October 11, 2010
from PreventDisease Website
Few ecological disasters have been as confounding as the massive and devastating die-off of the world's honeybees.
The phenomenon of Colony Collapse
- in which disoriented honeybees die far from their hives - has kept
scientists, beekeepers, and regulators desperately seeking the
cause. After all, the honeybee, nature's ultimate utility player,
pollinates a third of all the food we eat and contributes an
estimated $15 billion in annual agriculture revenue to the U.S.
For years, their leading manufacturer, Bayer Crop Science, a subsidiary of the German pharmaceutical giant Bayer AG, has tangled with regulators and fended off lawsuits from angry beekeepers who allege that the pesticides have disoriented and ultimately killed their bees.
The company has countered that, when
used correctly, the pesticides pose little risk.
The study, written in collaboration with Army scientists at the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center outside Baltimore, analyzed the proteins of afflicted bees using a new Army software system.
The Bayer pesticides, however,
In recent years Bromenshenk has received a significant research grant from Bayer to study bee pollination. Indeed, before receiving the Bayer funding, Bromenshenk was lined up on the opposite side: He had signed on to serve as an expert witness for beekeepers who brought a class-action lawsuit against Bayer in 2003.
He then dropped out and received the
Two years ago Bromenshenk acknowledged
as much to me when I was reporting on the possible neonicotinoid/CCD
connection for Conde Nast Portfolio magazine, which folded
before I completed my reporting.
Bromenshenk vociferously denies that receiving funding from Bayer (to study bee pollination of onions) had anything to do with his decision to withdraw from the plaintiff's side in the litigation against Bayer.
A Bayer publicist reached last night
said she was not authorized to comment on the topic but was trying
to reach an official company spokesperson.
At least one scientist questions the new study.
Dr. James Frazier, professor of entomology at Penn State University, who is currently researching the sub-lethal impact of pesticides on bees, said that while Bromenshenk's study generated some useful data, Bromenshenk has a conflict of interest as CEO of a company developing scanners to diagnose bee diseases.
He adds that his own research has shown that pesticides affect bees,
In other words, pesticides could weaken
the bees - and then the virus/fungus combination finishes them off.
That notion, however, is not explored in the new study.
The USDA's chief researcher, Jeff
Pettis, told me in 2008 that pesticides were definitely "on the
list" as a primary stressor that could make bees more vulnerable to
other factors, like pests and bacteria.
Other countries, including Italy, have
banned certain neonicotinoids.
Charles and the other North Dakota beekeepers hired Bromenshenk as an expert witness.
Bayer did not dispute that Imidacloprid
was found among the bees and their hives. The company simply argued
that the amount had not been enough to kill them.
He theorized that after foraging in
planted fields where the seeds had been treated with Imidacloprid,
the bees then brought the pesticide back to the hive, where it built
up in the wax combs.
Bromenshenk insists the two actions were unrelated.
In June 2008 a district court judge in
Pennsylvania defanged the beekeepers' lawsuit by siding with Bayer
to exclude Mayer's testimony and the initial test results from a
laboratory in Jacksonville, Fla., that had found significant amounts
of Imidacloprid in the honeybee samples.
When I interviewed Bromenshenk that year, he said that increasing frustration with the accusations against Bayer, which he described as a "runaway train," led him to contact the company in an effort to create a dialogue between Bayer and the beekeepers. Because of his efforts, in November 2008, Bayer scientists sat down in Lake Tahoe, Nev., with a small group of American beekeepers to establish a dialogue.
The issues discussed were "trust and transparency," Bromenshenk told me.
Generally beekeepers and scientists have been highly critical of the design of Bayer's studies and deeply suspicious over who is or isn't on Bayer's payroll. After the meeting, Bayer tentatively agreed to appoint a beekeeper advisory board to help redesign studies so that beekeepers could trust the results.
But many beekeepers see the advisory board and grant money as a ruse on Bayer's part to silence its enemies by holding them close.
Bromenshenk's study acknowledges that the research does not,
It also notes uncertainty as to how, exactly, the combination kills the bees, and whether other factors like weather and bee digestion play a role.
Scientists like Sass at NRDC believe the mystery is far from resolved: