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Science and Environment

Purdue Study: Bee Wary -- Corn Insecticide Could Be A Buzz Kill

Jennifer C.

A Purdue University study has found a popular type of pesticide – found across nearly half the state -- can be lethal to honeybees. But a leading producer of the chemicals is striking back against those claims.

Neonicotinoid insecticides are used in planting corn crops, and the study says more than 94-percent of honey bees are at risk of exposure in the state.

Purdue agricultural economist Ken Foster says planting technology, such as a machine that spits seeds into the soil, can contribute to the problem.

“When they blow that seed, it creates an aerosol in the air,” he says. “And some of the neonicotinoid insecticide gets airborne, floats over to the edge of the field, lands on some dandelion or clover or something where the bees are at. That’s where we see pesticide damage to the honeybee colonies.”

Foster – whose family has kept bees for decades -- says insecticides have been an ongoing threat to the bee population.

He says if the population decline isn’t curbed, the Indiana fruit and vegetable industries will have to start importing bees from other places – causing production and consumer costs to rise.

But representatives of Bayer CropScience – the largest worldwide seller of such insecticides – dispute the Purdue study.

The company declined a taped interview, but a public relations representative says Bayer disputes Purdue’s study, because existing Environmental Protection Agency standards say the products are safe.

The emailed statement denies their products had any real negative effect on bee colonies and saying airborne neonicotinoid exposure is not harmful to bees in the way the study describes.

However, the same statement also points out Bayer has created a technology called Fluency Agent, which it calls “innovative technology designed to significantly reduce airborne dust associated with corn seed planting to reduce potential bee exposures.”

For individuals, Foster says lower crop yields are a big risk for farmers and changing pesticide practices can be too expensive.

“They don’t internalize the cost – just like any of the rest of us – so they’ll be a little slower to act,” he says. “But again, to their credit, they are acting. They are taking action and they are adopting these new ways of applying the insecticide and they are looking for alternatives.”

Corn does not rely on honeybees for pollination, but Foster says farmers are still employing ways to stem the bee decline.

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