Bayer, Syngenta Feel Heat as U.K. Grocers Review Insecticides

Bayer AG (BAYN) and Syngenta AG (SYNN) face more pressure over crop chemicals suspected in bee-deaths as retailers including J Sainsbury Plc (SBRY), the U.K.’s third largest supermarket chain, said they’re looking into the matter.

“At present we have not banned the use of neonicotinoids in plant protection products but we are monitoring the situation very closely,” a Sainsbury’s spokesman said yesterday by e- mail. Retailer Marks & Spencer Group Plc (MKS) is reviewing its position on the pesticides and will announce an update in about a month, a spokesperson said yesterday. Tesco Plc (TSCO), the U.K.’s biggest grocer, will be guided by government advice, a spokesperson said.

Grocery chain Waitrose Ltd. said April 12 it will phase out three Bayer and Syngenta neonicotinoid pesticides from its supply chain by the end of 2014. The Co-Operative Group Ltd., a U.K. retailer and one of the country’s largest farmers, banned the use of neonicotinoids in own-brand fresh produce in 2009.

Further supermarket bans would hurt Bayer and Syngenta as they seek to prevent a European Union-wide ban on some uses of the insecticides, which are chemically related to nicotine. The EU commission, the EU’s executive arm, proposed in January to suspend use of three neonicotinoids on sunflowers, rapeseed, corn and cotton because of risks to honey-bee health.

Varroa Destructor

Waitrose’s planned phase-out and the EU’s proposal cover Bayer’s imidacloprid and clothianidin, and Syngenta’s thiamethoxam. The pesticides, which work on the central nervous- system of insects, pose a “high acute risk” to bees through the nectar and pollen of some treated crops and through drifting dust, the European Food Safety Authority wrote in a Jan. 16 report.

EU country experts failed to agree last month on either approving or rejecting the suggested two-year ban. An appeal committee is expected to meet by the end of the month, probably April 29, to discuss the proposed ban, Frederic Vincent, a spokesman for the European Commission, said in an e-mailed reply to questions.

European sales of the Cruiser seed treatment, for which thiamethoxam is the active ingredient, are less than 1 percent of Syngenta’s total global revenue, Paul Barrett, a company spokesman, said in January.

Leverkusen, Germany-based Bayer and Basel, Switzerland- based Syngenta outlined a plan last month to improve bee health in the EU and head off a ban. Syngenta has said falling bee populations have nothing to do with chemicals, instead placing blame on parasitic varroa destructor mites, which transmit diseases including the deformed-wing virus.

Syngenta’s Barrett said Waitrose’s phase-out ignores “hard evidence from the field” and “proposes nothing to address the real causes of the decline in bee health.” Bayer was “disappointed” by Waitrose’s decision, spokesman Julian Little said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Winters in Zurich at pwinters3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Simon Thiel at sthiel1@bloomberg.net

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