[News] The Pesticide Industry’s Playbook for Poisoning the Earth

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Sat Jan 18 12:18:20 EST 2020

Pesticide Industry’s Playbook for Poisoning the Earth
Lee Fang - January 18 2020

[image: I]*n September 2009,* over 3,000 bee enthusiasts from around the
world descended on the city of Montpellier in southern France for Apimondia
— a festive beekeeper conference filled with scientific lectures, hobbyist
demonstrations, and commercial beekeepers hawking honey. But that year, a
cloud loomed over the event: bee colonies across the globe were collapsing,
and billions of bees were dying.

Bee declines have been observed throughout recorded history, but the
sudden, persistent and abnormally high annual hive losses had gotten so bad
that the U.S. Department of Agriculture had commissioned two of the world’s
most well-known entomologists — Dennis vanEngelsdorp, a chief apiary
inspector in Pennsylvania, then studying at Penn State University, and
Jeffrey Pettis, then working as a government scientist — to study the
mysterious decline. They posited that there must be an underlying factor
weakening bees’ immune systems.

At Le Corum, a conference center and opera house, the pair discussed their
findings. They had fed bees with extremely small amounts of neonicotinoids,
or neonics, the most commonly used class of insecticides in the world.
Neonics are, of course, meant to kill insects, but they are marketed as
safe for insects that aren’t being directly targeted. VanEngelsdorp and
Pettis found that even at nonlethal doses, the bees in the trial became
much more vulnerable to fungal infection. Bees carrying an infection will
often fly off to die, a virtuous form of suicide designed to protect the
larger hive from contagion.

“We exposed whole colonies to very low levels of neonicotinoids in this
case, and then challenged bees from those colonies with* Nosema*, a
pathogen, a gut pathogen,” said Pettis, speaking to filmmaker Mark Daniels
in his documentary <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iNvXDAkRzUw>, “The
Strange Disappearance of the Bees,” at Apimondia. “And we saw an increase,
even if we fed the pesticide at very low levels — an increase in *Nosema*
levels — in direct response to the low-level feeding of neonicotinoids.”

The dosages of the pesticide were so miniscule, said vanEngelsdorp, that it
was “below the limit of detection.” The only reason they knew the bees had
consumed the neonicotinoids, he added, was “because we exposed them.”

Bee health depends on a variety of synergistic factors, the scientists were
careful to note. But in this study, Pettis said, they were able to isolate
“one pesticide and one pathogen and we clearly see the interaction.”

The evidence was mounting. Shortly after vanEngelsdorp and Pettis revealed
their findings, a number of French researchers produced
<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2847190/> a nearly identical
study, feeding minute amounts of the same pesticide to bees, along with a
control group. The study produced results that echoed what the Americans
had found.

Drifting clouds of neonicotinoid dust from planting operations caused a
series of massive bee die-offs in northern Italy and the Baden-Württemberg
region of Germany. Studies have shown neonicotinoids impaired bees’ ability
to navigate <https://jeb.biologists.org/content/218/18/2821> and forage
<https://jeb.biologists.org/content/216/10/1799> for food, weakened bee
colonies, and made them prone
<https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-44207-1> to infestation by
parasitic mites.

In 2013, the European Union called for a temporary suspension of the most
commonly used neonicotinoid-based products on flowering plants, citing the
danger posed to bees — an effort that resulted in a permanent ban in 2018.

In the U.S., however, industry dug in, seeking not only to discredit the
research but to cast pesticide companies as a solution to the problem.
Lobbying documents and emails, many of which were obtained through open
records requests, show a sophisticated effort over the last decade by the
pesticide industry to obstruct any effort to restrict the use of
neonicotinoids. Bayer and Syngenta, the largest manufacturers of neonics,
and Monsanto, one of the leading producers of seeds pretreated with
neonics, cultivated ties with prominent academics, including vanEngelsdorp,
and other scientists who had once called for a greater focus on the threat
posed by pesticides.

[image: Automobiles pass Syngenta AG's headquarters at dawn in Basel,
Switzerland, on Feb. 4, 2015. Syngenta, the world's largest maker of crop
protection chemicals, forecast stable earnings this year as the benefits of
a cost-cutting program offset unfavorable currency shifts. Photographer:
Philipp Schmidli/Bloomberg via Getty Images]

Syngenta AG’s headquarters in Basel, Switzerland, on Feb. 4, 2015.

Photo: Philipp Schmidli/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The companies also sought influence with beekeepers and regulators, and
went to great lengths to shape public opinion. Pesticide firms launched new
coalitions and seeded foundations with cash to focus on nonpesticide
factors in pollinator decline.

“Position the industry as an active promoter of bee health, and advance
best management practices which emphasize bee safety,” noted an internal
memo from CropLife America, the lobby group for the largest pesticide
companies in America, including Bayer and Syngenta. The ultimate goal of
the bee health project, the document noted, was to ensure that member
companies maintained market access for neonic products and other systemic

The planning memo, helmed in part by Syngenta regulatory official John
Abbott, charts a variety of strategies for advancing the pesticide
industry’s interests, such as, “Challenge EPA on the size and breadth of
the pollinator testing program.” CropLife America officials were also
tapped to “proactively shape the conversation in the new media realm with
respect to pollinators” and “minimize negative association of crop
protection products with effects on pollinators.” The document
dated June 2014, calls for “outreach to university researchers who could be
independent validators.”

The pesticide companies have used a variety of strategies to shift the
public discourse.

“America’s Heartland,” a PBS series shown on affiliates throughout the
country and underwritten by CropLife America, portrayed the pollinator
declines as a mystery. One segment
<https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iwceNkOXClI> from early 2013 on the crisis
made no mention of pesticides, with the host simply declaring that “experts
aren’t sure why” bees and butterflies were disappearing.

Another segment, released in January 2015, quickly mentions pesticides as
one of many possible factors for honeybee deaths. A representative of the
“North American Bee Care Program,” Becky Langer, appeared on the program
<https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UeO5horngm8> to discuss the “exotic pests
that can affect the bees.” The program does not mention Langer’s position
<https://www.linkedin.com/in/rebecca-langer-curry> as a spokesperson for
Bayer focused on managing fallout from the bee controversy.

Michael Sanford, a spokesperson for PBS KVIE, which produces “America’s
Heartland,” wrote in an email to The Intercept that “consistent with strict
PBS editorial standards and our own,” sponsors of the show provided no
editorial input.

Bayer’s advocacy, designed to position the firm as a leader in protecting
bee health, included a roadshow
<https://www.prweb.com/releases/2014/02/prweb11590719.htm> around the
country, in which Bayer officials handed out oversized ceremonial checks
to local beekeepers and students. The firm hosts splashy websites
<https://beecare.bayer.com/home> touting its leadership in promoting bee
health and sponsors a number of beekeeping associations.

Meanwhile, Bayer has financed a series of online advertisements
<https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IIk0-aanjUY&feature=youtu.be> that depict
individuals who fear that its pesticide products harm nontarget insects as
deranged conspiracy theorists.

Honeybees have captured almost all the attention for the dangers of
neonics, but they are hardly the only species in decline because of the

Other forms of influence have been far more covert.

Communications staff with CropLife America compiled
a list of terms to shape on search engine results, including
“neonicotinoid,” “pollinators,” and “neonics.” One of the consulting firms
tapped to coordinate the industry effort, Paradigm Communications, a
subsidiary of the public relations giant Porter Novelli, helped lead the
effort to shift how the industry was portrayed in search engine results.

A slide prepared by Paradigm Communications showcases efforts to decouple
<https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/6574490-Anthony-LaFauce.html> Google
search results for bee decline with neonic pesticides.

The greatest public relations coup has been the effort to reframe the
debate around bee decline to focus only on the threat of Varroa mites, a
parasite native to Asia that began spreading to the U.S. in the 1980s. The
mite is known to rapidly infest bee hives and carry a range of infectious

CropLife America, among other groups backed by pesticide companies, has
financed research and advocacy around the mite — an effort designed to
muddy the conversation around pesticide use. Meanwhile, research suggests
the issues are interrelated; neonics make bees far more susceptible to mite
infestations and attendant diseases.

Bayer even constructed a sculpture of the Varroa mite at its “Bee Care
Center” in North Carolina and at its research center in Germany, hyping its
role as the primary force fueling the decline of pollinators.

[image: FILE -- A model of honeybee with a varroa mite on its back at
Bayer's Bee Care Center in Monheim am Rhein, Germany, Nov. 19, 2013.
Scientists and biotechnology companies are developing a way to kill
insects, like the mite, which is believed to be partly responsible for the
mass die-offs of honeybees, by disabling their genes. (Joanna
Nottebrock/The New York Times) -- EDITORIAL USE ONLY]

A model of honeybee with a Varroa mite on its back at Bayer’s Bee Care
Center in Monheim am Rhein, Germany, on Nov. 19, 2013.

Photo: Joanna Nottebrock/The New York Times via Redux

The stunningly successful campaign has kept most neonic products in wide
circulation in commercial agriculture as well as in home gardens. The
result is a world awash in neonics — and massive profits for companies such
as Syngenta and Bayer, which now counts Monsanto as a subsidiary.

Millions of pounds of the chemical are applied to 140 commercial crops
every year. In the U.S., nearly all field-planted corn and two-thirds of
soybean use neonic-coated seeds. The chemical is found in soil samples from
coast to coast, in waterways and in drinking water. Neonics, which are
water soluble, have been detected in the American River in California, the
River Waveney in England, tap water in Iowa City, and hundreds of other
streams and rivers across the world. In Brazil last year, after President
Jair Bolsonaro’s government approved dozens of new pesticides, the use of
neonics caused the death of more than 500 million bees
<https://www.bbc.com/news/newsbeat-49406369> across the country.

In August, a study publishing in peer-reviewed journal PLOS One found that
the American landscape has become 48 times more toxic to insects
since the 1990s, a shift largely fueled by the rising application of

Honeybees have captured almost all the attention for the dangers of
neonics, but they are hardly the only species in decline because of the
chemical. Studies have tied neonics to the disappearance of native bees
<https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-40031-9>, butterflies
<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31480499>, mayflies
<https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11356-014-3471-x>, dragonflies
amphipods <https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11356-014-3471-x>,
and a range of waterborne insects
<https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11356-014-3471-x>, as well as
earthworms <https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11356-014-3471-x>
and other insect invertebrates. Several species of bumblebees
<https://science.sciencemag.org/content/362/6415/683> in the U.S. and
Europe are approaching extinction, a die-off researchers
<https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/08/170814121057.htm> say is
tied to the use of neonics and other pesticides.

In September, a study released in the academic journal Science revealed
<https://science.sciencemag.org/content/365/6458/1177> that migrating
songbirds suffered immediate weight loss following the consumption of only
one or two seeds treated with neonics. Previous research
had linked disappearing insect life to dwindling food sources for birds in
the Netherlands, but the Science study provided the evidence that bird
species were directly affected by the chemical.

Another groundbreaking study published in Nature’s Scientific Reports showed
<https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-40994-9> that neonics are
likely causing serious birth defects in white-tailed deer, the first time
research has shown that the chemical compound could endanger large mammals.

“Bees are the canary in the cornfield,” said Lisa Archer, from Friends of
the Earth. “The science linking pesticides to the extinction crisis has

Scientists are only now taking a closer look at the potential impact of
neonics on humans and other mammals.

“Bees are the canary in the cornfield,” said Lisa Archer, the food and
agriculture program director at Friends of the Earth. “The science linking
pesticides to the extinction crisis has grown.”

Dave Goulson, a professor of biology at the University of Sussex, told The
Intercept, “I think perhaps we are reaching a tipping point where people
finally begin to appreciate the importance of insects, the scale of their
decline, and that blitzing the landscape with pesticides is not sustainable
or desirable.”

Bayer and Syngenta reject any claim that their neonic products are harming
the environment.

“Neonicotinoid products are critically important tools for farmers, and are
approved for use in more than 100 countries due to their strong safety
profile when used according to label,” said Susan Luke, a spokesperson for
Bayer Crop Science North America, in a statement to The Intercept. “This is
why Bayer continues to strongly support their continued safe use, even
though the manufacture of neonic products is not a major part of our

“Research claims that have been made questioning neonic safety all share
common flaws, such as exposure levels that far exceed real-world scenarios,
and the flawed idea that exposure to substances in the environment
necessarily means harm,” adds Luke. “It does not, otherwise no one would go
swimming in chlorine or drink caffeinated coffee.”

“Since neonicotinoids were introduced in the 1990s, honey bee colonies have
been increasing in the United States, Europe, Canada and indeed around the
world,” Chris Tutino, a spokesperson for Syngenta, claimed in a statement
to The Intercept. He added that “most scientists and bee experts agree that
bee health is affected by multiple factors, including parasites, diseases,
habitat and nutrition, weather and hive management practices.”

Tutino, in his email, noted that the neonic compound thiamethoxam, used in
popular Syngenta products such as Cruiser and Dividend, had undergone
“extensive tests evaluating effects on pollinators,” and provided links to
five studies, all of which were produced by Syngenta consultants or

Neither company responded directly to questions about the role of neonic
products in fueling declines of butterflies, dragonflies, and other insect
species beyond bee populations. Both companies highlighted company funding
for honeybee health research.

The chemical industry’s comments were disputed by Willa Childress, an
organizer with Pesticide Action Network North America.

While it’s true, Childress noted, that managed honeybee hive populations
are growing, that is because of the commercial value of honeybees in
pollinating a vast array of American agriculture. Beekeepers on average now
lose around 40-50 percent of hives every year, well up from historical
averages of 10 percent. Many commercial beekeepers are forced to constantly
divide hives and buy queens to maintain hive populations, with many relying
on government subsidies to scrape by.

“So no, honeybees aren’t doing ‘better than ever,’” said Childress. “And
the scientists do agree that multiple interacting factors are driving
pollinator decline, including, as chemical companies neglect to mention,
pesticide use.”

“Honeybees will not go extinct in our lifetimes,” noted Childress. But, she
added, “data on native bees and wild pollinators is far more ‘apocalyptic’
than even the most concerning reports on honey bee losses. Unprecedented
numbers of wild pollinators are facing extinction — and we have very
limited data on a number of other pollinators that are at risk.”

[image: N]*ot long ago,* action in the U.S. to restrict neonics seemed

The pressure began to build in 2010 after Tom Theobald, a beekeeper in
Boulder, Colorado, obtained an internal Environmental Protection Agency
report showing that the agency’s own scientists had sharply criticized the
research used to permit the sale of one of the most popular lines of neonic

In 2003, Bayer had secured the temporary right to use clothianidin, a
neonic used widely for corn and canola, from the EPA — under the condition
that the company conduct a “chronic life cycle study” showing how use of
the neonic would affect honeybees by the end of the following year.

The Bayer-funded study, led by Cynthia Scott-Dupree, an environmental
sciences professor at the University of Guelph in Ontario, placed hives in
clothianidin-treated fields of canola and hives in untreated fields of
canola. The tests found little variation between the two sets of hives, but
researchers later pointed out that the hives in the study were placed only
968 feet apart from one another. Honeybees forage for pollen up to six
miles from their hives.

Scott-Dupree was later appointed the “Bayer CropScience Chair in
Sustainable Pest Management” at the University of Guelph. Regulators in
Canada and at the EPA used the study to clear clothianidin for
unconditional use. Internally, however, EPA scientists expressed concerns.

The memo
written by two EPA scientists, noted that the previous Bayer-funded study
failed baseline guidelines for pesticide research and warned that
clothianidin posed a “major risk concern” to “nontarget insects (that is,
honey bees).”

A dizzying array of research began pointing to problems with neonics.
Despite claims that the compound represents a form of precision
agriculture, a growing body of research shows that the chemical strays far
from targeted
often traveling with the wind during planting operations, remaining in the
soil for long periods of time, leaching into waterways, and causing acute
problems for a wide variety of insect and animal life.

In 2014, Rep. Earl Blumenauer, a Democrat from Oregon, introduced
to compel the EPA to take steps to suspend the pesticides. That year, in
response to growing controversies around bee decline and the demands for
greater accountability over loosely regulated pesticide use, President
Barack Obama issued an executive memorandum
calling attention to the “significant loss of pollinators, including honey
bees, native bees, birds, bats, and butterflies.”

Activists picketed the White House demanding action. Beekeepers and
environmentalist groups filed lawsuits challenging the registration status
of major neonic products, claiming that EPA had violated its own protocols
when licensing products from Bayer and Syngenta. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service announced a decision
to phase out neonics in wildlife refuge areas in the Pacific region.

Around the country, legislators in states across the country proposed bills
to restrict neonics. In Minnesota, a bill was signed into law to prevent
nurseries from marketing plants as pollinator-friendly if they had been
treated with neonics.

For a while, the movement seemed to be gaining traction, which some hoped
would lead the U.S. to mirror the EU in moving to regulate the widely used

In the end, little changed. The settlements related to the lawsuits removed
small-market neonics. The private-public partnerships that grew out of the
Obama memorandum lacked any enforcement mechanism to restrict neonic use in
agriculture. President Donald Trump rescinded
<https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-45068650> the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service rule. Minnesota legislators quickly
repealed the labeling requirement a year after it was passed.

After a hearing in which he pointed to pesticides, Jeffrey Pettis told the
Washington Post that he was criticized him for failing to follow “the

In almost every other state, with the exception of Vermont, Connecticut,
and Maryland, lobbyists from the pesticide and agribusiness
industry successfully killed any significant restriction on neonic
products. The scientific community, once focused on studying the impact of
pesticides, became splintered, with many of the leading voices going to
work for industry or industry-backed nonprofits.

Critics of neonics were quickly sidelined. In April 2014, the House
Agriculture Subcommittee on Horticulture, Research, Biotechnology, and
Foreign Agriculture — then chaired by Rep. Austin Scott, a Georgia
Republican — convened a hearing to discuss the pollinator crisis. The event
featured David Fischer, a Bayer official, and Jeff Stone, lobbyist for
commercial nurseries. Both men used the hearing to warn against any
restrictions on neonics in response to bee decline. The third, Dan
Cummings, a representative of the Almond Board, a trade group for almond
growers, focused on the threat of the Varroa mite.

A fourth witness, the Department of Agriculture researcher Jeffrey Pettis —
the scientist who had collaborated with vanEngelsdorp — noted
that unlike traditional pesticides, neonics are found in pollen, increasing
exposure to bees. Under questioning from Scott, the committee chair, Pettis
reiterated that even without mites, bees would still be in decline, and
pesticides raise concern “to a new level.”

After the hearing, Pettis told
the Washington Post that he spoke privately with Scott, who criticized him
for failing to follow “the script.”

CropLife America, notably, celebrated the hearing performance for its heavy
focus on nonpesticide-related factors for bee decline. “One thing that we
hope was made clear during the hearing was the crop protection industry’s
commitment to addressing this issue,” Jay Vroom, then the president of
CropLife America, said in a statement

Campaign finance records show that CropLife America, just weeks after the
hearing, gave $3,500
to Scott, who then sponsored
legislation to solve the bee crisis through exemptions to expedite the
approval of pesticides used to control the Varroa mite.

And two months after the hearing, according to the Post, Pettis was
demoted, losing his role managing the USDA bee lab in Beltsville, Maryland.
Pettis later left the government and now serves as president of Apimondia.

[image: BROOKINGS,SD-JAN 11: Entomologist Jonathan Lundgren is a USDA
scientist who is struggling to get out his research that may provide some
answers to the dwindling honey bee population. (Photo by Michael S.
Williamson/The Washington Post via Getty Images)]

[image: BROOKINGS,SD-JAN 11: Entomologist Jonathan Lundgren is a USDA
scientist who is struggling to get out his research that may provide some
answers to the dwindling honey bee population. (Photo by Michael S.
Williamson/The Washington Post via Getty Images)]

Entomologist Jonathan Lundgren, who is researching answers for what might
be causing the dwindling honeybee population, on Jan. 9, 2016.Photos:
Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post/Getty Images

The Post also details the story of a prominent USDA scientist, Jonathan
Lundgren, who researched the dangers posed by neonics to pollinators and
spoke publicly about the issue. In 2015, Lundgren suddenly faced
suspensions and an internal government investigation over misconduct, a
push he believes was motivated by industry for his role in speaking out on

“I guess I started asking the wrong questions, pursuing risk assessments of
neonicotinoids on a lot of different field crop seeds used throughout the
U.S. and how they were affecting non-target species like pollinators,”
Lundgren told The Intercept.

The USDA did not respond to The Intercept’s request for comment. It told
the Post that the suspensions had nothing to do with his research. They
were for “conduct unbecoming a federal employee” and “violating travel

Lundgren now runs Blue Dasher Farm in South Dakota, a research effort to
develop ways to rotate diverse sets of crops as a way to increase yields
and suppress pests naturally. There are few institutions, he noted, where
researchers can pursue science independent of industry influence.
“Universities have become dependent on extramural funds, entire programs
are bankrolled by these pesticide companies, chemical companies,” he added.

The regulatory system in the U.S. assumes chemical products are generally
safe until proven hazardous.

“Generally, we see the U.S. waiting longer than the EU to take action on a
variety of pesticides and other chemicals,” said Childress, the organizer
with Pesticide Action Network North America. Part of the divergence,
Childress continued, stems from a regulatory system in the U.S. that
assumes chemical products are generally safe until proven hazardous. In
contrast, the EU tends to use the “precautionary principle,” removing
products that may cause harm, and requiring proof of safety before allowing
them to return to market.

Another major factor, Childress noted, is the widespread corporate capture
of American regulatory institutions. The EPA, for instance, employs 11
former lobbyists
— including its administrator, Andrew Wheeler, who previously worked for coal
interests in opposition to climate regulations
— in
senior positions.

The pesticide industry also maintains a long history of underhanded methods
to discredit its critics.

Monsanto deployed aggressive tactics to punish critics of Roundup, the most
widely used herbicide in the world and the company’s marquee product over
the last several decades. Emails released through ongoing litigation in
California last year showed that the firm used its lobbyists to orchestrate
a campaign
<https://theintercept.com/2019/08/23/monsanto-republicans-cancer-research/> in
Congress to criticize and defund scientists with the World Health
Organization’s cancer research affiliate, after that body had declared that
glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, is a “probable carcinogen.”
Many of the documents detailing Monsanto’s role in shaping the public
discourse around glyphosate were released during the course of class-action
lawsuits filed by cancer victims who blame the company for their illnesses.

Syngenta became infamous after its tactics against University of
California, Berkeley Professor Tyrone Hayes were reported. Hayes’s research
showed that the company’s signature herbicide, atrazine, appeared to
disrupt the sexual development of frogs.

The company dispatched
people to follow and record Hayes at public speaking events, commissioned a
psychological profile of the professor, and worked with a variety of
writers to smear Hayes as “non-credible” and a liability to academics who
considered working with him. The effort to sideline Hayes and his research,
which included
coordination with industry-friendly academics, was revealed in a series of
court documents that were disclosed over litigation involving claims that
Syngenta had polluted local water sources with atrazine.

In the two lawsuits against Syngenta and Monsanto, subpoenaed documents
revealed that both Syngenta and Monsanto maintain a list of “third party
including free market think tanks and scientists
the industry could turn to for messaging support.

Many of the think tanks and individuals included in the roster now play a
prominent role in the neonic debate. The American Council on Health and
Science, which has relied
on corporate funding from Monsanto, Bayer, and Syngenta, has published
over a dozen articles disputing the dangers posed by neonics.

In one email revealed through the Monsanto-Roundup litigation, Daniel
Goldstein, a Monsanto official, wrote to colleagues in all-caps to support
the council’s work: “I can assure you I am not all starry eyed about ACSH-
they have PLENTY of warts- but: You WILL NOT GET A BETTER VALUE FOR YOUR
DOLLAR than ACSH.” The bottom of the email included hyperlinks
to articles criticizing demands to regulate both glyphosate and neonic

The Heartland Institute, one of the think tanks in Syngenta’s third-party
stakeholder list, which has received Bayer donations
in the past, has published articles deriding research critical of neonics
as “junk science

“The pesticide industry is using Big Tobacco’s PR tactics to try and spin
the science about their products’ links to bee declines and delay action
while they keep profiting,” said Archer, whose group, Friends of the Earth,
has documented the lobbying tactics of pesticide makers.

[image: W]*hen neonics hit* the market three decades ago, they were the
first new class of insecticide invented in nearly 50 years, and their use

As early as the late 17th century, farmers found that they could grind
tobacco plants and use nicotine extract to kill beetles on crops. Nicotine
acts as an organic insecticide, binding to nerve receptors and causing
paralysis and death in aphids, white flies, and other plant-eating insects.

Attempts to use nicotine for a mass-market pesticide, however, frustrated
scientists. In early research, sunlight diluted the effectiveness of
nicotine-based products. But that changed just over three decades ago, when
Bayer scientists at Nihon Bayer Agrochem, the firm’s Japanese subsidiary, first
neonicotinoids in the 1980s — a compound that not only withstood heat and
sunlight, but could be applied to the root or seed of a plant and remain
effective for that plant’s entire lifespan.

Neonics were hailed as the “Goldilocks compound” because they are “not too
hard, not too soft, but just right.”

The new chemical came just in time. Farmers and regulators were seeking
alternatives to another class of pesticides — organophosphates, nerve
agents sprayed on crops — that had been found to cause cancer in humans.
Initial studies of neonics showed that the compound was acutely toxic to
insects but unlikely to cause harm to mammals.

As one scientist for Bayer described the invention in a 1993 Science
magazine article hailing
the introduction of the new class of chemicals, neonics were the
“Goldilocks compound” because they are “not too hard, not too soft, but
just right.”

And because seeds could be pretreated with neonics, which were absorbed and
expressed through the tissue, nectar, and pollen, they could be also
produced on an industrial scale, providing agriculture crops with an
efficient insect-killing capability without the need for expensive spray
treatments or constant reapplication.

In other words, farmers could soak the ground and seeds with enormous
amounts of the compound to avoid problems from pests in the future. The
delivery mechanism saved money for farmers but set the conditions for
chronic overuse of the pesticides.

[image: Imidacloprid-layout-3-tint-1579299443]

Estimated agricultural use of imidacloprid. Information compiled from the
U.S. Geological Survey’s Pesticide National Synthesis Project.

Map: USGS National Water-Quality Assessment, The Intercept

The first commercial neonic, imidacloprid, was registered with the EPA in
1994 and sold as a potato seed treatment. Business boomed as neonic
products spread worldwide to Japan, France, Germany, and South Africa. In
the U.S., it became a popular standard seed and root treatment for corn,
cotton, soybeans, almonds, and a range of fruits and vegetables.

Neonics were even used for household applications. Bayer produced
imidacloprid as a flea treatment on pets throughout the U.S. The Advantage
line of flea control took off, with a marketing campaign featuring the Jack
Russell terrier “Eddie” from the television show “Frasier” and a 30-foot
inflatable flea in Times Square.

Chemical Week called the introduction of neonics a “renaissance for the
U.S. insecticides industry” providing “environmentally friendly products.”
The Columbus Dispatch, in an article for home gardeners about ways to
deliver a “surgical strike” against pests, called for consumers to consider
Bayer’s Merit soil treatment, which the paper called “virtually non-toxic.”

The swift adoption of the compound instantly made Bayer, which had
previously profited largely from its pharmaceutical line of products, a
worldwide player in the agrochemical industry.

“Imidacloprid is our most important product,” the head of Bayer’s pesticide
division told investors in 2008.

In 2003, at a forum hosted by Goldman Sachs, Bayer listed
Confidor, Premise, and Gaucho, several seed treatments based on neonic
compounds, among its top-performing products in a presentation outlining
the company’s performance metrics. Another investor presentation, given by
Bayer executives in Lyon, France, projected rapid growth from the neonic
products, estimating that the firm, which had sales of close to 400 million
euros from the portfolio in 1998, would more than double to 850 million
euros by 2010.

“Imidacloprid is our most important product,” Friedrich Berschauer,
then-head of Bayer’s pesticide division, told investors during a conference
call in 2008, according to a transcript of his remarks. Company disclosures
underscore Berschauer’s remarks: During that fiscal year, the company
reported 932 million euros in sales for its top two neonic compounds.

In 2009, the global neonic market brought
<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20565065> in $2.1 billion dollars for
the largest pesticide producers. Other agribusiness interests invested
heavily in the market. Monsanto began offering
<http://www.utcrops.com/BlogStuff/2011AcceleronOptions.pdf> neonic-based
seed treatments through its popular Acceleron product for corn, soybeans,
and cotton. Switzerland-based Syngenta rolled out two neonic seed
treatments, Actara and Cruiser, quickly positioning itself as a leading
insecticide firm alongside Bayer. Many of the early compounds of neonics
are no longer patent-protected, allowing other businesses to compete for
the market. Valent, BASF (which acquired part of Bayer’s neonic portfolio
as a condition of its merger with Monsanto), and Sumitomo Chemical are also
leading neonic producers.

The first restrictions on neonics in the EU, announced late in 2013, raised
alarm in the industry. “The number for the full year as a consequence of
the suspension is about $75 million,” noted John Mack, then-Syngenta’s
chief executive officer on a call with investors the following year,
referring to the decrease in revenue as a result of the decision. The
executives were quick to point out, however, the full brunt of the
restriction had been limited because many EU states obtained exemptions
from the suspension rule.

In another call with investors, Mack declared that there “is no
relationship between” the use of neonics “and the causality of bee
decline,” and said he was certain regulators in the U.S. would not take the
European approach.

Speaking with investors 2018, Liam Condon, a Bayer executive in charge of
pesticide products, warned that the neonic ban in France alone had cost the
firm 80 million euros. The wider restrictions imposed on the chemical,
Condon continued, “drags our entire European results down.”

Bayer no longer breaks out individual product revenue in its investor
reports. Previous financial reporting has suggested that neonics represent
as much as 20 percent of its sales. The company’s annual report in 2018
showed that the company’s insecticide division produced more than 1.3
billion euros in revenue.

Werner Baumann, chair of Bayer’s board, announcing its acquisition of
Monsanto in 2016, declared that the deal would create “a global leader in
the agricultural industry,” delivering insecticides and seed treatments.

The global neonic market generated $4.42 billion in revenue in 2018,
roughly doubling over the previous decade, according to new figures
provided to The Intercept from Agranova, a research firm that tracks the

[image: Beekeepers take part in a demonstration at the Esplanade des
Invalides in Paris on June 7, 2018, during a national day of action of
French beekeepers. - The National Union of French Apiculture (Union
Nationale de lApiculture Francaise - UNAF) and the French Federation of
Professional Beekeepers (Federation Française des Apiculteurs
Professionnels - FFAP) have called for a national day of action to ask the
State and the President of the Republic to launch an exceptional support
plan for French beekeepers and to restore a viable environment for bee
colonies and pollinators. (Photo by FRANCOIS GUILLOT / AFP) (Photo credit
should read FRANCOIS GUILLOT/AFP via Getty Images)]

Beekeepers take part in a demonstration at the Esplanade des Invalides in
Paris on June 7, 2018, during a national day of action of French beekeepers.

Photo: Francois Guillot/AFP/Getty Images

[image: T]*he evidence entangling* neonicotinoids with bee die-offs began
to surface almost as soon as they hit the market.

In the early 1990s, in France, several bee hives near fields planted with
neonicotinoids collapsed suddenly, and beekeepers observed mass bee
die-offs in the vicinity of sunflower fields treated with Bayer’s
imidacloprid-based Gaucho.

The French beekeepers mounted a sustained pressure campaign, including
demonstrations of hundreds marching in Paris and outside of Bayer’s factory
in Cormery, in central France.

The beekeepers observed that their bees were disoriented and unable to
forage, and weakened to a point where disease and parasitic infections
spread rapidly, destroying thousands of hives. Beekeepers found bees
trembling and dying on the ground, a syndrome they nicknamed “mad bee
disease.” They blamed neonics, but Bayer maintained that the chemicals
caused no harm.

“We don’t believe the insecticide poses any risks,” Peter Brain, a
regulatory affairs official with Bayer, told reporters.

In 1999, facing mounting pressure from farmers, the French government moved
to temporarily ban
the use of imidacloprid, though other neonicotinoids continued to be used.
Annual hive loss continued.

In 2008, officials in Italy, Germany, and Slovenia observed that the sowing
of fields with neonic-treated seeds correlated with nearby mass bee
die-offs. In one region of Germany, beekeepers reported the loss of 11,500
bee colonies following the planting of nearby canola fields with
neonic-treated seeds. Similar observations across the continent led to the
temporary restriction of commonly used neonic products in all three
countries that year.

The following year, a group of 70 scientists, including prominent
biologists, toxicologists, entomologists, and other specialists in Europe
the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides, an ad hoc group to study neonics and
other systemic pesticides. The task force worked to conduct research
independent of industry.

Over the years, more and more research appeared to confirm that neonics
were not only endangering nontarget insects. In the journal Science, a
study confirmed that field-realistic applications of neonics reduced
bumblebee fertility by 85 percent. The United Kingdom-based advocacy group
BugLife released
research that compiled years of academic studies showing that
neonicotinoids appeared to be damaging the populations of honeybees, native
bees, and other nontarget invertebrates.

The Task Force on Systemic Pesticides brought together over a thousand
peer-reviewed studies, concluding that wide-scale use of neonics, along
with fipronil, another popular systemic pesticide, were causing
“widespread, chronic impacts upon global biodiversity.” The group noted
that neonic pesticides linger for long periods in the soil and were found
to be contaminating fields and waterways far from agricultural sites. The
scientists called for an urgent <http://www.tfsp.info/assets/WIA_2015.pdf>
reduction in the use of the chemicals.

Growing backlash against neonics pushed the EU into action. In 2012, the
European Food Safety Authority, the leading pesticide regulator in the EU,
released a risk assessment
finding that the three most widely used neonicotinoids posed acute risks to
bees. The finding set into motion an effort backed by most EU states to
suspend <https://eur-lex.europa.eu/eli/reg_impl/2013/485/oj> the use of
neonicotinoids on outdoor flowering plants for two years.

The mounting pressure created a need for the pesticide industry to push
back with its own research. In fact, one of the greatest victories for the
industry was its effort to cultivate the most influential bee scientists in
the U.S.

[image: bees019034-1579302860]

Dennis vanEngelsdorp.

Photo: David Yellen

[image: T]*he first wave* of headlines in the U.S. about the rapid decline
of bees started in 2006 as beekeepers in Pennsylvania reported drastic hive
losses. Other beekeepers also reported staggering losses over the winter
that year, at an average ranging around 30 percent, wiping out more than a
fourth of the 2.4 million colonies in the country.

The mysterious crisis was termed “colony collapse disorder” in the media.
Dennis vanEngelsdorp, then-serving as Pennsylvania acting chief apiary
inspector and studying at Penn State University, found himself at the
center of the story. “It’s just causing so much death so quickly that it’s
startling,” he told the Philadelphia Inquirer. He started with autopsies of
dead bees in Pennsylvania, but soon came into contact with beekeepers in
Georgia, Florida, and California reporting similar losses.

A team of other prominent bee experts, including vanEngelsdorp, Washington
State University entomologist Walter “Steve” Sheppard, and other prominent
scientists worked to investigate the crisis. “This is like C.S.I. for
agriculture,” said one of the academics on the project, Columbia
University’s W. Ian Lipkin, in an interview with the New York Times.

VanEngelsdorp, alongside Jerry Hayes, then-Florida chief apiary inspector
and president of the Apiary Inspectors of America, pioneered
an effort to survey beekeepers throughout the country to track colony
collapse disorder. Bees were sent to his lab and examined for cause of
death. VanEngelsdorp started a foundation, the Bee Informed Partnership, to
formalize the survey and continue research into possible factors for the

In interviews with national news outlets, local media, and television
stations across the country, vanEngelsdorp became an overnight celebrity.
In 2008, he appeared prominently
<https://www.pbs.org/video/nature-silence-of-the-bees/> in the
award-winning documentary “Silence of the Bees,” depicted as leading the
research effort around collapsing bee colonies, and also recorded a
well-received TED Talk, “A Plea for Bees.”

In his TED Talk, vanEngelsdorp stressed
that honeybee colonies could be rebuilt, given that commercial bee farmers
can split a hive into two or buy queens through the mail. But the danger of
collapsing bee colonies went beyond the European honeybee, which is used
widely for pollinating American agriculture. Native bees were also
disappearing at an alarming rate, with no commercial effort to revive them.
Bats were disappearing too, he lamented, “and there’s no money to study

“Imagine if every one of three cows died. The National Guard would be
out,”  vanEngelsdorp said in 2013.

The following year, in September 2009, vanEngelsdorp appeared alongside
Pettis at Apimondia. During this period in his career, vanEngelsdorp
generally suggested in media interviews that several factors were likely to
blame for bee loss. The decline, he told a local paper in Missouri in 2007,
could be attributed to “mites and associated diseases, some unknown
pathogenic disease and pesticide contamination or poisoning.” The research
he presented at Apimondia concluded that “interactions between pesticides
and pathogens could be a major contributor to increased mortality of honey
bee colonies.”

In the following years, vanEngelsdorp used his voice to dismiss concerns
with neonics in the media. His shift in rhetoric coincided with a push by
the pesticide industry, in response to rising calls for pesticide
restrictions to stem bee losses, began a push to rebrand itself as

In 2013, he told one reporter
<https://issuu.com/pacificsun/docs/2013_06_07.pac.section1>, “Imagine if
every one of three cows died. The National Guard would be out.” He
continued: “Sure, neonics may be a problem some of the time. But not all,
or in my humble opinion, most of the time.”

“The jury’s still out,” he told
the Raleigh News & Observer, when asked about role of the pesticide in bee
decline in 2014. The Associated Press quoted vanEngelsdorp declaring
“I am not convinced that neonics are a major driver of colony loss” in
2016. “In many cases, [neonicotinoids] are actually the safest
alternative,” he was quoted as saying in another article, expressing
skepticism over the push to ban the compound.

When asked about his seeming shift, vanEngelsdorp said in an email that his
work focused on honeybees, but he is concerned with the threat posed to
other pollinators and insect life. In Maryland, he wrote, high levels of
mite infestations “would explain lots of [honey bee] mortality.”

“I should stress that I am speaking about honey bees, not native bees, and
the effects of neonics on non-target non-honey bees (Honey bees have a
reserve work force that can be lost without consequence as they are social
organisms and other non-honey bee bees don’t) is much more pronounced and
concerning,” vanEngelsdorp wrote.

Around that time, vanEngelsdorp joined
Monsanto’s Honey Bee Advisory Council, a company-backed effort, and
appeared at the company’s Honey Bee Health Summit in 2013 as a
spokesperson. That same year, Project Apis m., a foundation heavily funded
by Bayer, donated to vanEngelsdorp’s nonprofit, the Bee Informed Project,
and has since provided at least $700,000 to the lab, according to public
tax filings.

In an email, vanEngelsdorp said that although that he has received one
grant funding stream from Bayer, that award came in last year and “it would
be hard to argue it influenced past work.” The funding from Project Apis m.
to vanEngelsdorp’s Bee Informed Project, he added, came from Costco, not
the agricultural industry. Other corporate interests, including the Almond
Board of California and the General Mills Foundation, have also directly
funded the Bee Informed Project.

VanEngelsdorp said that his lab has never received direct funding from
pesticide companies.

Bayer, as part of its Healthy Hives 2020 initiative, has dedicated at
least $1.3
to the project in collaboration with Project Apis m., which counts Bayer as
one of its largest donors, though the company does not break down
individual donor amounts.

The University of Maryland professor also explained that he felt conflicted
about joining Monsanto’s advisory board, a position that ended in 2019.

“The purpose of this board is to help guide the development of new tools to
help control Varroa, which I think, and the data suggest – are the biggest
drivers of loss,” wrote vanEngelsdorp. “So it was a big struggle when I was
asked to join the advisory board (which included several beekeepers),
because – who wants to have an association with Big Ag?”

“Do I feel conflicted? – all the time,” vanEngelsdorp told The Intercept.
”But do I think my involvement with encouraging the development of a
desperately needed new mite control skews my view of drivers of honey [bee]
health. No. I think the data is clear.”

He added, “The world is a complicated place. Full of gray. I just have to
believe the science will show truth, and hope we can get there by keeping
things cordial, and respectful of the idea that people taking different
paths towards the same end (save the bees) is not bad.”

“I’m an environmentalist – so have been and continue to be very concerned
and vocal about protecting the earth and its biome,” he wrote. “I am
certain that in all interviews on this topic I clearly say  – the
widespread use of neonic coated seeds is a short sighted, wasteful and
environmentally unsustainable way of using this product. I strongly
advocate for wise use. Use it when you know you need it and not unless you
know you do.’  But that quote never gets picked up. But it’s what I think
and have thought for a long time.”

Danielle Downey, the executive of Project Apis m., said the group is
“transparent about where donated funds come from and what we use them for,
keeping in mind donor privacy,” in a statement to The Intercept. “Project
Apis m. does keep abreast of the science regarding bee health, which allows
us to support industry-relevant projects.”

Downey did not take a position on regulating neonics, and noted that
“regarding bans and regulations of pesticides, countries which apply
different precautionary and risk assessment paradigms, may reach different

In 2013, vanEngelsdorp also edited
a controversial paper authored by a group of consultants that claimed that
thiamethoxam, a neonic produced by Syngenta, posed “a low risk to honey
bees” when applied to oilseed, rape, and maize. In a section of its website
titled “Bee Decline,” Syngenta cites
<http://www.syngenta-us.com/beehealth/currentbeedecline.aspx> the study to
claim that “there is no direct correlation between neonicotinoid use and
poor bee health.”

The paper, which was cited by Syngenta to apply for an exemption in the
United Kingdom to the EU’s newly imposed moratorium on neonic products, was
later widely panned. In a scathing article for Environmental Sciences
Europe, a group of entomologists claimed
<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5045128/> that the
vanEngelsdorp-edited study was not based on “truthful data and
methodologies,” arguing that it used seed treatment at
lower-than-recommended rates and that the experiment was poorly designed.

“Do I feel conflicted? – all the time,” vanEngelsdorp said. “The world is a
complicated place. Full of gray. I just have to believe the science will
show truth.

Another group of scientists at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland
also eviscerated the vanEngelsdorp-edited paper, noting
that it used no formal statistical analysis and came to its conclusion by
vaguely inspecting the data. They mocked
the method as simply reflecting “the prior beliefs of those involved.” The
House of Commons Library, in a briefing paper
on neonics, noted that the thiamethoxam study faced criticism for lacking
rigor, and that all five of authors of the study “were current or former
employees of Syngenta or had been paid by Syngenta for their work.”

VanEngelsdorp also lent his name to a splashy advocacy effort on behalf of
the pesticide industry. CropLife America, Bayer, and Syngenta launched the
Honey Bee Health Coalition, a new group focused on research into the Varroa
mite and other nonpesticide-related causes of bee decline. The group was
officially coordinated by the Keystone Policy Center, a supposedly
independent third party, in conjunction with beekeeper associations and
environmentalists. Records show, however, that the Keystone Policy Center
is largely funded by major corporations, including Bayer and Syngenta. And
internal documents
from the Honey Bee Health Coalition show that its communications to
beekeepers were reviewed by its bloc of growers and pesticide company
members, including DuPont, CropLife America, Syngenta, and the Agricultural
Retailers Association. Farmers and beekeepers paid as little as $500 to
join the organization while corporate members paid as high as $100,000
in dues.

Marques Chavez, a spokesperson for the Keystone Policy Center, which
organizes the Honey Bee Health Coalition, noted in a statement to The
Intercept that the group “supports honey bee health and tackles complex
problems in agriculture and beyond by bringing diverse perspectives
together.” The statement did not address the proportion of pesticide
industry influence, but said that the group maintains a public charter that
“outlines the structure and decision-making process utilized by the
coalition to identify, refine, and finalize the idea and deliverables that
reflect the diverse input and collaborative effort of our members.”

Jerry Hayes, the former Florida apiary inspector, joined Monsanto and
became the company’s representative at beekeeper conferences around the
country and helped pitch Monsanto’s research into genetic solutions for
bees to skeptical beekeepers. Hayes also helped with the launch of the
Honey Bee Health Coalition. He recruited
vanEngelsdorp to serve as one of the first scientists on the coalition’s
steering committee.

They weren’t only ones. The industry also recruited bee industry voices to
be the face of the new rebranding. Richard Rogers, an academic consultant
and former adjunct professor
<https://www.linkedin.com/in/richard-e-l-dick-rogers-0b275111/> at Acadia
University in Nova Scotia, produced
Bayer-backed research
in Canada in the early 2000s discounting the dangers posed to bees by
neonics applied to potato plants on Prince Edward Island. Rogers was
brought on to help lead the Bayer Bee Care initiative when the center was
opened in 2012. Dr. Helen Thompson, a leading official environmental
official in the United Kingdom who had opposed the E.U.’s directive to
suspend the use of neonics, joined

Washington State University entomologist Sheppard was also among the other
prominent bee scientists to accept the pesticide industry’s outreach. The
same year of the launch of the Honey Bee Health Coalition, Sheppard joined
<https://www.prweb.com/releases/2014/02/prweb11569878.htm> Bayer for a
roadshow the company sponsored called the Bee Care Tour. He later joined
the company steering committee for its “Healthy Hives 2020” initiative.

obtained by The Intercept show
<https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/6660325-WSU-Bayer.html> a friendly
relationship between the pesticide firms and the recruited academics.

In one exchange, with David Fischer, the manager of Bayer’s Bee Care
Center, vanEngelsdorp was asked how to respond to reporters on how to
calculate annual hive loss. The Maryland academic suggested
a method that diminishes any winter losses of hives by factoring in new
hives that have been split off from strong hives, though he noted that such
a method “‘lowers’ the loss rate” and has been rejected by European

[image: WSU-email]

Daniel Schmehl, an official with Bayer, asked bee scientist Walter “Steve”
Sheppard to provide quotes explaining why “the partnership with Bayer Bee
Care Center is important for your bee research.”

Screenshot: The Intercept

Daniel Schmehl, an official with Bayer, asked Sheppard to provide quotes
explaining why “the partnership with Bayer Bee Care Center is important for
your bee research,” as well as other blurbs the company could use
<https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/6660325-WSU-Bayer.html>. Sheppard
appears regularly on Bayer press releases and publications as part of the
company’s commitment to bee health.

In another exchange, Rogers, the former adjunct Acadia University professor
and now official with Bayer’s Bee Care Center, wrote in 2015 to Sheppard
and Jamie Ellis, an associate professor at the University of Florida, to
publish a “paper on the definition of a healthy honey bee colony.” Rogers
noted <https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/6593971-Ellis-Emails.html>
that he had worked on a draft but suggested that, “for the best optics,
maybe you or Steve, or someone other than a Bayer staff member should be
the lead author.” Ellis agreed and wrote back that he “understood your
concern about Bayer staff taking the lead.”

VanEngelsdorp’s shift away from concern about the role of neonics is
captured in another documentary about the plight of the bees.

In 2015, the website FiveThirtyEight produced a mini-documentary series,
including a feature on the “Fight to Save the Mighty Honeybee.” The film
which was accepted into the Sundance Film Festival, traces vanEngelsdorp in
his lab and in the field, exclusively discussing the Varroa mite. Unlike
his previous appearance in documentaries about bee decline, the video made
no mention of neonics or any other pesticide stress to bee health.

Bayer was thrilled with the documentary. Sarah Myers, an event manager with
the chemical company, asked
vanEngelsdorp for permission to feature the video on the company’s website.
VanEngelsdorp politely let the company know that he did not own the
copyright and referred Myers to the producers at FiveThirtyEight’s parent
company. Bayer’s Bee Care Center showcased
the film.

In an exchange
with Paul Hoekstra, a regulatory official with Syngenta, vanEngelsdorp was
thanked for agreeing to speak to John Brown, a Canadian attorney helping
fight a contentious lawsuit over the registration of neonics.

“I think they were using this group as a PR advantage, but by the same
token we have no money in the beekeeping industry,” Hayes said.

The relationship has continued. Earlier this month, the American Beekeeping
Federation hosted its 2020 convention. The largest sponsor of the event was
Bayer, which showcased
a series of talks at the conference to tout the company’s commitment to bee
health. Sheppard was featured in a Bayer promotional video screened
<https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F7JsdEMKcaE&feature=youtu.be> at the
event. Among the presentations was an address by vanEngelsdorp about mites.

“My association with Bayer has had no influence on my research focus nor my
research,” said Sheppard, in a statement to The Intercept that detailed his
work helping Project Apis m. identify research proposals for honeybee
health using over $1 million in funding from Bayer.

“I cannot speak for Bayer – but the projects funded with their money and
administered through Project Apis m. appear to be completely unrelated to
any effort to ‘prevent the restriction’ of the use of neonicotinoids,”
wrote Sheppard. “I am not naïve enough to think such a major company does
not have their own agenda for the promotion or support of their insect
control products. However, and emphatically, in the case of the funds
distributed by Project Apis m., no such connection was apparent to either
Project Apis m. or myself.”

Jerry Hayes retired two years ago from Monsanto after the project he was
hired to promote “just didn’t work out.” He now works as an editor at Bee
Culture magazine.

In an interview, Hayes said that he was proud of the work the Honey Bee
Health Coalition achieved, including the development of guides for
beekeepers to manage Varroa infestations. And he views the effort to bring
various stakeholders together in one coalition as a unique accomplishment.
But he said that pesticide corporations were largely in the drivers’ seat.

“I think they were using this group as a PR advantage, but by the same
token we have no money in the beekeeping industry,” said Hayes.

“These guys were funding the organization, they were funding meetings, all
of us knew there were perhaps ulterior motives,” he noted. “Without those
resources, we wouldn’t be down the road a little bit to making honeybees a
little less endangered.”

Hayes said he had followed the controversies around neonics and was
concerned about the growing number of studies showing the threat to
nontarget insects. Though he’s concerned that restricting the chemical
could reintroduce older pesticides with a greater risk to mammals, he added
that the drive for profits have fueled the overuse of neonics.

“It all comes down to money. Bayer is taking care of stockholders,” said

Hayes said he doesn’t believe vanEngelsdorp’s views on pesticides have been
shaped by his ties to industry.

“He’s a good scientist,” said Hayes. “Science changes over time. I think
that science progresses and data shows different things at times, but I
don’t think Dennis is influenced by money from these other people.”

“But,” Hayes added, when “chemical companies want to support Dennis because
if he can come up with solutions to honey bee health, it takes pressure off
of them, doesn’t it?”

[image: HOMESTEAD, FL - MAY 19: John Gentzel, the owner of J & P Apiary and
Gentzel's Bees, Honey and Pollination Company, works with his honeybees on
May 19, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. U.S. President Barack Obama's
administration announced May 19, that the government would provide money
for more bee habitat as well as research into ways to protect bees from
disease and pesticides to reduce the honeybee colony losses that have
reached alarming rates. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)]

The owner of J&P Apiary and Gentzel’s Bees, Honey and Pollination Company,
works with his honeybees on May 19, 2015, in Homestead, Florida.

Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

[image: D]*espite a sophisticated* lobbying campaign to defeat neonic
restrictions, Maryland was one of the few states to pass a law banning
neonic-based products in consumer products. Industry threw its weight
against even this minor bill, which exempts neonics in landscaping and

And vanEngelsdorp played a prominent role in nearly defeating the

In January 2016, the University of Maryland, College Park campus held a
summit bringing corporate representatives and researchers together to talk
about solutions to the bee crisis. Maryland, California, Massachusetts, and
other states were considering restrictions on neonic products. The Obama
administration had encouraged an approach that brought together a wide
array of stakeholders, known as the Managed Pollinator Protection Plan, or
MP3, method of resolving the issue.

State officials tapped the Keystone Policy Center — the same chemical
industry-funded nonprofit in charge of CropLife America’s Honey Bee Health
Coalition — to manage the process.

VanEngelsdorp, addressing the summit, presided over a PowerPoint that
listed a Monsanto affiliation in small type at the bottom, according to
Luke Goembel, an official with the Central Maryland Beekeepers Association.

The presentation, said Goembel, made the case that “Varroa mites, not
pesticides, were the primary cause of hive losses” and included “an image
of a vampire baby to represent a Varroa mite.” VanEngelsdorp, he said, made
a mocking comparison, showing a graph with a chart showing the rise of
pirate next to a chart showing the increasing loss of hives over time, an
“attempt to present the concept ‘correlation does not prove causation,’”
and to “ridicule the concern over increasing pesticide use.”

“I was shocked,” Goembel said, “because the journals are full of research
that describes many avenues by which pesticides, especially neonicotinoids,
almost certainly lead to hive losses.”

The summit included a broad range of speakers, but beekeeper activists
complained the discussion was dominated by pesticide makers.

Speaker after speaker claimed that hive loss was only “due to Varroa mites,
not pesticides,” according to Bonnie Raindrop, another official with the
Central Maryland Beekeepers Association, who attended the event. Only a
small percentage of the attendees, Raindrop said, were beekeepers, and
those who did make it were separated from one another. The rest, she said,
“were people who knew nothing about bees,” including lobbyists, lawn care
professionals, and representatives of agribusiness.

“They had a very controlled format,” said Raindrop, “with one beekeeper at
each table, the rest industry people, and we were asked to make
recommendations for what the MP3 policy should look like.”

Both Raindrop and Goembel brought up the role of neonicotinoids and other
systemic pesticides killing bees, but said other participants at the summit
shot them down.

The Keystone Policy Center moderators kept the conversation focused largely
on mites, “and said beekeepers weren’t doing their due diligence to control
mites using chemicals,” she added.

Asked about the beekeeper’s criticism of the Maryland summit, the Keystone
Policy Center’s spokesperson, Chavez, said in a statement that the event
“involved outreach to a wide variety of stakeholders” and encouraged the
public to view the final report
produced from the event.

One month after the summit, legislators in Annapolis, Maryland, took up a
bill to ban consumer neonics. During the House of Delegates debate over the
legislation, a panel of opponents — including representatives from
Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration, pesticide industry
representatives, and the owner of commercial nursery — repeatedly cited the
survey taken by the Keystone Policy Center at the summit as evidence that
researchers did not think pesticides were a problem.

Several cited vanEngelsdorp by name, claiming the University of Maryland
professor had provided research showing that neonicotinoids did not pose a
threat to Maryland hives.

At the hearing, state delegate Clarence Lam, a Democrat, noted that
hundreds of peer-reviewed scientific articles identified neonicotinoids as
a prime driver of bee decline and scoffed at the industry attempt to use
the MP3 summit as a counterexample.

“Presenting data like this is pretty specious,” Lam said. “It’s marginally
better than presenting data from a Facebook poll and saying this is what
the data shows and this is what the science shows.”

In the end, the industry blitz failed, and, later in 2016, Maryland passed
the Pollinator Protection Act. A similar measure passed that year in
Connecticut to limit the use of neonics on flowering plants, and last year,
Vermont enacted restrictions on consumer use of neonics.

Regulators in Oregon, after outcry following an incident in which 50,000
bees suddenly died in a Target parking lot as the result of the spraying of
a neonic-based pesticide, have moved to prevent the use of neonics on
linden trees. But in most of the country, there are largely no limitations
on the chemical. California regulators also announced
<https://www.cdpr.ca.gov/docs/registration/canot/2018/ca2018-01.pdf> an
effort to freeze new applications by pesticide companies that would expand
the use of neonics.

Gary Ruskin, the co-director of U.S. Right to Know, a watchdog group
following pesticide industry influence, which shared some of the emails
obtained via records requests between industry and academics with The
Intercept, said, “vanEnglesdorp’s close ties to the pesticide industry
raise serious questions about the worth and reliability of his research.”

“As companies are increasingly threatened by scientific findings, they
search for ways to blunt any independent science that may detract from
profits,” Ruskin said. “One great way to do this is to co-opt scientists
from public universities, who typically enjoy the public’s trust.”

In one of the emails
<https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/6659608-DVE-Blog.html> revealed by
Ruskin’s group, vanEngelsdorp wrote to Fischer, the manager of Bayer’s Bee
Care Center, apparently irritated that Bayer had published confidential
research from his lab, and claiming the data had been misused and posted
without his permission.

“Tech team data is confidential so it should not be published — especially
by a chemical company!” vanEngelsdorp wrote.

In a response, Fischer removed the line from Bayer’s blog. He also reminded
the University of Maryland academic that Bayer had invested significant
financial resources into the relationship and made it a priority for the

“We value our work with you and other researchers and stakeholders who have
committed themselves to addressing this significant problem,” Fischer wrote.

“As you are aware, perception is everything,” vanEngelsdorp responded.

*Nick Surgey contributed research.*
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