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Have you ever heard of the butterfly effect? Essentially, it’s the understanding that a small change in one place in a complex system can have large effects elsewhere. For example, a butterfly flapping its wings in Finland might lead to a flood in Florida.
When I first read years ago about the widespread disappearance of honeybees due to a mysterious phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder (CCD), I immediately thought of the butterfly effect. Losing our bees could have a devastating ripple effect.
Honeybees are a vital part of our ecosystem. They’re responsible for a large part of the pollination of our crops. In fact, nearly 100 food crops in North America alone depend on the bees for their pollination. Without a healthy honeybee population, our farming economy and, indeed, our very food supply is in grave danger.
Over the years, there’s been a lot of speculation about the causes of CCD—ranging from a virus that interferes with the bee’s abilities to navigate to cell phones causing bees to literally become lost on their way back home to the hive. Most researchers agree that it’s a complex problem and that most likely there’s no single cause.
Now a recently leaked memo could give us some answers and shed some much needed light on a rather shady story that involves the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the giant agrichemical company Bayer.
According to a recent story on Grist.com, the memo reveals that, in 2003, despite the serious warnings from its own scientists about the possible threat to the bee population, the EPA reversed a decision to not allow Bayer to move forward with selling its pesticide known as clothianidin, a decision that Bayer is no doubt incredibly grateful for, since it racked up about $262 million dollars in clothianidin sales in 2009 alone.
Under the “conditional registration,” Bayer was allowed to provide suppliers with seeds that are pretreated with the pesticide, which is admittedly, toxic to common crop pests but unfortunately, it turns out, is very likely to be to honeybees as well.
And as if that weren’t bad enough, the study Bayer submitted to the EPA to prove that its product is not toxic to honeybees and to have the “conditional” registration dropped is so full of holes that you could drive a truck right through it. Yet, quietly, in April of this year, the EPA still granted full registration to clothianidin to be used as seed treatment for corn and canola.
But wait…there’s more! (I’ve always wanted to have a reason to write that line.) In a twist worthy of a spy novel, the leaked EPA memo, dated Nov. 2, 2010, and written by two of EPA’s own scientists, clearly states a concern about the risks that clothianidin poses to honeybees, directly refuting the study that the EPA accepted as evidence to give a green light to full registration for the pesticide.
Other countries, including Germany, France, Italy, and Slovenia, have already recognized the threat that clothianidin poses to honeybees and our entire ecosystem and have banned this dangerous pesticide. The EPA needs to stop ignoring its OWN scientists and do the same.