Bee activists in Berkeley protest corporation’s production of insecticides

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Bay Area bee activists swarmed a corner of Bayer Corporation’s Berkeley facilities Saturday afternoon, protesting against the pharmaceutical company’s production of insecticides.

About 25 people from various Bay Area environmental activist groups gathered to peacefully protest Bayer’s use of neonicotinoids, a class of insecticides that has been linked to dwindling bee populations. The protesters held homemade signs with slogans reading “Give bees a chance!” and sang songs against Monsanto, an agrochemical company that has received criticism for its use of neonicotinoids.

“We want (Bayer) to admit that what they’re doing is dangerous, and they have huge resources to find alternative ways that don’t have to use chemicals,” said Christine Rossi, a Bay Area activist and artist who organized Saturday’s protest. “Hopefully, they’ll take them off the market but at least change the way they’re being used.”

According to Becky Langer-Curry, manager of the North American Bee Care Program at Bayer, the corporation has a program promoting bee health research. Through the program, Bayer participates in environmental activities around the nation, including university tours to promote bee health.

“We value anyone’s interest in bee health, and we value everyone’s opinion,” Langer-Curry said. “It takes everyone working together to make sure we are protecting our pollinators.”

Bayer has worked on developing the varroa gate, which is applied on bee hives to protect bees from varroa mite bites. Previously, the company released a seed lubricant that aims to reduce the risk of dust contact by pollinators during the planting process.

Neonics, short for neonicotinoids, are persistent in the environment and are soluble in water, meaning that they are absorbed into the plants’ pollen and nectar, through which they are exposed to pollinators of the plant, said Susan Kegley, CEO of the Pesticide Research Institute.

At lower doses, neonics harm the bees’ immune system, as well as impacting their navigation and reproduction, according to Kegley. At higher doses, the bees will die.

Kegley, who in her own research studies neonics in nursery plants, said the Environmental Protection Agency has the power to limit use of chemicals such as neonics. Europe has already suspended use of neonics on bee-attractive crops such as canola and sunflower plants.

“It’s a starting point for the U.S. to at least acknowledge what these chemicals do over the long term,” Kegley said,

In addition to appealing to the EPA, adapting methods such as diversified agriculture could make it easier to control pests and move away from pesticide use, she said.

“Solutions won’t be immediate, and they won’t be super straightforward,” Kegley said. “But it’s really clear that some things need to change, or we’re going to wipe out our ecosystems altogether.”

Contact Lydia Tuan at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @tuanlydia.