harm honeybee colonies when exposed to high concentrations. In January, the EPA found that one of these neonicotinoids, imidacloprid, can be harmful to bees.

The National Pesticide Information Center states unequivocally, "Imidacloprid is very toxic to honeybees and other beneficial insects." The EPA has proposed prohibiting the use of neonicotinoids in the presence of bees.

The USFWS ruling protecting Hawaii's yellow-faced bees becomes effective Oct. 31.

By Joe Sandler Clarke

Chemical giants Bayer and Syngenta commissioned private studies which showed that their neonicotinoid pesticides can cause serious harm to bees, a Greenpeace investigation has uncovered.

The revelations come with the UK set to decide its own policy on pesticide use once it leaves the EU. The UK lobbied against the current EU ban when it was introduced.

Dead bees in a French beekeeping farm.Wikipedia Commons

The company research—designed to reveal the level at which their products harm bees—was obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests to the U.S. environmental regulator.

Publicly, the two firms have often sought to play down suggestions that their products can cause harm to honeybees.

Weak Research

However, the studies will cause little surprise in industry circles. Industry and scientists have long known that the products can harm bees at certain levels.

Instead, the research has been criticized by experts because it assumes a very narrow definition of harm to bee health and ignores wild bees, which evidence suggests are more likely to be harmed by neonicotinoids.

It means the studies may substantially underestimate the impact of the two firm's products on pollinators.

Due to commercial confidentiality rules, Greenpeace Energydesk is not allowed to release the studies in full.

Transparency

The latest revelations have sparked calls for greater transparency from the industry and regulators to publish data on the impact of pesticides on pollinators used to make—or lobby for—regulatory decisions.

Responding to Greenpeace, Syngenta said it's study was due to be published in a journal—though the company did not give details. Bayer said the study would be discussed at an upcoming conference.

Both firms claimed that whilst the studies did show a risk to honeybees from their products this would only apply at higher concentrations than normally seen in agriculture.

Each study focused exclusively on honeybees, though recent research has shown that the chemicals have a negative impact on wild bees.

Matt Shardlow, chief executive of the charity Buglife, told The Guardian:

"These studies may not show an impact on honeybee health [at low levels], but then the studies are not realistic. The bees were not exposed to the neonics that we know are in planting dust, water drunk by bees and wildflowers, wherever neonics are used as seed treatments. This secret evidence highlights the profound weakness of regulatory tests."

Bee Deaths

The newly uncovered studies examined the impact of Bayer's clothianidin and Syngenta's thiamethoxam on honeybees at varying concentrations.

Both show that chemicals can seriously harm honeybee colonies at high concentrations, though the effects were less marked at lower levels, concentrations of 50 parts per billion (ppb) and 40 ppb respectively.

"Bayer and Syngenta's commitment to pollinator health should include publishing these data or otherwise making them public," Christian Krupke, an entomologist at Purdue University, told Energydesk. "This work presents a rich dataset that could greatly benefit the many publicly-funded scientists examining the issue worldwide, including avoiding costly and unnecessary duplication of research."

In the U.S., the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is currently conducting a review of neonicotinoid pesticides and their impact on pollinator health.

Back in January, the first stage of this review found that imidacloprid, which is made by Bayer, harmed honeybees and suggested it "could potentially take action" to "restrict or limit the use" of the chemical by the end of 2016. The findings of the reviews into thiamethoxam and clothianidin, from which these two studies are taken, are due to be published in 2017.

Denials

The unpublished research comes after previous assurances by Syngenta in particular about the impact of its product on pollinators.

On its website, Syngenta states there is "no direct correlation between neonicotinoids use and poor bee health" and "the allegation that neonicotinoids-based pesticides are inherently damaging to bee colonies or populations is not true."

In statements issued to Energydesk last month, the firm added, "None of the studies Syngenta has undertaken or commissioned for use by regulatory agencies have shown that thiamethoxam damages the health of bee colonies and we stand by the integrity of our neonicotinoid product.

The private research did not examine the impact of the product on bee colonies in "normal" conditions. However, other studies have done so.

Last month, a study by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology linked the long-term decline of wild bees in England to the use of neonicotinoids.

A major field study in Sweden last year found that wild bees were badly affected when exposed to fields treated with clothianidin, while honeybees proved more robust.

Energydesk reached out for comment from the EPA, but did not receive a response at press time.

In a statement to Energydesk, a Bayer spokesperson said:

"The study conducted in North Carolina is an artificial feeding study that intentionally exaggerates the exposure potential because it is designed to calculate a "no-effect" concentration for clothianidin. Although the colony was artificially provided with a spiked sugar solution, the bees were allowed to forage freely in the environment, so there is less stress (which can be a contributing variable) than if they were completely confined to cages.

"This protocol was developed jointly by Bayer and the EPA several years ago and it is now being applied to other compounds. Based on these results, we believe the data support the establishment of a no-effect concentration of 20 ppb for clothianidin, which is consistent to that of other neonicotinoids.

"One of our research scientists will make a public presentation next week at the International Congress of Entomology meeting in Orlando, Florida, in which he will discuss the similarities of the findings of these studies, as well as the merits of the new test protocol."

Responding to our story, a Syngenta spokesperson said:

"The EPA asked us to do this study and agreed the methodology. A sucrose based mechanism was used on the basis that it was required to expose bees artificially to Thiamethoxam to determine what actual level of residue would exert a toxic effect.

"There were transient effects observed and the reported No Adverse Effect Level (NOAEL) for this study was 50 ppb (parts per billion). It is accepted that residues of Thiamethoxam in pollen and nectar from seed treated crops are in the single ppb level. So this reported NOAEL of 50 ppb indicates that honeybee colonies are at low risk from exposure to Thiamethoxam in pollen and nectar of seed treated crops.

"This research is already in the process of being published in a forthcoming journal and is clearly already publicly available through the Freedom of Information process in the United States."