Another Agribusiness Disaster on the Horizon

There's no reason for concern about the mass death of bees through Colony Collapse Disorder. No reason at all unless you happen to be a plant who relies on pollination or a living being who is planning to sustain life by eating food. If you don't fall into either of those categories, you might want to increase your stock in German agribusiness giant Bayer. They're making a ton of money selling a pesticide called Clothianidin, marketed under the upbeat friendly name "Pancho." ¡Olé! ¡Qué veneno excepcional!

If you're in one of the other categories, and I confess to being in at least one, you have some cause for concern. A document leaked on Wednesday disclosed that the Bush Administration's Environmental Protection Agency approved use of this pesticide in spite of the fact that there was clear scientific evidence that it represented a serious threat to bees. It has been in use since 2003, used broadly to treat corn. Agribusiness conglomerates have blanketed the midwest with corn monoculture over nearly 100 million acres. That's a lot of bee poison.

Clothianidin is in a family of pesticides called "neonicotinoids". This means the pesticide is used to treat seeds. The neonicotinoids are then transferred into the pollen where they kill pests, including the pollenators.

Bayer was granted "conditional registration" by the EPA and given a deadline of December 2004 to complete a study addressing the toxic effects of Clothianidan on bees. This meant they were free to market their product widely and this is exactly what they did. The use of the pesticide became pervasive and began having real world impact in the first growing season of its use.

Bayer applied for and was granted an extended deadline. Sales of Clothianidin continued and increased. When the final study was delivered in 2007, it was a complete joke, a poorly controlled and invalid study by any reasonable standard of scientific method. However, on the basis of this study, the pesticide was given full registration. Pancho continued to poison the bee population at ever-increasing levels.

Enter the Obama administration and a new and better era for the EPA under Lisa Jackson. Two scientists from the EPA Environmental Fate and Effects Division (EFED), Michael Barret and Joseph DeCant, issued a memo, leaked to Colorado Beekeeper Tom Theobald, on November 3, which documented the serious dangers of the pesticide to bee populations, stating:

Clothianidin's major risk concern is to nontarget insects (that is, honey bees).

Clothianidin is a neonicotinoid insecticide that is both persistent and systemic. Acute toxicity studies to honey bees show that clothianidin is highly toxic on both a contact and an oral basis. Although EFED does not conduct... risk assessments on non-target insects, information from standard tests and field studies, as well as incident reports involving other neonicotinoids insecticides (e.g., imidacloprid) suggest the potential for long term toxic risk to honey bees and other beneficial insects.

In spite of this assessment, Clothianidin has retained its registration and is going to be available for the spring planting season in the United States unless the EPA reverses itself. Several European countries have withdrawn registration in response to the weight of scientific evidence of harm to bee colonies.

You can take action on this issue by signing a petition to demand that the EPA withdraw registration for Clothianidin. Expressing your concerns directly to Administrator Lisa Jackson is also important.

We will live with the effects of the Bush Administration's deference to corporate profits over the public good for many generations in many ways. Wherever we have the chance to right one of these wrongs, we need to push the big, clumsy mechanisms of government to grind forward and do the right thing.