Permanent PeoplesĀ“ Tribunal 2011

3.- 6. December: Permanent PeoplesĀ“ Tribunal at Bangalore/India

Bayer's top-selling pesticides continue to cause bee deaths worldwide

23 November 2011 -- The worrisome deaths of bee populations worldwide is likely to continue as the German agrochemical company Bayer remains unrestricted in its manufacture and sale of neonicotinoid pesticides.

Bayer's accountability in the phenomenon known as the Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is among the cases to be heard at the Permanent People's Tribunal (PPT) Session on Agrochemical Transnational Corporations (TNCs), a landmark international opinion tribunal that will try the six largest agrochemical TNCs for various human rights violations, to be held from December 3 to 6, 2011.

"Bee deaths are a global problem, so it is crucial to discuss this issue and to find solutions on an international level. It is encouraging that the PPT as a global initiative is addressing this problem, which is both an environmental and an economic threat," said Philipp Mimkes, spokesperson of the Coalition Against Bayer Dangers, a Germany-based public interest group.

Mimkes revealed that imidacloprid (product name Gaucho) and clothianidin (product name Poncho) remain Bayer's top-selling pesticides, despite the fact that this class of pesticides, known as neonicotinoids, is strongly linked to CCD.

In 2010, Gaucho sales were valued at US$ 820 million while Poncho sales were valued at US$ 260 million. Gaucho ranks first among Bayer's best-selling pesticide, while Poncho ranks seventh. "This is the reason why Bayer, despite the serious environmental damage they cause, is fighting tooth and nail against any application prohibition of neonicotinoids," said Mimkes.

In Europe, many dangerous uses of neonicotinoids have been banned. Germany, Italy, France and Slovenia have stopped the use of Gaucho and Poncho as a seed dressing for corn, their most important application. However, the use of these pesticides is unrestricted in many countries, including the U.S. where one-third of the bee population has died every year since 2006.

Honeybees pollinate over 70 out of 100 crops that provide 90% of the world's food. They pollinate most fruits and vegetables-including apples, oranges, strawberries, onions and carrots. The declining bee population thus has potentially serious impacts on food security and livelihood of farmers. It can also affect the range of food crops that can be grown and consequently the nutritional value and variety of our food supply.

Decline of bee populations
CCD is used to described the drastic decline of bee populations across the world, which started in the mid-1990s. This was also the same period when neonicotinoids were introduced in the market. In 1994, honeybee populations started dying in France, and later in Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Poland, England, Slovenia, Greece, Belgium, Canada, U.S., Brazil, Japan, and India.

Neonicotinoids are a class of pesticides that are chemically related to nicotine. They are taken up by a plant's vascular system and released through pollen, nectar and water droplets from which bees then forage and drink.

While CCD is likely caused by a combination of many factors including the stresses of industrial beekeeping and loss of habitat, many scientists believe that exposure to pesticides is a critical factor. Neonicotinoids are of particular concern because they have cumulative, sublethal effects on bees and other insect pollinators. These effects include neurobehavioral and immune system disruptions that correspond to CCD symptoms.

CCD has severe impacts on the livelihoods of beekeepers around the globe. In the U.S., where beekeeping industry is valued at US$ 15 billion, losses due to CCD are estimated to be from 29 to 36 percent per year.

In 1991, Bayer began producing imidacloprid, which is now one of the most widely used insecticides for field and horticultural crops, especially maize, sunflower, and rape. In 1999, however, France banned imidacloprid as a seed dressing for sunflowers, after a third of French honeybees died following its widespread use. Five years later, it was also banned as a corn treatment.

Bayer then produced clothianidin, a successor to imidacloprid. This was brought into the American market in 2003, and the German market in 2006. Clothianidin is also a neonicotinoid and highly toxic to honeybees.

A recent United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report described the Bayer pesticides clothianidin and imidacloprid as a risk to numerous animals. It revealed that these chemicals potentially cause toxic chronic exposure to non-target pollinators, as well as animals such as cats, fish, rats, rabbits, birds and earthworms. "Laboratory studies have shown that such chemicals can cause loss of sense of direction, impair memory and brain metabolism, and cause mortality," the UNEP report said.

Due to their high level of persistence, neonicotinoids can remain in the soil for several years. Thus, even untreated crops planted in fields where the pesticides were previously used can take up the toxins from the soil via their roots.

In 2008 in Baden-Wuerttemberg, Southern Germany, two thirds of the honeybee population along the Rhine River died when dust from the clothianidin seed treatment on corn drifted onto neighbouring fields as the corn was been sown. This resulted in an average loss of 17,000 Euros for affected beekepers. Tests on the dead bees showed that 99 percent had a build-up of clothianidin. Butterflies and other useful insects disappeared at the same.

Aggressive push to stop neonicotinoids
Mimkes' group has been campaigning against neonicotinoids since 1997, when the hazards of neonicotinoids were more or less unknown to the broader public. He said that it is about time that Bayer is aggressively pushed to stop the manufacture and sale of these pesticides, and is made accountable for the economic loss and environmental damage brought by their products.

"The most important development is that today there are thousands of reports, articles and studies around the world about the correlation of exposure to pesticides such as imidacloprid and clothianidin, and the widespread decline of bees. Beekeepers and environmental groups in many countries have become active, and have pressed governments and authorities to protect bees," he said.

Environmental and beekeeping associations worldwide have gathered 1.2 million signatures to demand that clothianidin be removed from the market, which were presented to Bayer's Chief Executive Officer during a shareholder's meeting. The signature campaign was prompted by the public leak of an internal memo from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which confirms the risk that the pesticide poses to bees and describes Bayer safety studies to be inadequate.

The EPA in 2003 provided "conditional registration" to clothianidin, pending Bayer's conduct of a chronic life cycle study on its effect on bees. Bayer asked for more time to finish its research, during which period it extensively sold the product. Bayer finally submitted its study in 2007, which the EPA declared as "scientifically sound" and used as a basis for the continued registration of clothianidin.

But the leaked EPA memo revealed that EPA granted Bayer permission to conduct its study on canola, instead of corn-a crucial distinction, since canola is a minor crop compared to corn. Furthermore, the studies were conducted on test fields that were too small and close together. With bees foraging in a range of up to six miles, it thus seemed most likely that the test bees dined outside of the test fields, the memo further said.

The upcoming PPT Session on Agrochemical TNCs will include in its indictment governments and institutions that in several instances colluded with agrochemical TNCs in violations of the right to life, health, and livelihood, among other basic human rights.

According to Mimkes, "Previous PPTs have helped to put pressure on companies, so we hope that it brings additional momentum for the campaign to stop the mass death of bees."

The PPT has its historical roots in the tribunals on the Vietnam War and Latin American dictatorships. In the more recent era of corporate globalisation, PPTs have tackled and exposed TNCs which operate above national laws and can commit human rights violations with impunity.

The PPT Session on Agrochemical TNCs is the first to target Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer, Dow Chemical, DuPont, and BASF or the six companies currently in control of the world's food and agricultural system