French Institutes Finds Imidaproclid Turning Up in Wide Range of Crops

New data from the French government's leading agricultural research institutes confirm that an imidacloprid-based pesticide produced by German chemical manufacturer Bayer is turning up in a wide range of crops, including those not treated with the product. However, the study does not provide evidence to back assertions by beekeepers that Bayer is thus responsible for the excessive mortality of honey bees seen in recent years.

The new data from the National Institute of Agronomical Research and National Center of Scientific Research is the latest element in a longstanding dispute between Bayer and French beekeepers and honey producers over the impacts of the company's Gaucho pesticide.

The farmers, joined by a variety of environmental groups, charge that bees are dying after feeding on sunflowers whose seeds were treated with Gaucho prior to planting, leading to major declines in honey production and potential impacts on other agricultural products.

Bayer has long denied these claims, which it describes as "totally unfounded," and cites numerous studies from a range of independent research organizations that have failed to establish any "cause-and-
effect relationship" between the use of Gaucho on sunflower seeds and subsequent bee mortality.

Nationwide Ban in 1999

France suspended the use of Gaucho in several agricultural regions in 1998, then implemented a complete nationwide ban in January 1999, pushing imidaproclid to the forefront of the debate on the use of agricultural chemicals. After lengthy studies, the agriculture ministry admitted in early 2001 that it was impossible to formally accuse Gaucho of any responsibility for the rising honeybee mortality rates. The ministry refused to rule out that the pesticide was completely innocuous for bee populations, however, calling for continuation of the sunflower ban through February 2003, pending additional study, but allowing a 10-year extension of sales approval for other crops.

The new joint French research project is unlikely to advance the debate. Government researchers found small quantities of imidaproclid present in flowers, pollen, and fruit of corn plants treated with Gaucho.
The researchers also found traces of imidaproclid in neighboring plants that were not treated by the pesticide. The study concludes that contamination rates "appear identical to those seen in sunflowers," but it does not weigh in on whether these rates are sufficient to cause honeybee mortality.

Observers say the new results will likely entrench farmers and Bayer in their respective positions for and against continuation of the sunflower ban.

By Lawrence J. Speer
Copyright (c) 2002 by The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc., Washington D.C.