Never underestimate the power of a few people willing to stand in a cold driving rain wearing bee suits.
A unit of the German chemical and pharmaceutical giant Bayer AG, Bayer CropScience is a major manufacturer of “neonics,” a widely used class of pesticides that has been implicated in some high-profile bee die-offs, including one that killed thousands of bumblebees in Wilsonville last year.As they have done in other land grant universities, Bayer rented the alumni center on the Oregon State University campus to create the impression that OSU was a cosponsor which it was not. The event was by invitation only with an rsvp a week before the presentation date in an attempt to control their audience--an attempt that proved unsuccessful since many uninvited attendees came from the Sustainable Beekeepers Association, a group not on their invitation list.
The Bee Care Tour — which made stops at Washington State University and the University of California-Davis before rolling into OSU this week — presents Bayer as an environmentally sensitive company with a “commitment to bee health” that includes developing a treatment for parasitic mites and advocating for responsible neonicotinoid use.
Follow me below the orange flight of the bumblebee for my personal account.
Given less than 24 hours’ notice by the Lane County Pacific Green Party, I found myself offline so I worked my phone. I was able to tip our local newspaper who indicated that they would be there. I was able to line up a sustainable beekeeper to speak to them.
I got there at nine and found no one there. Undaunted, I entered the building and wandered about the hall clutching my transparent plastic bag of protest signs with the word “BEES” clearly visible. I was quickly challenged by a Bayer representative asking if I was registered. I told him no but I’d talk to him after I used the restroom.
Refreshed, I returned to Mr. Bayer who explained to me that I could not stay if I was not an invited attendee. I responded that we knew that it was not an OSU sponsored event so understood that. They offered me some of their handouts which I took (see the bee washing tour itinerary below). Mr. Bayer then told me that he had spoken with the Police Chief who said we were only allowed to protest across the street. I responded that I had paid taxes in this town for twenty-five years, and it was my understanding that all sidewalks were public space where we were allowed to protest as long as we did not impede foot traffic. He offered to call the police so they could talk to me themselves. I was struck by his confidence that the local authorities would back him up which later proved to be misplaced.
Mr. Bayer stood with me between the double doors while we waited for the police to arrive. I took the opportunity to talk to him about the special qualities of the Willamette Valley; one of only six similar valleys worldwide, it could serve as a seed cradle when worldwide industrial agriculture would collapse as the UN is predicting. Indeed, we have a World Seed Repository just outside town.
Our local police have always been wonderful to us. Nervous bank managers would call them when Occupy appeared out front, and they were told that it was free speech and that, lacking trespassing or damage to private property, they were on their own. When the two officers arrived, we talked and mutually agreed that we could set up our protest on the sidewalk on this side of the street. They kindly scouted out two nearby bathroom facilities for us.
During a break in the presentation, several participants came out to stand with us and talk. One entomology graduate student showed us the questions she was going to ask at the Q & A. She also brought squares from the Memorial Bee Quilt in honor of the 55,000 bumblebees which had been killed by Bayer’s poisons in Wilsonville, the largest recorded bee die-off in US history for which the commercial sprayer was assessed the grand total of $550 in fines. We were glad to display this as it had been displayed at many other Oregon protests.
“All studies on neonicotinoids do not show any link to widespread colony losses,” he told his audience. “They all say the same thing: Colony losses do not correlate to neonicotinoid use or pesticide residue in hives.”Among the protesters, Phil Smith, a member of the Oregon Sustainable Beekeepers Association, characterized Bayer’s exhibition as “a green washing tour”.
Outside, however, a small group of rain-soaked protesters were telling a different story. Nine people, many of them in black and yellow bee costumes, crouched under umbrellas and held signs that said “Bayer kills bees,” “Ban bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticides” and “Bee smart: Stop using garden chemicals.”
“While it’s true that there are multiple causes contributing to honeybee declines, [Phil Smith] said, the purpose of the tour is to divert attention from the dangers of neonicotinoids, which make enormous profits for Bayer.OSU entomologist also took exception with Bayer’s assertions of the harmlessness of their products.
“It’s all PR,” Smith said. “There’s a host of peer-reviewed studies now that clearly show they’re killing bees wherever they’re used.”
OSU honeybee expert Ramesh Sagili said it’s true that there are multiple factors involved in the decline of honeybee populations and that there’s no conclusive evidence connecting neonicotinoids to colony collapse or honeybee declines.Attendees later reported that the Q & A part of the presentation was ‘uncomfortable’ for the Bayer representatives who were hard pressed to counter serious science-based questions about their presentation absolving their products in the decimation of our important pollinators upon which a major portion of our food supply rests.
But he also said it’s disingenuous for manufacturers to pretend that pesticides don’t play a role in the problem. (My emphasis)
“We don’t have a number to put on them, but everybody agrees they are part of the problem,” Sagili said.
Even in cases where neonics don’t kill pollinators outright, he added, there is evidence of troubling sublethal effects such as interference with bees’ ability to navigate.
Above all else, he said, there needs to be much clearer labeling of neonicotinoids, especially for people who are not certified pesticide applicators.
“The labels should be very clear for home use,” Sagili said. “People have to understand that neonics are toxic to bees and are to be applied only when there is no other choice.”
Bayer’s second annual ‘Bee Care Tour’ will be traveling to the following sites:
Commodity Classic (San Antonio)—February 27-March 1
South Dakota State University (Brookings SD)-March 12
Purdue University (West Lafayette, IN)- March 20
National Pollinator Week (Washington, D.C.)-June 16-23
It is my fervent hope that Bayer will be ‘welcomed’ to these places as we did.
UPDATE: It is so seldom that my "fervent hopes" are realized that I wanted to share the news that San Antonio is ready to welcome Bayer!