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.
The EU had already opted for a partial ban in 2013 on the use of the three chemicals on flowering crops that attract bees, such as maize, wheat, barley, oats and oil seed rape (canola).
"All outdoor uses will be banned and the neonicotinoids in question will only be allowed in permanent greenhouses where exposure of bees is not expected," the European Commission said in a statement.
In February, the European Food Safety Authority issued a report adding to the mounting scientific evidence that neonics are a risk to wild bees and honeybees, whose numbers have been plummeting in recent years.
"The Commission had proposed these measures months ago, on the basis of the scientific advice from the European Food Safety Authority," Vytenis Andriukaitis, the European commissioner for Health and Food Safety said today.
"Bee health remains of paramount importance for me since it concerns biodiversity, food production and the environment."
Plenty of lovely bees at #Schuman today. 🐝 Happy that Member States voted in favour of our proposal to further rest… https://t.co/lP9zj3zANZ— Vytenis Andriukaitis (@Vytenis Andriukaitis)1524819290.0
According to Greenpeace EU, the member states supporting the ban were France, Germany, Spain, Italy, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Austria, Sweden, Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Slovenia, Estonia, Cyprus, Luxembourg and Malta, representing 76.1 per cent of the EU population. Romania, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Denmark voted against. Poland, Belgium, Slovakia, Finland, Bulgaria, Croatia, Latvia and Lithuania abstained from the vote.
BBC News noted that manufacturers and some farming groups opposed the action, saying the science remains uncertain.
"The Commission hasn't been able to find that these restrictions have delivered any measurable benefits for bees," Chris Hartfield from the National Farmers' Union in the UK, told the BBC.
"That has been a big question for us, and if we can't be certain they can deliver measurable benefits why are we doing this?"
The ban on the insecticides received widespread public support. Almost 5 million people signed a petition from campaign group Avaaz and more than 633,000 people signed another petition from international consumer group SumOfUs.
"This move is critical for protecting bees and other important pollinators—we hope this ban will encourage governments around the world to follow suit," said Wiebke Schröder, a SumOfUs campaign manager.
New Zealand's Environmental Protection Agency, for one, closely watched the vote.
"When new information is released, the EPA always takes a good look at the science, evaluating it to see if there's something we need to factor into our thinking here," said Fiona Thomson-Carter, the EPA General Manager for Hazardous Substances and New Organisms.
"While existing New Zealand rules around the use of neonicotinoids are working, there could still be instances where non-target organisms, like bees and insects are exposed to the insecticide."
Greenpeace EU food policy adviser Franziska Achterberg welcomed the news but urged the EU to make sure the three neonics are not simply swapped with other harmful chemicals.
"These three neonicotinoids are just the tip of the iceberg—there are many more pesticides out there, including other neonicotinoids, that are just as dangerous for bees and food production. Governments must ban all bee-harming pesticides and finally shift away from toxic chemicals in farming," Achterberg said.
Lori Ann Burd, director of the Center for Biological Diversity's environmental health program, praised the decision by European Union regulators, but added that the "EU's wisdom highlights the Trump EPA's folly."
"Although U.S. beekeepers reported catastrophic losses again this winter, and just this past week the EPA closed a comment period on another suite of damning neonicotinoid risk assessments, rather than banning these dangerous pesticides, the agency is actually considering increasing the use of neonics across another 165 million acres," Burd said.
EPA Considers Allowing Bee-Killing Pesticide to Be Sprayed on 165 Million Acres of U.S. Farmland… https://t.co/LuWNIFxIRx— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1513715573.0
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.
The EU already banned the pesticides on flowering crops in 2013. But the new report suggests the existing ban is insufficient, as using the chemicals in any outdoor setting can pose a risk to bees.
Thousands of studies have identified neonicotinoids as key contributors to declining pollinator populations. The chemicals have even been found to harm birds and aquatic invertebrates.
EPA: Neonicotinoid Pesticides Pose Serious Risks to Birds, Aquatic Life https://t.co/3p06Sc5VDD #neonics… https://t.co/MPr2EZL7cF— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1513613767.0
"The availability of such a substantial amount of data as well as the guidance has enabled us to produce very detailed conclusions," said Jose Tarazona, head of EFSA's pesticides unit.
"There is variability in the conclusions, due to factors such as the bee species, the intended use of the pesticide and the route of exposure. Some low risks have been identified, but overall the risk to the three types of bees we have assessed is confirmed."
Bayer said it "fundamentally disagrees" with EFSA's analysis. And a Syngenta spokesman told the Guardian, "EFSA sadly continues to rely on a [bee risk guidance] document that is overly conservative, extremely impractical and would lead to a ban of most if not all insecticides, including organic products."
But environmental groups celebrated the new EFSA report.
"The evidence is overwhelming that bees, and the crops and plants they pollinate, are at dire risk from neonicotinoid pesticides," Franziska Achterberg, Greenpeace EU food policy adviser, said. "National governments must stop dithering and back the proposed EU neonicotinoid ban as the first step to prevent the catastrophic collapse of bee populations."
Conservation Groups, House Reps Call for EPA to Respect Science, Take Action on Pollinator-Killing Pesticides… https://t.co/IrLcR1qlxJ— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1518734108.0
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
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.
"Reducing pesticide exposure for the millions of farmworkers who cultivate our food is a high priority for EPA," said Alexis Strauss, EPA's acting regional administrator for the Pacific Southwest. "This settlement will bring to Hawaii and Pacific Island growers much-needed training to protect agricultural workers."
That fine, however, is a tiny fraction of the $4.8 million in civil penalties initially sought by President Obama's EPA.
According to an EPA complaint, on Jan. 29, 2016, 19 workers entered a Syngenta field recently sprayed with a restricted use organophosphate insecticide. Ten of these workers had to be taken to the hospital for medical treatment.
The EPA alleged that Syngenta misused the pesticide "Lorsban Advanced," and failed to notify workers to avoid the field. The active ingredient in "Lorsban Advanced" happens to be chlorpyrifos, a controversial insecticide linked to a host of health and environmental problems. It was said that Syngenta allowed workers to enter the site without protective gear and did not provide adequate decontamination supplies at the field, nor did it supply prompt transportation for emergency medical care.
Then, in an amended complaint filed this month, Syngenta again violated pesticide use rules in January 2017 after a worker sprayed chlorpyrifos on a field but did warn work crews about the treated areas. One worker who said he was exposed experienced "adverse health effects" as a result.
Chlorpyrifos is widely used in citrus, nuts and orchards. Chemical maker Dow Chemical sells about 5 million pounds of it in the U.S. each year.
But chlorpyrifos is acutely toxic and associated with neurodevelopmental harms in children. Furthermore, the EPA released a report indicating that that 97 percent of the more than 1,800 animals and plants protected under the Endangered Species Act are likely to be harmed by the commonly used insecticide.
EPA Chief Met With Dow Chemical CEO Before Deciding Not to Ban Toxic Pesticide https://t.co/00pORekJv0 @ecowatch— Sierra Club (@Sierra Club)1498668816.0
Just last month, the National Marine Fisheries Service reported that chlorpyrifos can harm salmon and their habitat to the point that their survival and recovery are at risk.
Environmental groups have condemned the Trump EPA's tiny fine against Syngenta.
Achitoff noted that the EPA often seeks the maximum penalty when it files a complaint and lowers the amount for the fine that's ultimately imposed. However, "there's such a huge difference" in this case.
Achitoff also said that the EPA and Syngenta were close to resolving the case for a larger amount in 2016 when Obama was still president. But he said Syngenta pulled back after the 2016 election so they could pay a lesser fine under the new Trump administration.
"And now a year and a half later, we see that they're absolutely right. They could get a much better deal under Trump," Achitoff said.
Lori Ann Burd, the environmental health director for the Center for Biological Diversity, told the AP that the lower fine is "a win for the pesticide maker, not the farmworkers carelessly exposed to a dangerous pesticide."
"This absurdly low fine just reassures pesticide makers what they already knew, that as long as Trump is president they're free to do whatever they want," she added.
Syngenta did not answer the AP's question of whether it was close to a settlement in 2016 but decided to wait until Trump took office for a lower fine.
The company said in a statement: "Agricultural worker safety is a top priority for Syngenta and safe use training has for many years been an integral part of the way the company does business worldwide."
Why Won't the EPA Ban This Extremely Toxic Pesticide? https://t.co/4UnBJ9aXMH @bpncamp @pesticideaction— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1494192303.0
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.
The proposal by the agrochemical giant Syngenta to dramatically escalate use of the harmful neonicotinoid pesticide came last Friday, on the same day the EPA released new assessments of the extensive dangers posed by neonicotinoids, including thiamethoxam.
"If the EPA grants Syngenta's wish, it will spur catastrophic declines of aquatic invertebrates and pollinator populations that are already in serious trouble," said Lori Ann Burd, director of the Center for Biological Diversity's environmental health program. "You know the pesticide-approval process is broken when the EPA announces it will consider expanding the use of this dangerous pesticide on the same day its own scientists reveal that the chemical kills birds and aquatic invertebrates."
Neonicotinoids have long been known to pose serious harm to bee populations. But the new EPA assessments found the commonly used pesticides can kill and harm birds of all sizes and pose significant dangers to aquatic invertebrates.
Thiamethoxam is currently widely used as a seed coating for these crops. This application would allow it to be sprayed directly on the crops, greatly increasing the amount of pesticide that could be used.
The just-released aquatic and non-pollinator risk assessment found that the majority of uses of the neonicotinoid on currently registered crops resulted in risks to freshwater invertebrates that exceeded levels of concern—the threshold at which harm is known to occur.
The EPA did not assess risks associated with spraying the pesticides on the crops it announced it was considering expanding use to on Friday. But it is likely that increasing the number of crops approved for spraying would dramatically increase that risk.
In January the EPA released a preliminary assessment of on-field exposures to thiamethoxam that found all uses of the pesticide—on foliar, soil and seeds—result in exposures that exceed the level of concern for acute and chronic risk to adult bees. But the agency has taken no steps to restrict use of these products and is now considering expanding their use.
Despite growing scientific and public concern about neonicotinoids, the application for expanded use of thiamethoxam was not announced by the EPA but quietly posted in the Federal Register.
"For years the EPA and pesticide companies bragged that by using treated seeds they were avoiding spraying insecticides, and despite the science showing that these treated seeds were deadly to birds, claimed that they were environmentally beneficial," said Burd. "But we can expect the Trump EPA to now ignore the risks to birds and bees and approve these ultra-toxic pesticides to be sprayed across hundreds of millions of U.S. acres."
Neonicotinoids are a class of pesticides known to have both acute and chronic effects on aquatic invertebrates, honeybees, birds, butterflies and other pollinator species; they are a major factor in overall pollinator declines. These systemic insecticides cause entire plants, including pollen and fruit, to become toxic to pollinators; they are also slow to break down and therefore build up in the environment.
A large and growing body of independent science links neonicotinoids to catastrophic bee declines. Twenty-nine independent scientists who conducted a global review of more than 1,000 independent studies on neonicotinoids found overwhelming evidence linking the pesticides to declines in populations of bees, birds, earthworms, butterflies and other wildlife.
By Joe Sandler Clarke
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.
Speaking exclusively to Energydesk, he said:
"From a personal perspective, I don't really appreciate having them accuse me of being a liar. And accusing me of falsifying results by cherry-picking data. That's not what we've done. I've got little to gain from this and it's been a major headache. We just present the results we get."
New Evidence Shows Bayer, Syngenta Tried to Influence Scientists on Bee Study https://t.co/9GZUNYpBwI— Robert F. Kennedy Jr (@Robert F. Kennedy Jr)1499973531.0
Both companies have accused the scientists of overstating the threat posed by neonicotinoids to both honey and wild bees, adding that the data, as they saw it, did not reflect the conclusions from CEH.
After the study was published a Bayer spokesperson told Energydesk:
"This study is one of a number of landscape studies carried out recently. The results of the CEH study are inconsistent and therefore inconclusive with variability of effects over both the bee species and the countries in which they were studied."
The company's head of UK government media relations, Dr. Julian Little, told Energydesk: "We're quite frustrated about how these results have been portrayed. The reality seems to be a long way away from the headline."
Syngenta's environmental specialist Peter Campbell told the press that CEH had misrepresented the study and argued that full results of the experiments showed neonicotinoids had no effect in the vast majority (238 of the 258) of the 258 potential effects measured.
Quoted in The Times, Campbell also suggested the results had been talked up in order to get published in a prestigious journal.
He said: "There is a pressure to get papers published. Any journal, particularly journals like Nature and Science, it has to be an interesting story. We don't get into Science and Nature with a study which says, for example, no effect of oilseed rape treated with [neonicotinoid] on solitary bees. It's not that interesting a story."
Woodcock said the accusations made by Bayer and Syngenta were "utterly unfounded."
"I'm intrigued to know what they would've wanted us to do. If you find negative results on key metrics—number of bees in hives, number of bees surviving after winter—how would they want us to present that? How could we interpret this in what they see as an unbiased way?
"Science papers are short. There about 1,500 words. The discussion is tiny on this. It's like a paragraph. So it's not like we spent vast amounts of time discussing the details of this. You literally present the results more or less as they are, along with some broad statements on what you observed."
The study, which was part-funded by Bayer and Syngenta, with the rest paid for by the UK government-backed Natural Environment Research Council, examined the impact of two neonicotinoids—clothianidin (made by Bayer) and thiamethoxam (made by Syngenta) on wild bees and honey bees in three European countries: Germany, Hungary and the UK.
The experiments occurred in the field, with bees feeding on oilseed rape crops, treated with the neonicotinoids. From the start of the work in 2014, the research was hailed as significant. It was the first time neonics had been tested on such a large scale.
The results differed from country to country, with bees largely unaffected by the chemicals in Germany, but badly hit in the UK and Hungary. Overall, the scientists concluded that the chemicals had a negative impact on the ability of wild bees to reproduce, while also showing, for the first time in real world conditions, that neonicotinoids harm honey bees.
Bayer and Syngenta have both highlighted the results from Germany.
"They're trying to reduce the size of our experiment, by putting it into individual countries. And when you do that you reduce the replication to such a level that it's basically impossible to find a difference between an effect of neonics or no neonics," said Woodcock.
"Bayer and Syngenta said that if you look at each country individually, then you don't get the effects you see in our study. If you do any experiment, you have to think about replication.
"Think about tossing a coin in the air: if you tossed a coin once in the air and you got heads, would you assume that you would get heads every time? No, you would do it again and again until you understand there is a 50:50 chance of the coin landing on heads. And every experiment is like that. The more times you replicate something, the more chance you have of understanding what's going on.
"This is a problem that is well established in the literature. Previous studies have been criticized for having very poor replication because if you don't have the replication you could report the absence of an effect of neonics even when one was present.
"They're trying to muddy the waters. Because people aren't aware of how the regulations work and what the regulatory body wants to focus on. They're trying to say look at everything, rather than saying actually what they've presented here are the core metrics by which pesticides are regulated. That's a bit cynical."
'Statistically Flawed' Studies
Neonicotinoids have long been controversial, with recent research showing that the chemicals have a negative impact on bees and other pollinators.
In 2013, the European Commission decided to issue a temporary ban on the pesticides in the EU, citing the risk the chemicals pose to bees.
After taking evidence on the impact of the chemicals on bees for the last few years, the commission is reportedly likely to call for an outright ban on the chemicals at the end of 2017.
Bayer and Syngenta have repeatedly funded research showing that the agricultural chemicals do not harm bees and other pollinators.
Woodcock highlighted a number of papers from the last few years and accused both companies of putting out "statistically flawed" studies.
He said: "What shocks me is how they can put out statistically flawed or massively under-replicated studies that show no effect and don't bat an eyelid. But then they tear apart any study that shows a negative effect as statistically wrong and unrepresentative."
During the interview, Woodcock cited research published in 2013 by Plos as being particularly flawed.
The study, which credits Syngenta's Peter Campbell as an author, examined the impact of repeated exposure to thiamethoxam on honey bees and found the chemical posed a "low risk" to the insects.
An assessment of the work published earlier this year in Environmental Sciences Europe by scientists from St. Andrews University found the study to be "largely uninformative," "misleading" and based on "inadequate" data.
Asked for a response to Woodcock's comments of the quality of its research, Bayer referred to previous comments made after the release of the CEH study.
Syngenta told us: "We stand by our position that this is an inconclusive study that asks more questions than it answers. It should be noted that a number of other independent scientists who have reviewed this paper expressed similar concerns via the UK Science Media Centre.
"The data generated in the study whilst variable, provides valuable and unique insights that help to better understand the ways in which neonicotinoid pesticides can be used safely. The report is a helpful contribution to the ongoing debate about pollinator health."
'I'm Not Surprised They Weren't Happy'
Sunday Energydesk revealed that while the research was being carried out, Bayer and Syngenta made repeated attempts to get hold of the raw data from the experiments on wild bees which were funded by the Natural Environment Research Council, only to be rebuffed by the scientists.
Email correspondence obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, also showed that both companies also sent their own studies to the scientists showing that the chemicals were a low risk to bees, but were largely ignored.
After publication, Syngenta sent us a statement which read: "CEH appear to have responded to funding, interaction, and requests for data by drawing an even stronger negative conclusion regarding the impact of neonicotinoids on bees."
"This study is not conclusive… but it is sufficient to show there is something going on." Holger Weber / Greenpeace
Woodcock, an ecological entomologist at CEH who has in the past been commissioned to do research by the UK government, told Energydesk he was not surprised that Bayer and Syngenta had reacted negatively when the results from the experiments came in.
"I'll be honest, it wasn't a surprise to me that they weren't happy. We knew as soon as the results came back as being negative, they weren't going to be happy and I understand that.
"They've got a massive commercial interest in this. They pay for the data and the data is appended to the end of the paper. It's freely available and the idea is that other people can have a look.
"This is our interpretation and we believe it a robust interpretation. It's open to other people to look at. But the way they're doing this seems to be focused on getting a result they want, rather than doing it in a robust manner."
Future of the Debate
Looking ahead at what impact the research might have on the future of the neonicotinoids debate, Woodcock said he doesn't believe it can be proved conclusively that the nicotine-based chemicals harm bees, but he said: it is sufficient to show there is something going on."
He added that there is some evidence, as shown in the experiments in Germany, that a high-quality natural environment for bees, can increase their chances of surviving not just neonics but also climate change and other factors that are thought to have led to declining bee populations.
"If you can create high-quality habitats and resources in an agricultural landscape that helps bee populations, they are more likely to take a lot of the impacts of environmental change exposure to something like neonics. This is not something that's been conclusively shown, but good habitat is likely to help.
"It's easy to say ban neonics, but you've got to take into account what the alternatives are. Simply saying there's no effect of neonicotinoids is not the way to go. There needs to be a sensible acknowledgment that there is a problem so we can work out a solution that best serves society and the natural environment."
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.
Major New Study Shows Pesticide Risk to Honey Bees https://t.co/Eijuo3SVxI @greenpeaceusa @Greenpeace @GreenpeaceUK— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1499010199.0
The pesticide giants also encouraged the academics to study their own research on bees, which showed no harm from their products, only to be rebuffed by the researchers.
Published last week in the prestigious journal Science, the CEH study made headlines for showing for the first time that neonicotinoids can cause harm to honey bees in real world conditions. It also showed that the nicotine-based chemicals can harm the reproductivity of wild bees.
Since publication, both companies have attacked the study and criticised CEH for the way it presented the findings.
The body is one of the leading centers for the scientific study of pesticides. But speaking to Energydesk, Bayer refused to say if it would continue to back research by CEH.
"There are a lot of questions coming out of this data and it will be a while before we have definitive answers about what we want to do next," said Dr. Julian Little, Bayer's head of government relations in the UK.
"It's a bit early to say of course we're going to be working with them, or we're definitely not going to be working with them. It will depend entirely on the situation going forward."
The chemical companies spent around $3 million on research by CEH looking at the impact of neonics on honey bees and wild bees.
However, the emails reveal that disagreement between the companies and the researchers arose when Bayer and Syngenta made repeated efforts to get access to the raw data from experiments on wild bees, which was funded by National Environment Research Council.
On Jan. 11, a Bayer staff member wrote to professor Rosemary Hails at CEH to say, "As co-owner we believe we are entitled to unlimited, unrestricted and prompt access to all such data and information, including, but not limited to, the data called raw data."
The Bayer representative went on to express their frustration at CEH's refusal to hand over the data, despite repeated requests.
CEH refused to hand over the raw data on the wild bees experiment to the companies until after the peer review process, but did present the data on honey bees.
Since publication, both companies attacked the study and criticized CEH for the way it had chosen to present its findings.
Bayer's Julian Little told Energydesk, "We're quite frustrated about how these results have been portrayed. The reality seems to be a long way away from the headline."
Discussing the emails, Little said, "As we funded the vast majority of the study, unsurprisingly we were keen on getting the information as soon as possible. Especially when there had already been significant delays in us being given that information.
"I'm not sure how that becomes a conspiracy theory. We asked for the information, they said they weren't going to give it to us until they had all the information published. No doubt we said that doesn't seem very fair, but they said that's the way it was going to be so we said 'OK.'"
Syngenta were similarly blunt when approached by Energydesk about the emails.
A company spokesperson said, "CEH appear to have responded to funding, interaction, and requests for data by drawing an even stronger negative conclusion regarding the impact of neonicotinoids on bees."
From the outset of the research, Bayer, Syngenta and CEH disagreed over the size and scope of the study.
Emails from 2014 between the three parties, obtained by the environmental organization Buglife, showed Bayer and Syngenta discussing the test's design, monitoring and data analysis with scientists from CEH.
At the time, MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee expressed concern about the pressure being applied to CEH by the two companies.
But Bayer stressed the scientific independence of CEH and their own arm's length role in the study. During a select committee enquiry on the impacts of neonicotinoids, Julian Little told MPs:
"We are not doing the work. The work is being overseen by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology. Yes, we are putting the money up for it, but it is being done by independent scientists."
"They are working with both Defra and [the European Food Safety Authority] to ensure that those protocols are relevant and, of course, all the information that comes from those studies will be with the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and I am certain it will be published at some point in the future," he continued.
However, the emails obtained in 2014 show that the chemicals companies looked to focus the study solely on honey bees, leaving out other pollinators, ostensibly to reduce costs.
Internal documents from that same year, obtained using FOI, show that CEH felt that limiting the research to honey bees would reduce the scientific scope of the study.
Professor Richard Pywell from CEH, co-author of the study, wrote in an email dated March 21, 2014, "Syngenta and Bayer have suggested that the study should focus on just Honeybees to reduce overall costs … CEH believe that this reduces considerably the scientific scope of the study and while we appreciate the potential saving in overall costs, we are concerned about the impact on the merit of the experiment."
Speaking just before the findings were made public, Pywell told Energydesk that his organization was determined to keep the research independent and appointed an independent scientific advisory panel, chaired by Bill Sutherland from Cambridge University, to that end.
"From the outset, we made it very clear that we would have complete freedom to design and report this study as we saw fit. We've made all of the protocols and the data, once it's been published, available to everyone.
"The funders had no input on the paper we submitted for peer review. We only shared a copy with funders at the proof stage when it could no longer be changed. That was the agreement.They had no input, no influence. We only shared it with them at the proof stage."
"Some of the arguments around access to data were because CEH had funded the wild pollinator work and in the end we reached an agreement."
Asked if CEH would work with Bayer and Syngenta again, Pywell said, "We would do it again. We would welcome the opportunity to do something like this. Someone has to do it. We're just doing independent research."
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.
As Bloomberg explains, the plaintiffs claim that "this move, coupled with U.S. corn farmers' inability to regain a foothold in China once other countries filled the void, almost wiped out the U.S. corn market for several years and continues to depress corn prices even today."
The plaintiffs are seeking $200 million in lost sales, plus punitive damages.
"Every bushel of corn grown in this country is worth less today than it would have been had Syngenta" waited for China to approve the product, plaintiffs lawyer Scott Powell told jurors.
According to court filings cited by the Associated Press, Syngenta knew Chinese approval was going to be a problem but aggressively marketed its MIR162 corn anyway.
Per the AP:
"Court papers show that Syngenta initially assured stakeholders that China would approve MIR162 in time for the 2011 crop. But the date kept slipping. Some exporters sent shipments containing the trait to China anyway. After two years of accepting them, China began rejecting them in late 2013."
Syngenta's MIR162 corn, aka Agrisure Viptera, is genetically engineered to resist pests such as earworms, cutworms, armyworms and corn borers. China did not approve the trait until 2014.
The Basel-based company denies wrongdoing over its product, contending that it was a 2013 corn glut, not China's rejection, that impacted U.S. corn prices.
"Syngenta acted responsibly when it began selling Viptera in 2010," company attorney Michael Brock said in his opening statement. "It was a product that farmers wanted and needed."
A slew of related trials are pending, with around 350,000 U.S. corn growers claiming up to $13 billion in losses, Bloomberg noted.
Notably, the legal conundrum is mounting as state-owned ChemChina is in the midst of buying Syngenta for $43 billion, meaning that if the farmers win the suit, the buck could pass back to China, which initially rejected the grain.
China has strict rules against GMO cultivation but permits the import of a few varieties. Most Chinese consumers are wary of the products but in in recent years, the Chinese government has been spending billions on research and promoting GMOs as a means to boost agricultural productivity. President Xi himself called for the domestic cultivation of GMO crops in 2014.
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.
If approved, the varieties would be the first new GMO crops authorized for cultivation in the EU since 1998.
However, as Reuters noted, the votes against authorization did not decisively block their entry to the EU because the opposition did not represent a "qualified majority."
A qualified majority is achieved when at least 16 countries, representing at least 65 percent of the European population, vote in favor or against. (Scroll down for the vote breakdown)
The majority of EU governments also voted against renewing the license for another maize, Monsanto's MON810, the only GMO crop currently grown in the EU. The votes against its renewal was not considered decisive either.
MON810 is banned in 17 EU countries and is grown on less than 1 percent of agricultural land, mainly in Spain and Portugal, according to Friends of the Earth Europe.
The Brussels-based environmental advocacy group says the fates of the three crops now rests with the European Commission and is calling on Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, to reject the new GMO crops.
"Whether he likes it or not, the buck now stops at Jean-Claude Juncker," said Mute Schimpf, food campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe, in a statement. "He can put himself on the side of the majority of countries, citizens and farmers who do not want genetically-modified crops, or he can back the mega-corporations behind the industrialization of our countryside."
Greenpeace EU explained that if the three authorizations are approved, they would only be valid in nine out of 28 EU countries, as well as in three regions (England in the UK, Flanders and the Brussels region in Belgium). The remaining 19 EU countries and regions in the UK and Belgium have used the EU's opt-out mechanism to prevent GMO crops from being grown in their territories.
It's Official: 19 European Countries Say 'No' to GMOs http://t.co/0lnNqPMywx @food_democracy @NonGMOProject— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1444092612.0
Although GMO crops are grown in many parts of the world, the topic is fraught with contention in Europe. While many scientific reviews have concluded that the crops are safe for human consumption and the environment, there are many others that conclude the opposite. Many EU countries have strict laws against GMOs due to public health and environmental concerns. All 28 EU member countries require GMO labeling.
Friends of the Earth Europe has expressed safety concerns of these GMO crops, "especially whether they unintentionally kill butterflies and moths."
"There is no political or public support for genetically-modified crops; farmers don't even want them. It's time for President Juncker to pull the plug on this failed technology once and for all, and to focus on how we make farming resilient to climate change, save family farms and stop the destruction of nature. It's time to close our countryside to genetically-modified crops and move on," Schimpf added.
Time to pull plug on failed #GMO technology once and for all - our reaction to EU vote today… https://t.co/LrVyRhKaro— Friends of the Earth (@Friends of the Earth)1490632017.0
Similarly, Greenpeace EU food policy director Franziska Achterberg commented that the European Commission should back away from supporting "risky" products.
"When he was elected, Commission President Juncker promised more democratic decision-making. This vote leaves no doubt that approving these GMO crops would break that promise," Achterberg said in a statement. "A majority of governments, parliamentarians and Europeans oppose them, and two thirds of European countries ban GMO cultivation on their lands. Instead of backing risky products peddled by multinational corporations, the commission should support ecological farming and the solutions it provides for rural areas, farmers and the environment."
Katherine Paul, associate director of Organic Consumers Association agrees. "President Juncker has an opportunity to do the right thing, by siding with the majority of EU countries that oppose the introduction of these new GMO crops," she told EcoWatch.
"To do anything less, would send EU leaders and citizens the wrong message—that corporations can buy the approval of crops that farmers and citizens don't want, crops that must be grown using chemicals that are toxic to humans and the environment. We hope Mr. Juncker will stand up to corporate pressure, and instead come down in favor of health, safety and organic, regenerative alternatives to chemical agriculture."
Ken Roseboro of the Organic & Non-GMO Report shared the same sentiment. "The European Union has remained steadfast in rejecting GM crops in their member states for nearly 20 years, and these votes reflect that anti-GMO stand," he said. "The European people don't want to eat GM foods, there is not market for them there, and yet the biotech companies continue to try to push their GMOs. Hopefully,Commission President Juncker will side with the wishes of the majority of the European people and reject approval of these GM crops."
Here is Monday's vote breakdown, according to Friends of the Earth Europe:
On renewal of GMO maize MON 810
8 Member States voted in favor, representing 34.45% of the EU population: CZ, EE, ES, NL, RO, FI, SV, UK.
6 Member States abstained, representing 22.26% of the EU population: BE, DE, HR, MT, PT, SK
14 Member states voted to reject, representing 43.29% of the EU population: BG, DK, IE, EL, FR, CY, LV, LU, HU, AT, PL, SL, IT, LT 14
On authorisation of GMO maize 1507
6 Member States voted in favor, representing 30.45% of the EU population: EE, ES, NL, RO, FI, UK
6 Member States abstained, representing 22.28% of the EU population: BE, CZ, DE, HR, MT, SK
16 Member states voted to reject, representing 47.27% of the EU population: BG, DK, IE, EL, FR, CY, LV, LU, HU, AT, PL, SL, SV, IT, LT, PT
On authorisation of GMO maize Bt 11
6 Member States voted in favor, representing 30.45% of the EU population: EE, ES, NL, RO, FI, UK
6 Member States abstained, representing 22.28% of the EU population: BE, CZ, DE, HR, MT, SK
16 Member states voted to reject, representing 47.27% of the EU population: BG, DK, IE, EL, FR, CY, LV, LU, HU, AT, PL, SL, SV, IT, LT, PT 47,27%
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.
13 Academics Who Are Shills for Corporate Giants https://t.co/3ccg4ReKcB #BigOil #BigFood @NRDC @sierraclub @food_democracy @Greenpeace— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1473704917.0
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.
Monsanto Shareholders Approve Bayer Merger to Form World's Largest Seed and Chemical Company https://t.co/2cEeaJjiZt @GMOFreeUSA @GMOTruth— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1481756711.0
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.
Monsanto Shareholders Approve Bayer Merger to Form World's Largest Seed and Chemical Company https://t.co/2cEeaJjiZt @GMOFreeUSA @GMOTruth— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1481756711.0
"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."
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.
Bayer-Monsanto Merger a '5-Alarm Threat to Our Food Supply' https://t.co/LxMGJTi77P @GreenpeaceAustP @globalactplan— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1474707640.0
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.
"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.
This Bumble Bee Is About to Go Extinct! https://t.co/QAfKEfFWIE @BurtsBees @vanishingbees— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1475113512.0
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.
Buzz Kill: How #Pesticide Industry Blocks #Bee Protections Nationwide https://t.co/b8Vy8c5b1v @foe_us @foeeurope @food_tank @nongmoreport— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1466445533.0
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.