Bayer/EPA memo: Better living through poison


We’ve all been hearing about a leaked EPA memo that appeared a few days ago, linking colony collapse disorder to Bayer CropScience and the pesticide clothianidin, which the company wants to use on mustard seed and cotton. This pesticide attacks the nervous system of insects; it is used to treat seeds, but spreads to all parts of the plant as it grows. It is sold under the name Deter. As reported in Farmer’s Guardian in 2006: “Bayer is recommending Deter seed treatments for use in early drilled and low seed rate crops and crops drilled at conventional timings where slugs and wireworm pose a threat to establishment.” The November 2010 EPA memo admitted that their testing did not demonstrate that the pesticide would be safe for honeybees.

Bayer was supposed to run comprehensive safety tests on clothianidin in 2004, but never did, completely, and the chemical has been in use ever since with little or no evidence that it is safe. All this has happened under the not-so-watchful eye of the EPA.

And there’s more—apparently other chemicals from this family, called neonicotinoids, have been in use for over 15 years. A Colorado beekeeper, Tom Theobald, who now loses 30–40%  of his hives per year, exposed the memo, the story of which has  been quickly spreading over the interwebs. Barbara/Mr. McGregor’s Daughter drew my attention to it. Feel free to google—I can’t detail the whole saga in a post, and there are other links.

Although almost all gardeners I know—including our online community here—have largely rejected the use of poisons to keep our gardens going, we live within a larger agricultural/garden industry world where it’s still a way of life. Just the other day, I was buying some indoor plants at a local nursery, and noticed an employee recommending Ortho-whatever to another customer, who bought it and probably sprayed it inside his house, where his family and pets will be inhaling it along with some wretched plant infested by 2 spider mites.

And then there is the Western New York nursery and landscaping association, who actually protested a recent ban on playground pesticide use in New York State. Playgrounds. Not to mention Canada Blooms,  the Toronto garden show that declined to show the movie Chemical Reaction, even though it only tells the story of how pesticides came to be banned in parts of Canada. Where Canada Blooms takes place. 

We need more people to get the memo.  

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Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. Many potting soils have systemic insecticides.

    How many non-gardeners, aka majority of purchasers, know what this means?

    Use the soil, put in your pretty plants. Voila, KILL, all the lady bugs, butterflies, honeybees & etc. attracted to your blooms, foliage.

    How did we get here?

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

    (Thank you Garden Rant for all you do.)

  2. I read an article in (I think) the London Times online last year about CCD in Europe and possible causes. The neonicotinoids have been banned over there for several years now, but do we do the sane thing and follow suit? Nooooo! And unfortunately, since the multinationals now effectively constitute the government of this country (having all 3 branches of govt. in their employ), things probably will stay status quo at best, and get even more evil at worst. I despair…..we’re being guinea-pigged to the death in the world’s largest science experiment.

  3. I’ve also been in the position of watching the big box stores (and even some local nurseries) recommend pesticides and herbicides to innocent new gardeners…and I’ve intervened, much to the irritation of the salesperson. Sadly, many gardeners look for a quick fix for their problems and don’t educate themselves about the long-term effects of their actions. Yes, blame the corporations–but it’s time for consumers to educate themselves about the chemical warfare used not only on our produce–but all of our food chain. And, as experienced gardeners and producers, we need to help educate them–even if it means ticking off some salespeople.

    Thanks for all that you do in sharing knowledge!


  4. My husband’s uncle is a Big Ag salesman for Bayer. We’ve, well, not “clashed” … but I guess we’ve “had our differences of opinion” over the things he hawks. He bristles when I recommend organic mulch & ladybugs as solutions to garden problems; I bristle when he talks about his company’s latest poison. I know he’s got to defend his employer and the way he’s chosen to feed his family. But I feel the need to defend my family, myself, my food & my home from pesticides – and thus we ‘discuss’. I haven’t figured out yet how he reconciles his otherwise spotless image as a caring father & member of the community with selling chemicals that will potentially harm said community more than they will ever assist it.

    Now if his company focused on organic defenses & making sure they were applied correctly, then we might have a productive discussion. But I guess that’s not the kind of science they’re interested in.

  5. Thanks for the link, I just want to spread the word as widely as possible. I love honeybees, and fear for their survival. They are such intelligent and remarkable creatures.
    In the Ask the Master Gardener column in my local paper, someone wrote in asking whether, if they sprayed weed killer to kill grass & weeds under a rosebush, it would harm the rose. I nearly choked on my coffee. This better living through chemicals mentality has got to stop.

  6. One goes through life with so many vague suspicions, and the average person just has no way to access what’s really going on in Corporate America. It can make a person feel paranoia, even while knowing that something, something is happening somewhere that we can do little about all by ourselves. Thank you so very much for this information. I drew this cartoon years ago, and now the information is finally coming into focus.

  7. It is depressing that the government does not protect our food production the way it should, all aspects of food production, and this story points out the importance of all of us doing our bit to educate the public. Thank you for this information which I will pass on. As a former beekeeper (until I developed a severe allergy) I try to pay particular attention to the state of the honeybee world.

  8. Penn State has been “leading” the research into CCD for years now. They just hosted a world-wide pollinator conference this past summer. If you want to google something, start with the connection between Bayer Agro Science and Penn State. Bayer gives Penn State millions of dollars. Of course, there’s no conflict of interest there. Yeah, right.

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