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It's the Little Things

December 16, 2010 – The EPA was largely rendered a toothless tiger during the Bush II administration. The damages wrought while Dracula guarded the blood bank (a very nice metaphor, with thanks to Jane Fonda) will become known to us over time. In fact, one such damage has recently been found out. As luck would have it, there’s at least one person with a conscience employed at the Environmental “Protection” Agency. That person took it upon him-or herself to leak evidentiary documents to Colorado beekeeper Tom Theobald, implicating the EPA-approved pesticide Clothianidin in the development of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).

Beekeeping isn’t a business most people pay a great deal of attention to, so let’s get brought up-to-date. American beekeepers have noticed for some time now that their hives were sickly. Various causes for the worsening situation have been explored, then rejected. As bee colonies began their wholesale implosion in 2006, the name Colony Collapse Disorder was deemed sufficiently descriptive, and adopted. What were the symptoms of CCD? The primary symptom is the sudden absence of millions of worker bees.

Enter Clothianidin. Developed by Bayer Laboratories, Clothianidin is widely used as a pesticide on corn, soy, sugar beets, and canola. Though the EPA was aware of the risks associated with the use of Clothianidin, they allowed “conditional” approval of the pesticide in 2003, contingent upon the successful completion of a field study. A few months later, although the field study was not yet complete, EPA permitted the use of Clothianidin. (It is at this point that we should all be raising our eyebrows and asking, “Why would that be?”) Because EPA still wanted to know the results of a field study, Bayer asked not only for an extension period in order to conduct the field study, they asked that the study design be changed. You’ll never guess what the changes were.

Bayer wanted to perform the study in Canada, instead of the United States. Bayer also wanted the focus of the study to be on canola, instead of corn. Did anyone bother to ask Bayer why they wanted these changes made? Not so far as I can tell. But isn’t it interesting that Bayer, a German company, is not permitted to sell Clothianidin in Germany? Nor can it sell Clothianidin in France, Italy, or Slovenia. I find that terribly interesting.

Scientists deemed the field study deeply flawed. EPA disagreed, and granted the pesticide its full approval. (At the same time, it refused to release the study to the public, only doing so after suit was brought by the Natural Resources Defense Council under the Freedom of Information Act.) The EPA’s full approval caused Bayer to then seek approval to use Clothianidin on cotton and mustard. This proved to be sufficient motivation for the EPA’s Environmental Fate and Effects Division to express their skepticism regarding Clothianidin:

“Clothianidin’s major risk concern is to non-target insects
(that is, honeybees). Acute toxicity studies to honeybees
show that clothianidin is highly toxic on both a contact and
an oral basis. Information from standard tests and field
studies, as well as incident reports involving other neonicotinoids
insecticides suggest the potential for long term toxic risk to
honeybees and other beneficial insects.”

How do we know this? Because this quote is taken from the documents leaked to
Tom Theobald.

What can you do to protest the unethical behavior of the EPA? Contact Donald Brady, Division Director of Environmental Fate and Effects. He can be emailed at brady.donald@epa.gov. Honeybees fertilize $15 billion worth of American crops. CCD accounts for the disappearance of one-third of our honeybees. It’s time to take action.

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