Buzz off, Monsanto

-- by Paul Towers, Pesticide Action Network

beeLast week, the term "bee-washing" emerged in public conversation. It doesn't refer to some new bee cleaning service, but to the insidious efforts of Monsanto and other pesticide corporations to discredit science about the impacts of pesticides on bees -- especially neonicotinoids -- by creating public relations tours, new research centers and new marketing strategies.

This week, pesticide makers are showcasing these tactics during National Pollinator Week with offers of free seed packets to people who take their poorly named "pollinator pledge." The "bee-washing" term has gained traction as scientists and groups like PAN continue to cut through the misinformation and point to the emerging body of science that points to pesticides as a critical factor in bee declines.

Monsanto hosted their first so-called Honey Bee Health Summit last week, a gathering at the company's headquarters in Missouri. Without question, some truly smart, dedicated scientists attended Monsanto's bee summit and are participating in these efforts.

And a similarly committed group of beekeepers who care about bees, beekeeping and our food system have also participated. What's increasingly clear, though, is that the credibility of these individuals is being used to shield the agenda of a handful of pesticide corporations and their bee-harming insecticide products. The corporate PR gymnastics on display are truly impressive.

Unfortunately, Monsanto is not alone in its efforts. Just this spring, Bayer sponsored a tour of its "specially-wrapped beehicle" and hosted a talk at Ohio State University in March, over loud objections from local beekeepers.

Not here. Look over there!

Industry has largely set its sights on one issue to blame for bee declines. While lack of sufficient forage and diseases are a challenge to bee health and beekeeping, challenges exacerbated by the weakening effect of pesticides on bees, the pesticide industry has focused a large proportion of its attention on the varroa mite. And it's an easy distraction that places the burden of unprecedented bee losses on beekeepers -- while subverting any blame for the widespread pesticide products.

Monsanto tweets

Unfortunately for Monsanto & Co, and as most beekeepers and academics will say, the varroa mite has been around a long time, predating dramatic bee declines in U.S. that started in 2006. While mites no doubt affect bee colonies, they are unlikely the primary driver of population declines.

There is a correlation, however, between the introduction of neonicotinoid pesticides (or neonics) on the market and bee die-offs. Independent studies show -- and beekeepers corroborate from hands-on experience -- that these pesticides weaken bees' immune systems, likely damaging their resistance to common challenges like the varroa mite.

Neonics are one of the largest growth sectors for the pesticide industry. And industry has a vested interest in keeping the neonic market growing. But we know that spin efforts to refocus attention on varroa mites were already attempted in Europe, and the approach has been largely unsuccessful. The EU just put continent-wide restrictions on the use of neonics in place.

Bees are still dying

Pesticide corporations don't show any sign of letting up. If this spring and summer are any indication, then the "bee-washing" campaign will continue. Beekeepers will remain the victims of this targeted PR campaign.

And the costs of are very real. Earlier this month, Jim Doan -- a third generation commercial beekeeper from upstate New York -- literally sold his farm due to bee losses. For years, he produced over half a million pounds of honey annually and eventually grew his business to 5,300 hives. But when neonicotinoid pesticides started being commonly used in the U.S., around 2006, Jim's bees started dying.

He's experienced serious losses to bees he brought to citrus groves in Florida and the cornfields of New York. And now, he only has 300 hives left. In an email he circulated last week, he wrote:

I am done. I cannot continue. Sold my farm 2 weeks ago, I am giving up, there is no hope here.

Bees are continuing to die off at unprecedented rates and beekeepers are going out of business. There is clearly something amiss -- and the pesticide industry would have us believe that their products play no part in this alarming trend. PAN, beekeepers and our partners will continue to shine a light on corporate "bee-washing" and spin efforts to subdue or obfuscate the growing body of science pointing to this clear message: pesticides are playing a key role in bee deaths.

The article originally appeared in Ground Truth.


The author listed as "PRwatch Editors" is for reports attributable to CMD's editors or guest authors.


Monsanto doesn't make neonicotinoid insecticides. They do have a vested interest in bee health, since farmers are Monsanto's customers. Your case for conspiracy is pretty weak. No matter, just by invoking the name "Monsanto" in a hit piece, you'll garner the belief of thousands of rabid haters. Bravo!

So people who care about the environment and the food they eat are now called rabid haters instead of radical environmentalists? Bravo! What will be next? And any article that is critical of Monsanto and the chemical companies is a "hit piece?" Read the recent CMD story on atrazine and Syngenta, and you will see similarities with what is happening with the neonicotinoids.

A new vernacular of personal vilification is arising for those that question the verifiably questionable system.

My local newspaper, The Oregonian, reported on the deaths of 50,000 bees in a Target parking lot this week, but without naming the manufacturer of the neonicotinoid responsible. Apparently Bayer and Syngenta are the neonicotinoid makers. Together with Monsanto they support a PR regime that runs counter to public health and to fact. Agriculture newspapers in the US, (and it is peculiar to read the news from the small towns next to the ads from these multinationals), have done a wonderful job of keeping farmers in the dark about what genetic modification is, imparting to farmers the conviction that genetic engineering is the same as hybridization and that those who say otherwise are the wrong sort of people. Our journalists are similarly confused about whether crops are modified to resist insects or resist glyphosate. The insight that the letter writer "thync" has given us is that while these companies appear to be competitors, they have split their product lines so that they are free to support each other. PS: I am not a rabid hater. I do suggest that thync is "projecting", or encouraging others who may read this website to project hatred, if they are afflicted with it.

This is exactly what Monsanto wants, that all beefarmers give up. So they can sell their one time seeds with exploding profits. What they forget is, bees do more than that- they are simply responsible for most of the green life on earth. We should not allow Monsanto to continue and stopp them by means of whatever could help.

It is my understanding that moths pollinate more plants than bees. I have not heard of any studies investigating moth health. This is probably because they have no product (like honey)we can use so have no special interest spokespersons. Has anyone heard of any moth studies?

Yes, you're correct, Jim. The problem is not limited to honey bees. Pollinators of every ilk are endangered by these products. Moths, bumble bees, butterflies, etc. are decreasing in population. Now why, do you suppose, might that be? None of these are plagued by varroa. The varroa excuse is a mere distraction from fact. Monsanto, etal, want exclusive rights to call the shots when it comes to agri and api businesses.

Moths pollinate more plant than bees? Really? And where did your understanding of this come from? If moths do more pollinating, then business people would be raising moths and not bees.

If Monsanto is so concerned about the bees why don’t they support at least a temporary ban or just stop treating their seeds for a couple of years just to rule that out? No! they continue to use the varroa distraction.

DDT was, I believe the first synthetic pesticide. Somebody can find what happened with this staff circulating in environment. One of the lessons what was from this DDT story was that the future pesticide cannot be stable and have to decompose quickly. Other conclusion was very simple to rich - the pesticide should be spread at time when the pollinators (at least daily pollinator – honeybee - is not working). The farmers were obligated to use pesticides after sunset. Now seems to be the lesson of DDT was forgotten by Monsanto, Bayer, Syngenta etc. They went to Bt and Neonicotinoids inserts into plants bodies. They were probably assuming that the inserts will be eaten by humans and it is the end of the pesticide travel and end of a problem. Wrong, the Neonicotinoids are circulating and remain in environment harming non-target invertebrates, birds and fish. In the same meaner Neonicotinoids are invasive synthetic compound as DDT. Such DDT like stable pesticide should be mark for the future as the unacceptable idea. There is a smart idea; IPM (Integrated Pest Management) which give some time to rest the environment from synthetic blow. This technique was born on the base of chemical resistance reaction from pests (like is the Varroa example). It assumes use synthetics only when necessary and not the same for 5 years. Any other time (if possible) it should be use organic/natural pesticides like formic acid. Such 5 year plan based on observation, practice and wise judgment is not easy or comfortable, but it is absolutely necessary for surviving natural and balanced environment. Please do not assume I am supporting synthetic (unnatural) pesticides in any way. I prefer using minimum of organic pesticide in IPM manner only; Thought it cost me a time, energy etc. I encourage others to give up their comfort from the "scientific ideas" of big chemical corporations.