Bayer and the bees | DW Documentary

published on June 30, 2020

with bees dying at record rates these

beekeepers are protesting against German

chemicals giant Bayer and it's

insecticides we're the victims we

provide a huge service to society our

bees pollinate food crops and this is

the thanks we get

for decades studies around the world

have highlighted the dangers of certain

insecticides something bear was keen to

hush up they wanted to keep it secret

they didn't want to publicize something

which would be damaging for the company

the aim was to stop the debate so they

could carry on making money with these

insecticides known as near Nikita noids

have earned billions for the company a

case of placing earnings over FX

zucchini phenomena what isn't normal

it's breaking the lost concealing facts

your Cassidy shows how influential is

the Bayer group and did the authorities

fail to exercise proper oversight

blythe cow in southwest germany is a

fertile region and home to plenty of

canola and corn fields coast of cough

runs a bee farm here he's passionate

about what he does his bees are like

part of a family

he'd rarely experienced any problems

with pesticides until one spring day 12

years ago a new pest had appeared in the

rhine valley and was threatening to

devastate the corn fields to save the

harvest the authorities allowed the

large-scale use of neonicotinoids on

neonics as they're also known for me up

so I could see the farmer sowing his

corn and from one moment to the next

the bees stopped flying it was perfect


the bees were out foraging everything

was wonderful but as the farmer sowed

his seed everything stopped all the bees

in the air disappeared

the insecticide the seeds had been

treated with resulted in a toxic dust

cloud that killed 12,000 bee colonies in

the region more than 500 million bees

suffered an agonizing death bloody

bears my first have benefit it was the

world's worst case of B poisoning by

legal means since B conservation began

it was very frustrating and very

emotional in listeni it really got me

down that's so bad that I couldn't drive

over to the beehives anymore every time

I got near I was met by the stench of

decomposing bees I just couldn't handle

it anymore extinct occurred during

planting some of the red pesticide

coating the corn seeds rubbed off and

was released into the environment

so what's that that was sown dozen

demise yes corn seeds dress with

insecticide seed behind with the mask

what happened this used to squall it did

you see this red dust that's insecticide

residue that is rubbed off the seed and

that was released into the air during

planting Indian birth kilo would often

stop in the bees died instantly so far

entire suppose they passed through the

dust cloud yes but the worst bit was

that the dust settled on flowering

plants so the remaining bees then

gathered contaminated pollen from any

other polity some at home rather than

being sprayed onto crops like

traditional pesticides

neonics are often applied in the form of

a seed dressing the seed coated with

insecticide is then drilled into the

ground using a seed planter the toxins

are effective from the root to the

entire plant as it grows making it a

mean to pests both in the ground and the

field the state of baden-württemberg

investigated what had gone wrong and

Brasco to the beekeepers amazement blame

was placed on the mechanical seed

planters the Agriculture Ministry echoed

bears official line saying that had the

seeds been sown correctly everything

would have been fine

Linux were nevertheless banned fees on

call in Germany they're still permitted

for other crops they are offered 22

million euros in fast-track aid but only

on one condition for the beekeepers in

return I shall seed all existing and

future claims to compensation to the

state of Baden butan bag


the investigator the government of Baden

Wurttemberg had suddenly become the

mediator the offer from Bayer was

actually made via the Agriculture

Department this land by the riverbank

bear the state of Baden wanted to buy

their way out of my call

it was touted as an origin CA for the

beekeepers but they were just covering

themselves there was a real push to

settle the matter quickly they knew the

bees had been poisoned otherwise it

would have taken a lot longer to get the


many of the beekeepers accepted the

compensation and bear was left alone the

ban on neonicotinoids and corn wasn't a

problem as they were still approved for

many other crops between 1992 and 2017

around three thousand seven hundred tons

of the agent was sold in Germany alone

Bayer and other manufacturers like

Syngenta supplied various neonicotinoids

to more than a hundred countries earning

billions of euros scientists accused the

producers of making money at the expense

of the environment because studies show

that neonicotinoids actually impact

entire ecosystems Dutch toxicologist

Hank Tanaka's has spent years studying

the substance has sold by companies like

Bayer he believes neonicotinoids are the

most toxic insecticides ever produced

we met tanika's at a clinic in the

Netherlands even though he was

undergoing treatment for pneumonia when

we saw him late last year he agreed to

speak to us

since Russell neonicotinoids are

water-soluble and relatively mobile in

the ground there's so many rains they

are easily washed into the groundwater

and runoff water

this means they affect the whole

environment and are also absorbed by

wildflowers and plants via their roots

those future to design the entire

landscape becomes toxic for insects

there's a so it's fair to assume that

this will result in mass insect deaths

and if the insects disappear the

ecosystem collapses that's why this is

an ecological Armageddon we are

destroying the whole of nature

Hank teleca's believes that neonics are

the main cause of insect deaths around

the world and that via the food chain

they're also responsible for the decline

in the population of birds reptiles and

amphibians and there's evidence that

they're harmful to humans too so why are

these insecticides still being sold in

2018 the European Union did at least

banned three of the five neonicotinoids

because of the threat to bees but France

had already banned one product

containing the toxins back in 1999 it

took 19 years for the EU to catch up so

why did the French authorities act so

much earlier in Paris we meet scientist

jean-luc bomb attack and beekeeper

available they helped instigate the 1999

ban at the time bee keepers were

experiencing mysterious dials for Motown

proved that the neonicotinoids produced

by Bayer were to blame when the results

were made public and the beekeepers

protested the company was swift to

respond co-op you remember yeah very

quickly Bayer started to exert pressure

to get us to keep quiet they didn't want

us beekeepers causing problems in more

Bayer sued me for libel

Rosella I don't produce honey from

sunflowers or canola I was acting in my

capacity as head of the National Union

of beekeepers but they sued me as a

private individual defended us we won

and Bayer chose not to appeal the ruling

but I wasn't the only one

the scientists also came under pressure

the aim was to stop the debate so they

can carry on making money was cuckoo

yawn kit is interesting but the French

government was also alarmed by the mass

bee deaths and had commissioned a study

even started our research Bayer began

using the Agriculture Ministry to try to

impose its methods

threshold values on us so that wasn't a

good start then when we got our results

they came into the lab to check my

analysis and find any error they were

desperate to find a mistake but I hadn't

made any and because we had proving that

the toxin I penetrate even the blossoms

of the plant they were forced to accept

our results

I mentioned the pressure exerted by

Bayer do the French media I then

received two letters from a Bayer lawyer

one addressed to me personally and went

to the head of my Institute they wanted

to use their influence to force me to

keep my mouth shut

they expected me a scientist to hide my

results in order to protect Bayer sales

new yeah I said one week ago said easy

but that wasn't his first brush with

Bayer jamak Beaumont are works for one

of the top research institutions in

France it was back in the mid-1990s that

he was commissioned by the French

Agriculture Ministry to investigate the

mass bee deaths

suspicion had fallen on a neo- I'd first

made by Bayer called imidacloprid

Beaumont are says that at the request of

the regional agricultural authorities

Bayer employees were actively involved

in the first study the Bosque did not

mind can you go by I believe it's normal

for a company like Bayer to be informed

if one of its products is being

investigated Alex it put a hold upon

ski-doo defeat but what absolutely isn't

normal is when representatives of that

company whose product is being assessed

are involved in determining details of

the approach to be taken including the

financing even even the publication of

the final result but he and I had

actually you done there was certainly a

lot of money at stake for Bayer the

investigation began bees were sent on

the one hand two fields of sunflowers

treated with neonicotinoids on the other

two untreated fields for control

purposes at least that's what John

Muhammad and his colleagues were told

they were only supposed to analyze the

fields containing the Bayer pesticides

but later they realized that the control

fields were also contaminated with

insecticide you know some blood they

conclude young curate it you know we

scientists complain when we realize that

the control fields have been treated

with fungicides and other insecticides

it just isn't normal for an experiment

of this lovely not as Yoda Kennedy a

good but the management committee for

the study ignored our complaint this is

a fight a whole new Italy conclusion

district orbited Peter – dr C can levy

ok instead the results of this

comparative study which we now know

we're worthless were taken as proof that

imidacloprid is harmless for bees what

is a bee suddenly bears insecticides

appeared beyond suspicion any

possibility of a ban had been dismissed

for now at least

but Bo Mata and his colleagues at the

Institute then carried out their own

study on behalf of the beekeepers this

time Bayer was not involved and the

results were staggering double dhamaal

tip on a street we were able to prove

that everything relevant to the beans MA

whether it was the corn the sunflowers

nectar water everything was contaminated

only could you eat it look and the

levels of toxins in the open countryside

were so high that they were sufficient

to either kill the bees or at least

Cosgrave long term problems to cover

is a pain in 1999 France then

banned the use of neonicotinoids but

initially only for sunflowers that

wasn't enough for the beekeepers

they wanted a blanket ban on all

neonicotinoids so I hide the services of

a Paris lawyer but now for he took up

the case against Bayer and other

manufacturers eventually it went to the

conceded ha Frances highest court for

administrative cases full realized the

companies have exploited weaknesses in

their licensing systems to get their

products on the market existing remote

European directives refer to what's

known as the hazard quotient if this

quotient is exceeded the manufacturer is

obliged to carry out a field experiment

under realistic conditions to prove that

the product is not harmful we discovered

that this control experiment which was

obligatory in order to gain approval

never took place

if the tests have been carried out as

European regulations dictate these

products would never have been

authorized I've added a victory it's in

part thanks to Brno force persistence

that France became the first country in

the world to ban the use of all

neonicotinoids in 2018 in Germany

meanwhile Bayer continued to earn wealth

from the insecticides Linux were used on

many different crops as a panacea for

all pests the discoveries in France

didn't appear to bother the German

authorities even though beekeepers here

complained of heavy losses butter hay

Faqir was until recently president of

the European Beekeepers Association he

told us of his organization's relief

when Germany finally announced a study

on the declining bee population but the

relief was short-lived

we realized that the initiative only

began once the threat was perceived of

Germany having to adopt the same stance

as France the – quantum there was

clearly great concern that the

insecticides could be banned here – was

the industry looking to preempt that

move it would appear that that was the

reason why Bayer and another neonics

makers and Genta took part in the study

other Heath occur soon realized

something was very wrong Jakob saying

every year there was an annual report

and every year the findings would go

through the media the varroa mite which

causes honeybee deaths is really

terrible but we found no problems with

pesticides it was like the public

relations crew for them obviously it we

became increasingly critical of how the

whole project was structured with the

methods they were using they wouldn't

have found any link between pesticides

and honeybee deaths

anyway neonics have nothing to do with a

mass bee deaths that was the apparent

finding that defined public opinion

right up until the disaster in Glasgow

in 2008 the industry had put half a

million euros into the be monitoring

project memens is definitely on this

project when you look at how the project

was financed it's pretty obvious I'm the

one who pays the piper calls the tune

the German be monitoring project was

financed almost entirely by the

insecticide makers the bee keepers

Association walked out of the project in

protest but by this point questions were

also being raised about whether

neonicotinoids harm not just bees but

other wildlife too

we've come to Munich's Botanical Gardens

where we meet Spanish toxicologist

Francisco Sanchez bio he conducted a

major study on the MX that's attracted

global interest so when you published

your study at the beginning of this year

what was the conclusion and we found

that in this in the countries where this

has been studied which is mostly

European American that also countries

around the world legacy law Japan 40% of

the species of insects are declining and

among those 1/3 of them are really

declining rapidly and they are

threatened with extinction

he tun says near Nikita noids play a key

role in that trend and they don't just

kill insects they damage entire

ecosystems Sanchez PI approved that in

Japan where he studied irrigated rice

fields over a two-year period

these ecosystems are home to minut water

fleas known as Daphnia as well as

crayfish and japanese rice fish called

medaka one day the rice farmers noticed

that much of this wildlife was dying

apart from the water fleas

the crayfish were especially hard-hit a

laboratory at Chiba University was asked

to investigate the researchers soon

found the culprit the same neonicotinoid

that had killed the bees in France we

nevertheless of seven very curious team

the medaka they were indeed in the

mesocosms treated within in a claw plane

we're all absolutely 100% of the fish

were contaminated with a protozoan

parasite and of course we put it down to

the fact that imidacloprid like

neonicotinoids inhibits the immune

system so it's all species were

sensitive to the insecticide except

document so that was the unusual thing

so Daphnia was an anomaly and the

unfortunate fact is that this anomaly

had been used as the reason to say that

this insecticide was safe for

environment one it was a complete

anomaly the poison did not kill the tiny

water fleas but it did effectively

exterminate much larger species it

weakened their immune system so severely

that they were easy prey for parasites

the results were indisputable or so

Sanchez bio thought but he hadn't

reckoned with a former Bayer scientist

who would actually help to develop

neonics the day I explained the results

of the first-year mesocosm studies to

the whole group and to the faculty at

the end he just couldn't understand the

results himself and he asked me so what

are you going to do with these results

and I said well the first thing I'm

going to do is to publish them because

it's something novelty and he really

didn't know what to say he was

speechless and said do you really want

to publish it and said yes I think it's

important to let the world know was

but they wanted to keep it secret they

didn't want to publicize something which

will be damaging for the company the

toxicologist says the laboratory then

terminated his contract but he published

the results anyway the events he

witnessed indicate that at least one

Bayer scientist knew right back in 2004

about the kind of devastation that

neonicotinoids can cause and ecosystems

from our research is clear that Bayer

tried for decades to prevent any kind of

universal ban on neonicotinoids in

France the company sought to intimidate

beekeepers and scientists and played a

leading role in a questionable study on

bee mortality that exonerated the

insecticides in Germany insecticide

makers funded a bee monitoring project

it led to the widespread belief that

neonicotinoids had nothing to do with

mass bee deaths and in Japan it would

appear Bayer employees even sought to

suppress the publication of a crucial

study scientists had proven that near

Nakata noids were responsible for the

collapse of entire ecosystems

so what does pay us say to all these

allegations and research results we

spent weeks trying to communicate with

the company and Levin denied entry to

its premises Bay of Representatives

refused to talk to us on camera our

written questions went unanswered

instead the company criticized what it

described as unfair treatment by the

media and mainly sent us this general

statement Bayer remains convinced that

the use of neonicotinoids is safe for

humans and the environment provided they

are used responsibly and in accordance

with the instructions for use

neonicotinoids only kill pests were told

Bayer studies claim that not even

long-term use is harmful to bees other

insects or fish as for the allegation

that Bayer employees sought to

manipulate other studies no comment we

return to Dutch toxicologist Hank

tanika's he spent years studying these

pesticides during that time he

discovered two studies carried out by

Bayer the findings of which are

astounding in one a bay a scientist

describes the effects of the first near

Nick at annoyed on a nervous system of a

species of fly these effects that

described as irreversible

imidacloprid is the first highly

effective insecticide that works on the

principle of almost completely blocking

receptors in a way that is virtually

irreversible one of the Bayer studies

was completed in 1991 so one year before

the product was granted EU wide approval

when tanika's confronted Bayer with

these studies he was taken aback by the

response by Bayer now claims that the

blocking of the receptors in the nervous

system is reversible

so they're contradicting themselves if

the effect is reversible it depends on

the concentration and so you can define

a threshold level if the blocking is

irreversible you can't define a

threshold level and so the effect is


the original bayer study is key because

if the toxins remain in the nervous

system that can lead to death even if

the insects were only exposed to a small


so if bae knew that why did the company

take no action immediately operator

aligner imidacloprid alone generates

annual turnover of nearly a billion

euros so I think that led them to just

claim something so they could keep

selling this pesticide

if they considered the impact this

substance has they would have had to

take it off the market we also asked the

Bayer group about these studies carried

out by its own scientists and once again

the company declined to comment there's

enough evidence to prove the dangers of

the enix but authorities have either

been slow to respond or taken no action

at all if we take the European Union for

example a look at how pesticides are

authorized is highly revealing

first the active ingredient is approved

for EU wide usage the manufacturer can

apply in any member state France was

chosen for the first neonicotinoid but

only the manufacturers test the

substance for toxicity and environmental

impact the authorities just do the

paperwork in Germany that's the Federal

Office of consumer protection and food

safety along with three other agencies

none of them tests products so

everything depends on studies carried

out by the manufacturer as the European

Beekeepers Association points out it's a

system that's all too easy to manipulate


this thing on the manufacturers can

intervene at all levels they even get a

say in how any prescribed tests are

structured up until now it's also been

the case that these studies that a

manufacturer commissioned or undertook

remained a corporate secret mr

Schiller's well they couldn't be

published on dom it's awesome steamed so

no one else could tell what the

licensing authorities actually checked

the smarter so that makes life easy for

the authorities because no one can

really question their decisions the

untrodden it's a very convenient

relationship between industry and

regulatory authority to this day it

remains a distinctly sickly system

what if independent laboratories were to

carry out tests prior to approval

instead of these powerful chemicals

companies we'd like to discuss this with

the German Agriculture Minister Yulia

Kleckner for weeks we tried to get an

interview when we finally got an

appointment we were told that we

couldn't use our camera and that the

minister had no time for us instead we

received a statement saying that the men

Street was committed to continuing to

develop the approval and licensing

procedures on the basis of the latest

developments in science and technology

and yet an EU directive aimed at

tightening the approval regulations for

pesticides has been stalled for years

with Germany among those standing in the


critics like French lawyer burner for

say it's the result of successful

lobbying by manufacturers like Bayer

dokie forbade knife scissors yet Allah

we mustn't be naive the goal and purpose

of these companies is to make money with

these products don't get enough mal good

and that's what they do with all means

at their disposal that's enormous

satisfaction of man Ave Vash Suki NEPA

normal what isn't normal is breaking the

law concealing facts playing for time


NATO in order to prevent products that

are harmful from being taken off the

market do we don't don't take it so nice


even though the evidence is clear

neonicotinoids are still one of the most

widely used insecticides in the world

Bayer on the one hand has influenced

scientific studies and intimidated and

sued its critics while on the other

lacks licensing rules and authorities

who have ignored deeply troubling

studies have prevented meaningful

controls and meaningful changes will

mean companies being monitored more

closely and warnings heeded earlier


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