Chemical giants Bayer and Syngenta commissioned private studies which showed that their neonicotinoid pesticides can cause serious harm to bees, a Greenpeace investigation has uncovered.
The revelations come with the UK set to decide its own policy on pesticide use once it leaves the EU. The UK lobbied against the current EU ban when it was introduced.
The company research – designed with regulators to reveal the level at which their products harm bees – was obtained through freedom of information (FOI) requests to the US environmental regulator.
Publicly the two firms have often sought to play down suggestions that their products can cause harm to honey bees.
However, the studies will cause little surprise in industry circles. Industry and scientists have long known that the products can harm bees at certain levels.
Instead the research has been criticised by experts because it assumes a very narrow definition of harm to bee health and ignores wild bees which evidence suggests are more likely to be harmed by neonicotinoids.
It means the studies may substantially underestimate the impact of the two firm’s products on pollinators.
Due to commercial confidentiality rules, Energydesk is not allowed to release the studies in full.
The latest revelations have sparked calls for greater transparency from the industry and regulators to publish data on the impact of pesticides on pollinators used to make – or lobby for – regulatory decisions.
Responding to Greenpeace, Syngenta said it’s study was due to be published in a journal – though the company did not give details. Bayer said the study would be discussed at an upcoming conference.
Both firms claimed that whilst the studies did show a risk to honeybees from their products this would only apply at higher concentrations than normally seen in agriculture.
Each study focused exclusively on honeybees, though recent research has shown that the chemicals have a negative impact on wild bees.
Matt Shardlow, chief executive of the charity Buglife, told the Guardian:
“These studies may not show an impact on honeybee health [at low levels], but then the studies are not realistic. The bees were not exposed to the neonics that we know are in planting dust, water drunk by bees and wildflowers, wherever neonics are used as seed treatments. This secret evidence highlights the profound weakness of regulatory tests.”
Responding to the news the US EPA said federal law required that companies carry out research themselves:
“Sections 3 and 4 of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), the primary federal law governing the regulation of pesticides, make clear that EPA must require the submission of studies from pesticide applicants and registrants to support registration, registration review, and re-registration decisions.
Congress placed this obligation on the pesticide registrant rather than requiring taxpayers to fund such data.”
The newly uncovered studies examined the impact...