Did Bayer (and the EPA) Kill The Honeybees?

A leaked EPA memo is being cited by scientists as smoking gun evidence of likely cause of the massive die-off of honeybees. The culprits, these researchers claim, are Bayer CropScience and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The memo details how Bayer performed facially inadequate testing on the pesticide clothianidin and then EPA accepted the results to release the pesticide without adequate proof that it would not harm the bee population. The EPA gave conditional approval in 2003 and let Bayer sell the product.

The EPA memo dated November 2, 2010 says that the EPA accepted the flawed research and only told the company to complete further safety testing by a certain deadline. The company did not complete the research for years and instead fought to get extensions on its conditional permit. The final testing was reportedly flawed — performed in another country with bees that were located on a small patch of treated crops surrounded by thousands of acres on untreated crops. The EPA quickly embraced the defective study and gave full registration to clothianidin in 2007 during the Bush Administration. Yet, even in the Obama Administration in November, 2010, the EPA did not act when the company filed for another extension.

On a political level, this is a fascinating story since many Republican candidates have been calling for the elimination or reduction of the EPA to help the economy. The loss of the honeybees represents a catastrophic blow for agriculture in the United States. Even if you are a candidate with little concern for public health or the environment, this is an example of how pollution or harmful chemicals hurt the economy.

On a legal level, the story would create an interesting question if true. The company stands accused of doing rigged and delayed field testing in order to get a defective product to market. The result is claimed to be the devastation of honeybees that are vital to farms and other businesses. Can they now sue? The problem will be proving causation in such a massive tort case. Of course, a trial would produce greater scrutiny than was the case at the EPA.

I am also concerned that this memo had to be leaked. Once again, neither the agency nor Congress informed the nation of this evidence for years as the world has searched for a cause of the loss. Even if this is not found to the cause or only cause, there remains questions of why this company was able to introduce such a chemical into the environment with so little scrutiny. The reliance on industry testing has long been controversial and the lack of serious scrutiny during both the Bush and Obama Administrations shows how industry continues to exercise a disturbing degree of control over the data used to evaluate their products.

Source: PR Watch

45 thoughts on “Did Bayer (and the EPA) Kill The Honeybees?

  1. I’m not sure how it would work, but it would be wonderful if there was a way to force government agencies to do their damn jobs. EPA, SEC, FDA, etc.

  2. Paul

    Consider the time period during which this occured. From 2000-2008 we had an ardently anti-government, anti-regulation, pro-business conservative Republican administration in office. We’ve seen how this failed political philosophy lead directly to the oil rig explosion and resultant deaths and environmental disaster in the Gulf. We had dead miners in West Virginia to say nothing of Katrina or the near worldwide financial collapse they engineered in ’08.

    Republicans claim government doesn’t work and every time the get in office they prove it. I cannot for the life of me figure out why anyone who doesn’t head a large corporation or isn’t flat out wealthy would ever consider voting for any Republican ever. Especially now when we have an essentially traditional-style Republican in the White House. They deserve only our contempt, not our votes. .

  3. What the true believer(TM) will tell you is that this is proof that the EPA is just another failed government program preventing the creation of jobs in America. The sun rising in the East every morning is proof of this to those people. Also too – no company would ever sell a product that caused real problems because the market would punish them severely. It has never happened in the past and if it did it was because those businesses were greedy and stupid not like the kinder, gentler, smarter one we have now.

    And I suppose it could be true. Without honeybees we’ll have to hire millions of people to pollinate the crops every year.

  4. Frankly and rcampbell: certainly funding and anti-government Republicans are big parts of the problem. I also see the revolving door with industry as a real problem, as with Obama appointing “Monsanto Mike” Taylor (who, under Clinton got us growth hormones and pus in our milk), to the Food Safety Working Group.

    I think we need to do something about the revolving door problem, and find a way to hold people accountable if they don’t do their jobs.

  5. Paul – yes it is a government wide problem too. Far and way too many of the pirates and thieves from Goldman Sachs run the Treasury Dept & SEC. Too many people with a horse in the race call the shots at DoE, EPA & BoL. This is not just a Republican problem, the Democrats are as guilty. As far as I can tell the only difference is, the Republicans want these places to actively fail while the Dems are willing to let it happen more slowly.
    Obama is well to the right of Poppa Bush & maybe even St. Ronald yet is is a “Democrat” in 2011. The Actual Republicans are a clown car full of fail ensuring that nobody has to care about the well being of this country or the vast majority of its inhabitants now.

  6. Republicans are fond of saying we should run the government like a business – how many businesses do you know that would hire a CEO who wanted the company to fail? How many Boards of Directors would permit the CEO to fill key departments with incompetents and people who actively tried to undermine the work of their departments?

    The only thing sadder is that a majority of the people who can drag their sorry asses to the polls actually fall for this shit and elect people who will ensure the failure of those who voted for them.

  7. Just a remark: that clothianidin is very likely to contribute to, if not outright cause, the mass death of honey bees wasn’t even some closely guarded secret that had to be leaked by the U.S. government.
    The first study that showed that was IIRC the one in 2003 by the Comité Scientifique et Technique, and there had been numerous more since then.

    Clothianidin has therefore quite a doubious record of appropriate authorities in a lot of jurisdictions refusing or revoking certification.
    I think the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation was one of these several years ago.

  8. This is precisely the sort of tortious activity that ought to result in a civil death penalty for a corporation through the imposition of punitive damages.

  9. Mike Appleton:

    exactly. If this can be proven their seems to be a very large class action suit percolating.

    And this is my point, the civil courts should be the ones doing the controlling. If Bayer goes out of business due to a huge class action law suit, the ramifications will be considerably more far reaching than if they are fined by the EPA. Big business will think twice about putting something on the market that hasnt been properly vetted when one of the available remedies is extinction.

    Government allows faulty products to make it to market because of opportunity costs. The fines are so low the company can take a decision to accept the 20,000,000 dollar fine if the profits are 300,000,000 dollars.

    Personally, I hope Bayer is used as an example of how the civil courts are the proper place for “regulation”. Government has distorted many aspects of our economy.

  10. Roco,
    Are those the same civil courts that are packed with ultra conservative jurists during the Bush Administration? The same courts that the Right won’t allow progressive judges to be approved for because of record setting filibusters and secret holds?

  11. The primary article is alternet is really worthwhile and answers many questions left unanswered in the PR Watch synopsis.


    And while I both favor corporate death penalties, and fully funding FDA, it’s not clear to me after reading the alternet story that in this case we also don’t need an FDA house cleaning.

    It’s not at all clear to me that poor funding of the FDA had much to do with this. I do suspect that Bush was involved in politicization of the agency, and I do suspect there are some revolving door aspects as well. But mainly, alternet provides no evidence and no reason to think EPA’s problems here were the result of insufficient funding.

    So fund, but don’t think funding is either necessary or sufficient to prevent this sort of agency malfeasance.

    There is some more information here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imidacloprid_effects_on_bee_population

  12. A quick look at the Wikipedia page for Clothianidin starts off with something interesting…

    Don’t just beat up on Bayer, the product was co-developed with Takeda! Why does the name “Takeda” sound familiar? Because of their partnership with Abbot – TAP Pharma, which faced criminal charges and earned a nearly $1 Billion fine.

  13. michaelb – whom would you suggest to protect us from the power of greed and fraud? The corporations have no reason to. In an ideal world corporations would make a profit, government would constrain them from selling dangerous or faulty products and voters would constrain government from getting out of hand.

    The problem we are currently experiencing comes from corporations controlling the government. They have done this through a combination of using their vastly superior wealth to fund candidates that they then own and running slick PR campaigns that have convinced a sizable minority of voters that all will be well if only corporations have their way with us and government is their only enemy. They have been very successful at this.

    Examples: They convinced people that tobacco was not deadly, then that it was not addictive and then that it was not their fault and who could have known? It worked well enough that they kept the government at bay for over 50 years despite the overwhelming evidence. They are doing the same thing now with climate change & it is working so well that we are watching the predicted disasters happen right in front of us and they still deny it. They are doing it with deregulation and tax cuts – the economy performed better with higher tax rates and did not have the calamitous boom and bust cycles when there were better regulations. Yet today the ill-informed (who according to one recent study spend a grand total of 5 minutes thinking about their Presidential choices) still believe the only thing stopping us to high taxes and over regulation. Tax rates are lower than they were in 1950 for Christ sake.

    Corporations without control is oligarchy but these new Masters Of the Universe have devised a way to combine the force of government with their power for a truly frightening future.

  14. rafflaw:

    I would hope judges would not be partisan and follow the rules. However based on history that is a good deal to ask.

  15. Gene, I would go Mike A. one better. Revoke the corporate charter of the corporation and auction off it’s assets.

    In a kind of fashion, that is what the government did to AT&T by forcing it to spin off and separate from its divisions. Kind of hard on the employees due to rampant anxiety, but better for the country and consumers in the long run.

  16. I think you seize the assets of the C level execs to start with – every one of them during the time this was going on – every goddam dime. My guess is after doing that a time or two these clowns would start “knowing” what is happening on their watch. “Claw back” is the term used in fraud recovery I believe.

    I love how CEOs defend their obscene income because they are responsible for everything that goes on at the company. Then when they get caught (see: Enron, Worldcom WaMu and . . . well, just about everyone else) they suddenly had no idea that such things could be happening.

  17. Frankly said, “Republicans are fond of saying we should run the government like a business – how many businesses do you know that would hire a CEO who wanted the company to fail? How many Boards of Directors would permit the CEO to fill key departments with incompetents and people who actively tried to undermine the work of their departments?

    “The only thing sadder is that a majority of the people who can drag their sorry asses to the polls actually fall for this shit and elect people who will ensure the failure of those who voted for them.”

    Excuse my shouting, but WELL SAID!

  18. An imagined summation of Roco’s views:

    We don’t need no stinking environmental protection messing up corporate profits. Pollution is as good as Greed!

  19. Mike – don’t you know that corporations will never misbehave because the market would punish them? Oh, sure, there may be a few bad apples once in a while but over all no company would ever do anything that might hurt them in the long run. We had thousands of example of this corporate morality and altruism right up until those eeeevil Roosevelts (both T & F) stuck the governments heavy hand upon them. And once St. Ronnie and his acolytes undid so much that damage no corporation has done a single short-sighted thing to inflate their profits but cause damage in the long run.

  20. We all know a little of (Mathematical) Induction: if the case is true for ONE (Non-Trivial) case, and for a second case, then it is always true.

    The EPA proved time and again that it incapable to be a faithful steward of our Health.

    By the same Induction Law, Mr. Obama, as the Supervisor of the EPA, is a serial failure!

    We all need heavenly help !

  21. The honey bee die-off started long before that, reference episodes of The X-Files from the early/mid-1990s that often discussed it as part of their storyline. The 2003 pesticide is about 10 years too late.

  22. I agree with previous posters that if we are going to consider a corporation a “person” then the death sentance should apply. Guilty? Then you are done, if you have a problem with it, appeal to the Georgia Pardons and Parole Board, I am sure they will be open to a reversal. One other note, ALL AMERICANS need to review what is going on with Tort Reform. Ultra-conservative elected and appointed federal judges are greatly limiting the ability of real people to sue virtual, corporate people. Fight this creeping injustice before it is too late to challenge!!!!

  23. This is journalism at its worst. Don’t be fooled by this dork.
    Before you all start getting too worked up and political about this and start blaming Bayer or the EPA, I suggest that you read in its ENTIRETY the fine wiki article
    If you read the wiki article you will see how complex this problem is, and any faith you have that an EPA memo has somehow established that the cause of bee deaths is clothianidin will be destroyed. Turley’s worthless article doesn’t provide any solid info about anything.
    He states “A leaked EPA memo is being cited by scientists as smoking gun evidence of [the] likely cause of the massive die-off of honeybees”. Which “scientists” (no quotes, please!)? Those who always believed in a pesticide connection? Those scientists whose studies point to a virus, Virroa mites or a fungus as the cause have now been suddenly converted by an EPA memo? Is Turley claiming that there is suddenly a consensus among scientists (which is what he seems to want you to believe)? Poppycock! What if Bayer didn’t do an adequate study? This magically establishes cause and effect?
    This is pseudo-scientific crapola!

  24. The bees are being poisoned by the use of neonicotinoids like clothianidin which is 7000 times more toxic to bees then DDT. Made by Bayer and Syngenta sponsored by the EPA and defended by Croplife America. A temporary ban will prove that this is the cause that’s what they are afraid of.

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