Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - BUSINESS & FARM - AG­NIESZKA DE SOUSA

“There are nu­mer­ous things im­pact­ing bee health. One of the very mi­nor el­e­ments there is pes­ti­cides.” Erik Fyr­wald, Syn­genta Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer

Syn­genta AG de­fended pes­ti­cides that sev­eral stud­ies show are linked to bee deaths, say­ing the widen­ing of a ban in Europe would lead to farm­ers us­ing worse al­ter­na­tives and crop yields shrink­ing.

The com­pany, bought by China Na­tional Chem­i­cal Corp. for $43 bil­lion this year, said af­ter the lat­est study into the neon­i­coti­noid com­pounds that they’re just one is­sue af­fect­ing the in­sects. While that view by Syn­genta is backed up by the sci­en­tific re­port re­leased last month, its lead author said in­dus­try re­luc­tance to ad­mit prob­lems was be­com­ing un­ten­able.

Syn­genta Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer Erik Fyr­wald said in an in­ter­view in Brus­sels: “There are nu­mer­ous things im­pact­ing bee health, One of the very mi­nor el­e­ments there is pes­ti­cides. So it’s amaz­ing to us that the discussion is, as a whole, about pes­ti­cides. Not only pes­ti­cides, just specif­i­cally neon­ics.”

Af­ter years of de­clines in bee colonies and sev­eral stud­ies in­di­cat­ing harm from neon­i­coti­noids, the Euro­pean Union’s ex­ec­u­tive arm is pre­par­ing pro­pos­als for a per­ma­nent ban. The dilemma for pol­i­cy­mak­ers, pes­ti­cide busi­nesses, sci­en­tists and farm­ers is how to pre­vent fur­ther dam­age to bees, es­sen­tial for pol­li­nat­ing more than 80 per­cent of the re­gion’s crops and wild plants, while main­tain­ing food sup­ply re­liant on such com­pounds.

For Syn­genta’s Fyr­wald, a fur­ther ban on neon­i­coti­noids would force farm­ers to use less-ef­fec­tive al­ter­na­tives, mean­ing that pro­duc­tion falls even as more chem­i­cals are sprayed on the land. He pointed to de­clin­ing oilseed rape har­vests since the EU’s tem­po­rary ban came into ef­fect in De­cem­ber 2013 as farms strug­gle to con­trol the spread

of flea bee­tles, adding that rape flow­ers are a food source for pol­li­na­tors like bees.

The EU’s rape­seed crop rose in the 2014-15 sea­son when plant­ings took place be­fore the ban, then dropped 19 per­cent dur­ing the two sea­sons through 2016-17, ac­cord­ing to data com­piled by the trad­ing bloc.

“Some of those in­sec­ti­cides, we don’t think are as ef­fec­tive and there­fore they’re hav­ing to use more and get­ting lower yields,” Fyr­wald said. “It’s re­ally crit­i­cal for the Euro­pean farm­ers to not have im­por­tant tools taken away from them without a clear sci­en­tific ba­sis.”

Syn­genta and Bayer AG clashed with the EU in court this year over the ban. Yet that hasn’t discouraged the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion from draft­ing pro­pos­als that would all but out­law the pes­ti­cides out­side

green­houses. While the ex­ec­u­tive hasn’t yet for­mally put for­ward the plans, it sent the draft reg­u­la­tions to the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment in March.

Sep­a­rately, the Euro­pean Food Safety Author­ity is as­sess­ing data and stud­ies for a full re-eval­u­a­tion of neon­i­coti­noids that’s due in Novem­ber, a spokesman for the agency said.

The de­bate has gained a higher pro­file in the past two weeks with the re­lease of a study pub­lished in peer­re­viewed jour­nal Science that showed neon­i­coti­noids harmed bees in Hun­gary and the U.K. How­ever, the re­search found no dam­age for over­win­ter­ing bees in Ger­many, the third coun­try in­volved.

Syn­genta also high­lighted ref­er­ences in the re­port to the use­ful­ness of neon­i­coti­noids in farm­ing and the im­por­tance of a broad range of fac­tors, in­clud­ing the wider qual­ity of the en­vi­ron­ment, such as wild flower di­ver­sity, for main­tain­ing bees’ health.

Ben Wood­cock, lead author of the study at the Cen­tre for Ecol­ogy & Hy­drol­ogy, agreed that pes­ti­cides are nec­es­sary to feed grow­ing pop­u­la­tions and the chem­i­cals at is­sue aren’t the sole cause of de­clines in bees in Europe. Au­thor­i­ties also need to con­sider what farm­ers will use in­stead if a ban is im­posed, he said.

“But that doesn’t mean that pes­ti­cides should be used ba­si­cally freely,” he said in an in­ter­view. “The in­dus­try’s con­tin­ued stance that neon­i­coti­noids are not a prob­lem, given the weight of ev­i­dence that is cur­rently ex­ist­ing, I think it’s be­com­ing un­ten­able.”

At Syn­genta, Fyr­wald in­sisted that more stud­ies were needed and called for co­op­er­a­tion be­tween com­pa­nies, reg­u­la­tors, aca­demics, bee­keep­ers and non­govern­men­tal groups on how to de­velop sus­tain­able agri­cul­ture. He fears that the is­sue has been politi­cized.

The com­pany, which sets aside $1.3 bil­lion a year for re­search,

will in­crease spend­ing on stud­ies into seeds and crop pro­tec­tion af­ter the takeover by ChemChina, Fyr­wald said.

“This po­lit­i­cal, look­ing at one-prod­uct-at-a-time thing is dan­ger­ous for EU farm­ing but also dan­ger­ous for the world of sus­tain­abil­ity,” he said. “We’re propos­ing that more stud­ies be done. We’re not say­ing all the facts are there. Let’s do more stud­ies.”

Athens Ban­ner-Her­ald/JOSHUA L. JONES

Bees col­lect pollen from the flow­ers of a salvia mys­tic spires plant dur­ing an open house at the Univer­sity of Ge­or­gia Trial Gar­dens in Athens, Ga., on Satur­day. China-owned Syn­genta AG con­tin­ues to de­fend its neon­i­coti­noid pes­ti­cides that sev­eral stud­ies show are linked to bee deaths.

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