Bayer faces scrutiny

Bayer CropScience is facing more scrutiny over the effects one of its best selling pesticides has had on honeybees.

A German prosecutor is investigating Werner Wenning, Bayer's chairman, and Friedrich Berschauer, the head of Bayer CropScience, for knowingly polluting the environment. The investigation was triggered by a complaint filed Aug. 13 by German beekeepers and consumer protection advocates, Philipp Mimkes, spokesman for the Coalition against Bayer Dangers, said Monday.

The complaint is part of efforts by groups on both sides of the Atlantic to determine how much Bayer CropScience knows about the part clothianidin played in the death of millions of honey bees. The company, which has its U.S. headquarters in Research Triangle Park, said field studies have shown that bees' exposure to the pesticide is minimal or nonexistent as long as the chemical is used properly.

“We're suspecting that Bayer submitted flawed studies to play down the risks of pesticide residues in treated plants,” said Harro Schultze, the coalition's attorney.

Under German law, a criminal investigation could lead to a search of Bayer offices, Mimkes said.

On this side of the Atlantic, the Natural Resources Defense Council is also pressing for clothianidin research information. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved the pesticide in 2003 under the condition that Bayer submit additional data. A lawsuit the environmental group filed Aug. 19 in a Washington, D.C., federal court accuses the EPA of hiding the honeybee data.

The group thinks the data might show what role clothianidin has played in the loss of millions of U.S. honeybee colonies.

While bees have been jeopardized before, researchers have been puzzled by what is causing the bees to disappear at what is considered an alarming rate. The phenomenon, also known as colony collapse disorder, threatens a significant portion of the U.S. food supply. About one out of every three mouthfuls in the U.S. diet stems from crops pollinated by bees.