Bayer, which helped develop neonicotinoids, the controversial class of insecticide blamed for bee deaths, has finally admitted that its product can be harmful to bees. The company initially criticized the Environmental Protection Agency’s new risk assessment report that concluded imidacloprid, a type of neonic, presents a risk to honeybees. But on Tuesday, Bayer did something of an about face and is now backing the government report, according to The Guardian.
Bayer has refined its stance on the EPA assessment, which the company now says is “quite good and scientifically sound,” as an unnamed spokesperson told The Guardian. But critics who would like to see neonics more strongly regulated, if not banned outright, don’t believe that Bayer has truly changed its tune.
The sticking point here may be that the EPA made only a very narrow claim that the controversial pesticides were harmful to bees. While it marked a change in the federal government’s stance on neonics, the EPA also said that they were safe for bees when used on corn, leafy vegetables, berries, and tobacco. Some 80 percent of the cornfields across the country are planted with neonic-treated seeds.
Paul Towers of the ag chemical Pesticide Action Network, which advocates for stronger pesticide controls and chemical alternatives, said the company is continuing to downplay the role of neonics in pollinator declines, even with its endorsement of the EPA report.
“Bayer first denies the impact of neonics on bees. Then, as the scientific scrutiny mounts, the pesticide-maker places blame elsewhere, on farmers and applicators,” Towers wrote in an email. “Later, they quibble over the exact amounts that pose a threat to bees, challenging the body of evidence that shows that even in very small amounts these insecticides pose serious threats to the health of bees and their colonies.” Even if Bayer is agreeing with the EPA that its product presents a problem to bees, it is only acknowledging a very narrow risk.
“EPA concluded that when used on citrus and cotton imidacloprid might pose a risk,” Bayer told The Guardian. “Note that they didn’t say they are a risk to honeybee colonies.” In other words: Don’t blame colony collapse on us.