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The use of neonicotinoid Clothianidin by farmers may pose a long-term toxic risk to bees, say scientists

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Leaked document exposes risks to bees and insects from Bayer pesticide

Tom Levitt

3rd January, 2010

US government scientists flag up risks to bees and aquatic insects from neonicotinoid pesticide that biotech giant Bayer are trying to gain approval for use by farmers

Biotech giant Bayer CropScience is seeking approval for a neonicotinoid pesticide whose use poses a potential 'long-term toxic risk' to honeybees and an 'acute and chronic risk' to freshwater invertebrates, according to a leaked document from the US Environment Protection Agency (EPA).

Neonicotinoid pesticides are a comparatively new group of synthetic chemicals used as a coating for agricultural seeds and in pot plants. The chemicals spread throughout the plant and into the nectar and pollen to kill insects attacking the plant. Bayer are seeking approval from the EPA to allow the use of the neonicotinoid Clothianidin, an insecticide, on cotton and mustard seeds.

Campaign groups including the Soil Association and Buglife claim the use of neonicotinoids on crops expose insects to levels of the chemical that is enough to weaken their immune system and in the case of bees, affect their ability to forage and breed.

'At the levels people were recording in the field when then applied to bees in a laboratory it had a significant impact on there behaviour,' said Buglife CEO Matt Shardlow. 'It's not the same as killing them but enough to stop them foraging and so they will die out.'

Although not recommending a ban, EPA scientists said existing Bayer-funded field studies on the impact on aquatic life, from the leaching of the chemical into the soil, and honey bees were inadaquate. They cited an incident in Germany in 2008 where clothianidin, not properly applied to sweetcorn seeds, was allowed to drift off from seed planting equipment killing millions of honeybees.

Bayer reject EPA and campaigners fears and say only those insects biting into the plant and trying to destroy it would be adversely affect. 'Bees drink the nector and pollen but the levels they are exposed to are extremely tiny and well within safety limits,' said spokesperson Dr Julian Little. Aquatic life would also be unaffected, he said, as only a small amount of the chemical could come off the surface of the seed once it had been applied and therefore the amount of leaching would be minimal.

A number of campaign groups, including Pesticide Action Network (PAN) and Buglife said they would now be putting renewed pressure on government agencies in the US and Europe to ban neonicotinoids in 2011. 'The tide is turning against these chemicals but the decision-makers appear reluctant to step in,' said Shardlow.

Useful links

Full leaked EPA document

Buglife report on the impact of neonicotinoid insecticides on bees

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