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RoboBees to save US agriculture

Mark Gibbs | July 30, 2014
What man breaks, man can fix ... at least, that's what we like to think. Consider, for example, bees. Bees of all species are dying off in the US and Europe and over the last few years we've seen the commercial beekeeping industry decimated by a syndrome called colony collapse disorder (CCD).

So what could go wrong? The law of unintended consequences always comes into play (particularly when you think it won't or, even more temptingly for the forces of fate, when you think it can't). Yep, my bet is on Killer RoboBees. What's yours?

Note: I wrote about Bayer, the giant chemical company that sells the greatest volume of neonicotinoid pesticides and the suspicion that those chemicals are central to the syndrome, in another publication way back in 2012:

Bayer produces nicotine-based pesticides called neonicotinoids such as Imidacloprid. These products are harmless, in low doses, to humans but more or less lethal to bugs and while these chemicals can be applied safely, so it is claimed, the sheer scale of their use and the fact that not everyone who uses them is careful in their application is problematic. It now appears from three recent studies that even when used properly, where bees are concerned, these chemicals are toxic. Moreover, the Bayer products were approved by the EPA for use based on a study funded by Bayer which was later discredited by EPA scientists!

So, there was a lot of evidence that to pointed to Bayer pesticides as "a," if not "the," causative agent behind CCD.

Given Bayer's profits or the possible extinction of bees which would you choose?

First, let's consider what would happen if Bayer was to actually choose to stop selling neonicotinoids. If subsequent research shows that neonicotinoids aren't the problem, Bayer will have lost a few hundred million dollars but gained a lot of goodwill for adopting a "better safe than sorry" policy. If that was the case then maybe there's some way that Bayer could be compensated out of public funds worldwide. If, on the other hand, neonicotinoids are guilty as charged, then the consequences for Bayer would be far less harsh given that it appears they mislead the EPA in the first place.

Alternatively, let's say Bayer refuses and carries on selling neonicotinoids which are ultimately found to be the problem. Now the combination of having mislead the EPA and not acting responsibly makes Bayer look really, really bad ... Bayer could find itself in real trouble in every jurisdiction they operate in worldwide; every legislative body in every country would want a slice of Bayer's corpse.

The smartest thing Bayer can do is to immediately halt sales of neonicotinoids and fund transparent, independent studies to establish the facts.

Of course Bayer did nothing of the sort and subsequent studies have strongly implicated neonicotinoids:

A 2013 peer reviewed literature review concluded that neonicotinoids in the amounts that they are typically used harm bees and that safer alternatives are urgently needed. An October 2013 study by Italian researchers demonstrated that neonicotinoids disrupt the innate immune systems of bees, making them susceptible to viral infections to which the bees are normally resistant. (Wikipedia)


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