Syngenta, Bayer Insecticides Said to Threaten Bee Health

Syngenta AG and Bayer AG insecticides that are applied to Monsanto Co. crop seeds are a threat to bee health, the European Food Safety Authority said.

Insecticides known as neonicotinoids pose a “high acute risk” to honey bees through the nectar and pollen of some treated crops and through drifting dust, the agency said in a study released today. Sap exuded from corn plants treated with Syngenta’s Cruiser insecticide also has an “acute effect on honey bees,” the EFSA said.

The population of honeybees, which pollinate 130 different crops, has fallen in recent years partially because of Colony Collapse Disorder, an unexplained syndrome. A United Nations report in March said honeybee-colony deaths worldwide may be the result of reasons as varied as a decline in flowering plant species to insecticides.

Syngenta said in an e-mailed statement that the assessment was “hurried and inadequate.” Neonicotinoids can be used safely, Bayer said in a statement.

Monsanto continually evaluates ways to reduce “dust-off” from treated seeds and recommends farmers be careful not to plant when winds can carry the chemical into adjacent fields of flowering crops, Kelly J. Clauss, a spokeswoman, said in an e-mail. DuPont Co., which also applies neonicotinoids to crop seeds it sells, is evaluating the research, Jane Slusark, a spokeswoman, said in an e-mail.

Weak Bees

Neonicotinoids are a class of insecticides that kill bugs by attacking the central nervous system. Recent studies suggest exposure to neonicotinoids at sub-lethal doses can harm bee health and bee colonies, the EFSA said. More study is needed to fill in data gaps, the authority said.

Low-level exposure to neonicotinoids weaken bees and make them more likely to succumb to a pathogen such as the parasitic Varroa mite and associated viruses, Dennis vanEngelsdorp, a research scientist at the University of Maryland, said today.

“The whole bee situation is clearly not one factor alone,” vanEngelsdorp said by phone.

Fungicides, habitat loss and climate change may also contribute to bee declines, he said. More field trials are needed before bans on neonicotinoids are enacted, he said.

The EFSA’s finding is a blow to Basel, Switzerland-based Syngenta as it deals with increasingly costly regulatory compliance to get its crop sprays approved in Europe.

The insecticide Cruiser, which was released in 1997 and is used to protect crops from corn to cotton against insects such as beetles and centipedes, contains a neonicotinoid, according to Syngenta, the world’s largest agrochemical company.

“We will deploy all means at our disposal to defend the use of this product,” Syngenta Chief Operating Officer John Atkin said in its statement.

Without neonicotinoids, as much as 17 billion euros ($22.6 billion) of economic value may be lost across Europe over five years, Atkins said. A ban would threaten 50,000 jobs directly and could impact 1 million people working in agriculture, he said.