by F. William Engdahl
July 1, 2012
Birds and bees are something most of us take for granted as part of
The expression “teaching about the birds and the bees” to
explain the process of human reproduction to young people is not an
accidental expression. Bees and birds contribute to the essence of
life on our planet.
A study by the US Department of Agriculture
“…perhaps one-third of our total diet is dependent,
directly or indirectly, upon insect-pollinated plants.” 1
The honey bee, Apis mellifera, is the most important pollinator of
Honey bees pollinate over 70 out of 100 crops
that in turn provide 90% of the world's food. They pollinate most
fruits and vegetables - including apples, oranges, strawberries,
onions and carrots.2
But while managed honey bee populations have
increased over the last 50 years, bee colony populations have
decreased significantly in many European and North American nations.
Simultaneously, crops that are dependent on insects for pollination
The phenomenon has received the curious designation
of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), implying it could be caused by
any number of factors. Serious recent scientific studies however
point to a major cause: use of new highly toxic systemic pesticides
in agriculture since about 2004.
If governments in the EU, USA and other countries fail to impose a
total ban on certain chemical insecticides, not only could bees
become a thing of the past.
The human species could face staggering
new challenges merely to survive. The immediate threat comes from
the widespread proliferation of commercial insecticides containing
the highly-toxic chemical with the improbable name, neonicotinoids.
Neonicotinoids are a group of insecticides chemically similar to
nicotine. They act on the central nervous system of insects. But
also on bees and small song birds. Recent evidence suggests they
could also affect human brain development in newborn.
Some five to six years back, reports began to circulate from around
the world, especially out of the United States, and then
increasingly from around the EU, especially in the UK, that entire
bee colonies were disappearing.
Since 2004 over a million beehives
have died across the United States and beekeepers in 25 states
report what is called Colony Collapse Disorder. In winter of 2009 an
estimated one fifth of bee hives in the UK were lost, double the
natural rate.3 Government authorities claimed it was a mystery.
And in the USA a fact sheet from the Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) on Bayer AG’s Clothianidin, a widely used neonicotinoid,
“Available data indicate that clothianidin on corn and canola should
result in minimal acute toxic risk to birds. However, assessments
show that exposure to treated seeds through ingestion may result in
chronic toxic risk to non-endangered and endangered small birds
(e.g., songbirds) and acute/chronic toxicity risk to non-endangered
and endangered mammals.” 4
Alarming UK results
A private UK research organization, Buglife and the Soil
Association, undertook tests to try to determine cause of the bee
They found that the decline was caused in part by a group of
pesticides called neonicotinoids.5 Neonicotinoids are “systemic”
chemicals that kill insects by getting into the cell of the plant.
In Britain it’s widely used for crops like oilseed rape and for
production of potted plants.
The neonicotinoids are found in the UK in products including
Chinook, used on oilseed rape and Bayer UK 720, used in the
production of potted plants which then ends up in gardens and homes
around the country. The new study examined in detail the most
comprehensive array of peer-reviewed research into possible
long-term effects of neonicotinoid use.
Their conclusion was that neonicotinoid pesticides damage the health and life cycle of bees
over the long term by affecting the nervous system.
“Neonicotinoids may be a significant factor contributing to
current bee declines and could also contribute to declines in other
non-target invertebrate species." 6
The organization called for a
total ban on pesticides containing any neonicotinoids.
The president of the UK Soil Association, Peter Melchett, told the
press that pesticides were causing a continued decline in
pollinating insects, risking a multimillion pound farming industry.
“The UK is notorious for taking the most relaxed approach to
pesticide safety in the EU; Buglife’s report shows that this puts at
risk pollination services vital for UK agriculture,” he said. 7
Indeed in March 2012 Sir Robert Watson, Chief Scientist at the
British Government’s Department of Environment announced that his
government was reconsidering its allowance of neonicotinoid use in
Watson told a British newspaper,
“We will absolutely look at
the University of Stirling work, the French work, and the American
work that came out a couple of months ago. We must look at this in
real detail to see whether or not the current British position is
correct or is incorrect. I want this all reassessed, very, very
To date no policy change has ensued however. Given the
seriousness of the scientific studies and of the claims of danger, a
prudent policy would have been to provisionally suspend further use
of neonicotinoids pending further research.
No such luck...
In the United States the government agency responsible for approving
or banning chemicals deemed dangerous to the environment is the
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
In 2003, over the clear
warnings of its own scientists, the EPA licensed a neonicotinoid
called Clothianidin, patented by the German Bayer AG together with a
Japanese company, Takeda. It is sold under the brand name Poncho.
was immediately used on over 88 million acres of US corn in the 2004
crop and since that time, the shocking death of more than one
million beehives across the corn prairies of the Midwest has been
The political appointees at EPA at the time allowed Bayer to receive
a license for Poncho despite the official judgment of EPA scientists
that Clothianidin was “highly toxic to bees by contact and oral
exposure” and that is was “highly mobile in soil and groundwater -
very likely to migrate into streams, ponds and other fields, where
it would be absorbed by wildflowers” - and go on to kill more bees
and non-target insects like butterflies and bumblebees.
from a leaked EPA memo dated September 28, 2005 summarizes the
Environmental Fate and Effects Division’s Environmental Risk
Assessment for Clothianidin, which it said,
“will remain toxic to
bees for days after a spray application. In honey bees, the effects
of this toxic exposure may include lethal and/or sub-lethal effects
in the larvae and reproductive effects to the queen.” 10
The EPA scientists judged it to be many times more toxic than
Bayer’s other nicotinoid, Imidacloprid, sold under the brand name
Gaucho, which itself is,
"7,000 times more toxic to bees than DDT.” 11
DDT was banned in the USA in 1972 after numerous studies proved its
toxic effects on both animals and humans.
Then in January of this year another US Government agency, the US
Department of Agriculture, published a significant new report from
scientists under the direction of Jeffrey Pettis of the USDA Bee
Research Laboratory. The study, published in the German scientific
journal, Naturwissenschaften, was explosive.
The Pettis study concluded after careful control experiments with
bees exposed and not exposed to neonicotinoids clearly demonstrated
that there was,
“an interaction between sub-lethal exposure to imidacloprid
(Bayer’s Gaucho - w.e.) at the colony level and the spore
production in individual bees of honey bee gut parasite Nosema.”
Moreover, the study went on,
“Our results suggest that the current
methods used to evaluate the potential negative effect of pesticides
This is not the first study to note a complex and
unexpected interaction between low pesticide exposure and pathogen
loads…We suggest new pesticide testing standards be devised that
incorporate increased pathogen susceptibility into the test
Lastly, we believe that subtle interactions between
pesticides and pathogens, such as demonstrated here, could be a
major contributor to increased mortality of honey bee colonies
Renowned Dutch toxicologist, Dr. Henk Tennekes reported that, unlike
claims from Bayer and other neonicotinoid manufacturers, bees living
near maize fields sprayed with the toxic pesticides are exposed to
the neonicotinoids throughout the entire growing season, and the
toxin is cumulative.
“Bees are exposed to these
compounds and several other agricultural pesticides in several ways
throughout the foraging period.
During spring, extremely high levels
of clothianidin and thiamethoxam were found in planter exhaust
material produced during the planting of treated maize seed.
found neonicotinoids in the soil of each field we sampled, including
unplanted fields.” 13
Effect on Human Brain?
But most alarming of all is the evidence that exposure to
neonicotinides hahs horrific possible effects on humans as well as
on birds and bees.
Professor Henk Tennekes describes the effects:
"Today the major illnesses confronting children in the United States
include a number of psychosocial and behavioral conditions.
Neurodevelopmental disorders, including learning disabilities,
dyslexia, mental retardation, attention deficit disorder, and autism
- occurrence is more prevalent than previously thought, affecting 5
percent to 10 percent of the 4 million children born in the United
Beyond childhood, incidence rates of chronic
neurodegenerative diseases of adult life such as Parkinson’s disease
and dementia have increased markedly. These trends raise the
possibility that exposures in early life act as triggers of later
illness, perhaps by reducing the numbers of cells in essential
regions of the brain to below the level needed to maintain function
in the face of advancing age.
Prenatal and childhood exposures to
pesticides have emerged as a significant risk factor explaining
impacts on brain structure and health that can increase the risk of
neurological disease later in life." 14
There is also growing evidence suggesting persistent exposure to
plants sprayed with neonicotinoids could be responsible for damage
to the human brain, including the recent sharp rise in incidents of
autism in children.
Tennekes, referring to recent studies of the effects of various
exposures of neonicotinoids to rats, noted,
“Accumulating evidence suggests that chronic exposure to nicotine
causes many adverse effects on the normal development of a child.
Perinatal exposure to nicotine is a known risk factor for sudden
infant death syndrome, low-birth-weight infants, and attention
deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Therefore, the neonicotinoids may
adversely affect human health, especially the developing brain.”
Referring to studies recently published in the magazine, Science,
Brian Moench noted:
The brain of insects is the intended target of these insecticides.
They disrupt the bees homing behavior and their ability to return to
the hive, kind of like “bee autism.” But insects are different than
humans, right? Human and insect nerve cells share the same basic
biologic infrastructure. Chemicals that interrupt electrical
impulses in insect nerves will do the same to humans.
But humans are
much bigger than insects and the doses to humans are miniscule,
During critical first trimester development a human is no bigger
than an insect so there is every reason to believe that pesticides
could wreak havoc with the developing brain of a human embryo. But
human embryos aren’t out in corn fields being sprayed with
insecticides, are they?
A recent study showed that every human
tested had the world’s best-selling pesticide, Roundup, detectable
in their urine at concentrations between five and twenty times the
level considered safe for drinking water.16
The most alarming part of the neonicotinoid story is that
governments and the EU to date are content to take little or no
precautionary steps to stop even suspected contamination from
neonicotinoids pending through long-term tests that would determine
finally if they are as dangerous as considerable and growing
scientific evidence says.
Bayer AG and neonicotinoids
In early 2011 the UN Environment Program (UNEP) published a report
on bee mortalities around the world. Bayer neonicotinoids, Poncho
and Gaucho, are listed there as a threat to numerous animals.
According to the UN report,
"Systemic insecticides such as those
used as seed coatings, which migrate from the roots through the
entire plant, all the way to the flowers, can potentially cause
toxic chronic exposure to non-target pollinators.
revealed the high toxicity of chemicals such as Imidacloprid,
Clothianidin, Thiamethoxam and associated ingredients for animals
such as cats, fish, rats, rabbits, birds and earthworms.
studies have shown that such chemicals can cause losses of sense of
direction, impair memory and brain metabolism, and cause mortality."
Yet Bayer AG shows no signs of voluntarily stopping production and
distribution of its toxic neonicotinoids.
The German pharmaceutical giant counts among its historic
achievements one it prefers today to forget - the first synthesis of
something it marketed as cough medicine in 1898 under the trade
name, Heroin, taken from the “heroic” feeling it gave to Bayer
workers on whom it was tested. 18
According to the German citizen
watchdog group, Coalition against BAYER Dangers, Gaucho and Poncho
have been among BAYER's top-selling pesticides:
“In 2010, Gaucho
sales were valued at US$ 820 million while Poncho sales were valued
at US$ 260 million. Gaucho ranked first among BAYER's best-selling
pesticide, while Poncho ranked seventh. It is striking that in the
2011 Annual Report no sales figures for Gaucho and Poncho are
Ban in many EU Countries
Unlike the United States, several EU countries have banned use of
neonicotinoids, refusing to accept test and safety reports from the
chemical manufacturers as adequate.
One case in point was in Germany
where the Julius Kühn-Institut - Bundesforschungsinstitut für
Kulturpflanzen (JKI) in Quedlinburg a state-run crop research
institute, collected samples of dead honeybees and determined that
clothianidin caused the deaths.
Bayer CropScience blamed defective seed corn batches. The company
gave an unconvincing counter claim that the coating came off as the
seeds were sown, which allowed unusually high amounts of toxic dust
to spread to adjacent areas where bees collected pollen and nectar.
The attorney for a coalition of groups filing the suit, Harro
"We're suspecting that Bayer submitted flawed
studies to play down the risks of pesticide residues in treated
plants. Bayer's... management has to be called to account, since
the risks ... have now been known for more than 10 years." 20
Significantly, in Bayer’s home country, Germany, the German
government has banned Bayer’s neonicotinoids since 2009.
Italy have imposed similar bans. In Italy, the government found that
with the ban, bee populations returned in number, leading to an
upholding of the ban despite strong chemical industry pressure.21
Despite the alarming evidence of links between neonicotinoids and
bee colony collapse disorder, as well as possible impacts on human
foetal cells and brains, the reaction so far in the European Union
Commission has been scandalously slow. Brussels has been so weak in
responding that the Office of EU Ombudsman has initiated an
investigation into why.
European Union Ombudsman Nikiforos Diamandou
said he had opened an investigation after a complaint from the
Austrian Ombudsman Board, who said the European Commission had
failed to take account of the new evidence on the role of
neonicotinoids in bee mortality.
"In its view, the Commission should
take new scientific evidence into account and take appropriate
measures, such as reviewing the authorisation of relevant
substances," said a statement from the EU Ombudsman's office.
The ombudsman has asked the Commission to submit an opinion in the
investigation by June 30, after which it will issue a report.
Recommendations by the ombudsman are non-binding.
The Commission in
response has said it has asked the European Food Safety Agency
(EFSA) to carry out a full review of all neonicotinoid insecticides
by April 30 and that it would take appropriate measures based on the
Giving EFSA final say on food safety for Europe’s consumers and
insects is tantamount to asking the foxes to guard the hen house
today. EFSA is heavily influenced by members with conflicts of
interest and dubious ties to the same agribusiness interests
represented by Bayer AG and other agriculture chemical
Bayer is one of six global companies tied to development of patented
GMO seeds and related chemicals, controlling inputs into the entire
food chain. As a tightly inter-linked group, Monsanto, Dow, BASF,
Bayer, Syngenta and DuPont control the global seed, pesticide and
agricultural biotechnology markets. This concentration of power over
world agriculture is unprecedented.
As one observer noted, it
enables them to,
“control the agricultural research agenda; dictate
trade agreements and agricultural policies; position their
technologies as the ‘science-based’ solution to increase crop
yields, feed the hungry and save the planet; escape democratic and
regulatory controls; subvert competitive markets.” 24
Dutch toxicologist Tennekes and Alex Lu, associate professor of
environmental exposure biology at Harvard’s Department of
Environmental Health are among a growing number of scientists around
the world calling for an immediate and global ban on the use of the
new neonicotinoid pesticides.25
Professor Lu calls for a very simple
"I would suggest removing all neonicotinoids from use globally
for a period of five to six years. If the bee population is going
back up during the after the ban, I think we will have the answer."
That should be more than food for thought in Washington, Brussels
1 S.E. McGregor, Insect pollination of cultivated crop plants, 1976,
USDA Agriculture. Handbook 496, p. 1
2 Coalition against BAYER Dangers (Germany), Countermotion to
shareholder meeting: BAYER Pesticides causing bee decline, Press
Release, April 11, 2012.
3Louise Gray, Beekeepers lose one fifth of hives, 24 August, 2009,
The Telegraph, accessed in
4 Anon., Clothianidin a Neonicotinoid Pesticide Highly Toxic to
Honeybees and other pollinators, March 20, 2007, accessed in
8 Michael McCarthy, Government to reconsider nerve agent pesticides,
The Independent, 31 March 2012, accessed in
9 Henk Tennekes, They’ve turned the Environment into the Experiment
and WE are all the experimental Subjects, January 19, 2011, accessed
12 Jeffrey S. Pettis, et al, Pesticide exposure in honey bees
results in increased levels of the gut pathogen Nosema,
Naturwissenschaften-The Science of Nature, 13 January, 2012,
13 Henk Tennekes, Honey Bees Living Near Maize Fields Are Exposed To
Neonicotinoids Throughout The Growing Season, January 5, 2012,
accessed in http://www.farmlandbirds.net/en/taxonomy/term/3.
14 Henk Tennekes, Prenatal exposures to pesticides may increase the
risk of neurological disease later in life, March 20, 2012, accessed
15 Henk Tennekes, The neonicotinoids may adversely affect human
health, especially the developing brain, March 20, 2012, accessed in
16 Brian Moench, Autism and Disappearing Bees A Common Denominator?,
April 2, 2012, Common Dreams, accessed in
17 Coalition against BAYER Dangers (Germany), op cit.
18 Richard Askwith, How aspirin turned hero: A hundred years ago
Heinrich Dreser made a fortune from the discovery of heroin and
aspirin, Sunday Times, 13 September 1998, accessed in
19 Coalition against BAYER Dangers (Germany), op cit.
20 ENS, German Coalition Sues Bayer Over Pesticide Honey Bee Deaths,
August 25, 2008, accessed in
21 Roberta Cruger, Nicotine Bees Population Restored With
Neonicotinoids Ban, May 15, 2010, accessed in
22 Henk Tennekes, EU response to bee death pesticide link
questioned, April 24, 2012, accessed in
23 Olivier Hoedeman, Corporate Europe Observatory, Open letter
regarding conflicts of interest EFSA’s.
Management board , Brussels, March 4, 2011, accessed in
24 Andrew Olsen, Chemical Cartel, Chemical Cartel, June 28, 2010;
see also, F. William Engdahl, Saat der Zerstörung: Der Dunkele Seite
25 Henk Tennekes, Imidacloprid and Colony Collapse Disorder -
Scientists Call for Global Ban on Bee-Killing Pesticides, April 5,
2012, accessed in http://www.farmlandbirds.net/en/taxonomy/term/3.