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Smallholders Newsletter No 263

Soil Association calls for urgent ban on dangerous pesticides linked to honey bee deaths

29 September 2008

A group of insect-killing sprays known as neonicotinoids [1] that are widely used in UK farming have now been banned in four other European countries because they are thought to be killing bees [2].  Italy has just joined Germany, Slovenia and France in banning the sprays [3]. This week the Italian government issued an immediate suspension of these sprays after they accepted that they are killing bees. The Soil Association has today written to Hilary Benn, the Secretary of State for the Environment, urging him to ban the sprays in the UK with immediate effect [4].

There is worldwide concern at widespread, unexplained and devastating deaths of honey bees over the last two years. Bee keepers have reported potentially catastrophic loss of bees from their hives ranging anywhere from 30-90 percent. Britain’s beekeepers have reported that close to one in three hives have failed to make it through last winter and spring[5]. This "Colony Collapse Disorder" (CCD) is not just a problem for beekeepers and farmers, but for consumers as well, since bee pollination is essential for crop production. The US Department of Agriculture says that one out of every three mouthfuls of food is dependant on bee pollination, and globally up to two-thirds of all major crops rely on pollination, mainly by bees.

The products implicated in bee deaths, clothianidin, imidacloprid, fipronil and thiamethoxam, are approved to kill insects on a wide range of crops in the UK including very widely grown oilseed rape, barley, and sugar beet. They are also cleared for use in ornamental plant and hop production [6]. The use of these chemicals on oilseed rape is of particular concern, as the crop’s yellow flowers are very attractive to honey bees, and the crop has become popular with bee keepers.

Peter Melchett, Soil Association Policy Director said, "It is typical of the lax approach to pesticide regulation in the UK that we look like being one of the last of the major farming countries in the EU to wake up to the threat to our honey bees and ban these nasty sprays.  We want the Government to act today to remove this threat to Britain’s honey bees.  The UK Government is almost alone in the EU in fighting against proposed new, tighter European controls on farm sprays, and in the light of what has happened to honey bees, we are calling on Hilary Benn to back European proposals for tighter controls on farm sprays."

Since their introduction by Bayer CropScience in the USA in 2003, these neonicotinoid sprays have been linked to the devastating loss of millions of honey bees in a number of countries. Germany banned the pesticides after beekeepers in the Baden-Wurttenberg region reported that two thirds of their bees died in May following the application of clothianidin. In 1995 bee keepers in North Dakota took Bayer to court when a third of their bees were killed by imacloprid. In France, a third of the honey bee population was killed after widespread use of imidacloprid[7].

Organic farming relies on a number of techniques to avoid the use of sprays that kill insects, including not growing the same or similar crops every year, and encouraging natural predators of insect pests (like wild birds, ladybirds and lacewings). Under Soil Association organic rules, only four sprays can be used, compared to over 300 available to non-organic farmers.

Notes to editors:

[1] These pesticides are approved for use in the UK and are known by the following names:
clothianidin - Bayer UK 978, Deter, Modesto, Poncho, Poncho 250, Poncho Beta, Raxil Deter, Redigo Deter, (all manufactured by Bayer CropScience)
imidacloprid - Admire, Bayer uk 720, Baytan Secur, Bug free extra, Chinook, Chinook blue, Chinook colourless, Couraze, Gaucho, Imadasect, Intercept, Merit turf, Mido 70%, Neptune, Nuprid, Provado ultimate bug killer, Raxil secur, Tripod plus
fipronil - Regent 1GR, Vi-Nil
thiamethoxam - Actara, Bug attack granules/liquid/quicksticks, Centric, Cruiser sb

[2] Neonicotinoid pesticides are systemic chemicals that work their way through the plant and attack the nervous system of any insect it comes into contact with. The substances also get into the pollen and the nectar and this is how they damage beneficial insects such as bees.

[3] Italy followed Germany and Slovenia which banned sales of clothianidin and imidacloprid in May. In France imidacloprid has been banned for use on sunflowers and in 2003 the use of the spray on sweet corn was also banned. Bayer´s application for clothianidin was rejected by French authorities.

[4] Soil Association letter to Hilary Benn (cut and paste the link below for a pdf of the letter):$FILE/Hilary%20Benn%20letter%2026.09.pdf



[7] Clothianidin and imidacloprid are produced by the German company Bayer CropScience and generated €800 million in profits in 2007. Imidacloprid is Bayer’s best-selling pesticide. In August the German ‘Coalition against Bayer Dangers’ brought a charge against Werner Wenning, chairman of the Bayer Board of Management, for marketing dangerous pesticides and thereby accepting the mass death of bees all over the world. The charge was introduced in cooperation with German beekeepers who lost thousands of hives after poisoning by the pesticide clothianidin in May this year.

Smallholders Newsletter No 264

From: Phil CHandler 

Date: 6 October 2008 

Subject: Bees, pesticides and sugar beet

I recently circulated a warning about possible Imidacloprid contamination in sugar beet, which many beekeepers feed to their bees. Since this has caused some discussion, I thought you may like to hear some facts that I discovered while checking the original story.

1. Imidacloprid is a neonicotinoid pesticide (i.e. similar in chemical structure to nicotine) now routinely used as a seed dressing on sugar beet - for up to two years in the UK, considerably longer in the USA and elsewhere.

2. Imidacloprid is a systemic insecticide, meaning that it permeates every cell of the plant, even if only used as a seed dressing. That means it WILL be present in the sugar, as processing does not affect it.

3. Imidacloprid is a powerful neurotoxin, lethal to bees in doses as small as five parts per billion, and has serious sub-lethal effects - including disorientation - at much lower doses. To put that in context, if you took ONE THOUSAND METRIC TONNES of 1:1 syrup made with beet sugar, and stirred in just ONE TEASPOONFUL of Imidacloprid, you would have a mixture capable of killing bees. Please read that last sentence again and think about it.

4. Imidacloprid is persistent in plant cells and in the soil (half-life in soil under aerobic conditions of up to 997 days), where it kills ALL insects - including beneficial ones - and it accumulates, season on season, until it reaches a 'stable' level, assumed by some authorities to be something like 10 parts per billion. It is also likely to contaminate ground water.

5. The US 'Environmental Protection Agency' has approved permitted levels of Imidacloprid in sugar beet of 0.05 parts per million - that is at least TEN TIMES the lethal dose for bees.

Do you still think it is safe to feed sugar beet syrup to your bees?

And where is the British Bee Keepers Association in all this? Still taking money from Bayer in return for endorsing some of their pesticides (not, so far, including neonicotinoids) as 'Bee Friendly'. Has the BBKA come out with a statement condemning the use of Imidacloprid, or the closely related Clothianidin, which killed nearly half a billion bees in Germany in May this year? Have they ever issued a statement supporting the German and French beekeepers' call for a ban on neonicotinoids? Has the BBKA ever criticised ANY of Bayer's products? All I have seen is a series of half-hearted, limp statements that defend the status quo.

However, please do not imagine that I am 'anti-BBKA'. I want the BBKA to be a strong campaigning body on behalf of bees and beekeepers, not a puppet of Bayer's marketing department. They should be free and independent of all commercial interests and should represent beekeepers, NOT chemical corporations that have no interest in the health of bees, other than the profit they may make from selling medications like Bayvarol (that ultimately make the Varroa problem worse by selecting for pyrethroid-resistant mites).

I urge all UK beekeepers to lobby the BBKA through their local branch to abandon their mute acceptance of 'cash for chemicals' from Bayer, Syngenta or any other company, and to to request that they make a clear statement supporting organic farming, which is the only safe option for bees.

Philip Chandler


1. The facts about Imidacloprid in this message have been checked by a microbiologist. Please read the attached report for more information about neonicotinoids.

2. You can read more about Imidacloprid here:

3. You can read the EPA's document on Imidacloprid here:

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