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A Stricken Sector of Production in Apiculture: Beekeeping, hit in full flight.

Reasons for the national demonstration, 23rd - 24th - 25th October 2000 in front of Bayer's factory, Cormery, France.

The Co-ordination of French Beekeepers
Translated by Peter Dillon 


The expansion of sunflower culture in France since 1984/1985 allowed a large number of beekeeping exploitations to be maintained, even develop in unfavorable economic climate.

Effectively, the price paid to the French honey producer for either blossom honey or the basic honeys of sunflower, rape and alfalfa was associated with the level of those paid for imported honeys: the latter often being produced in regions of the world where operational costs are much lower and nectar sources more abundant.

Nevertheless, the important and stable yield of the sunflower not only allowed production at a competitive selling price compared with imported honey, but equally it generated a commercially intense export activity. Northern countries of the European Union had a passion for these French sunflower honeys; quality wise they were recognized as excellent honeys.

These interesting perspectives in terms of production and commercialization gave rise to new beekeeping installations (especially amongst young people), whilst established beekeepers increased their stocks and adapted their production equipment, allowing for best possible use of the new potential. As a result, and even not taking into consideration heavy investments into buildings and vehicles, the whole beekeeping network profited: honey dealers, equipment sales, development of new materials, development of new honey products.

The increase of bee stocks in the areas of intensive crop farming, where sunflower is grown, guarantees an even better supply of pollinating insects on rape, alfalfa etc. Furthermore neither seed producers, arboriculturists, soft fruit farmers complained about the surplus colonies of bees, nor the average person. Indeed, more bees favor bio-diversity, already badly attacked by human activity in these vast croplands. 

Since 1994 the beekeepers of central France, (in 1995 or 1996 in other regions) noticed that at the beginning of the sunflower honey flow brutal population losses occurred in the honeybee colonies.

A weakened colony results in a reduced honey harvest. Year on year, this phenomenon of "colony melt down" has amplified, verified by evolving production levels.

Effectively, figures communicated by two principal apicultural co-operatives - Cooperative France Miel (Mouchard - 39) / Cooperative Apicole of Charentes and Poitou (Surgères - 17) -, translated a fall in their collect of sunflower honey between 1995 and 1999 of the order of 50%. Also, a study of accounts carried out by the Deux-Sevres Chamber of Agriculture on four professional exploitations illustrated the degradation in production figures for sunflower honey (see document in annex).

Until the appearance of this phenomenon of "melting away" of bee colonies on the sunflower nectar flow, the exploitations working in areas of arable agriculture realized 70 to 90% of their annual global production from the sunflowers! Even where the market for sunflower honey has had for four years a certain increase in value, it has never been enough to cover for the losses in production. Worse still, in conjunction with the depopulation during July/ beginning of August, beekeepers deplore winter losses, at levels never encountered before. (traditionally at 5 to 10%, they have risen to levels of 20 - 40%!) 

In these conditions of production of lower turnover and increased charges, there are many exploitations in areas of arable agriculture where profitability has been compromised, to the point where they can no longer feed their families, even to the point of bankruptcy and closure. Therefore, it is the whole of the apicultural network that is suffering.

punaise.gif (183 octets)2. BEES AND PESTICIDES / DANGEROUS LIASONS.

During this century, Man has turned more and more towards pesticides. The need to protect or privilege crops, associated with the increase of land put into agriculture use means that agriculture is by far the greatest user of pesticides (insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, acaricides etc.).

Since the 1940s, thick carpets of dead bees in front of hives or worse, colonies completely annihilated in the space of a few days, constantly reminds beekeepers that in general - and certainly for the older molecules - insecticides are not selective. The useful character of the bee does not mean that is protected against lethal intoxication - useful insects are still insects. From a general point of view, products, known as herbicides, fungicides, acaricides, aphicides, do have an insecticidal action: intoxication level is a question of dose and contamination pathway.

Neurotoxic molecules have been developed over the last three decades. Occasionally they are applied in less than good agricultural practice, used for the wrong purpose, or without respect to the recognized dose Sometimes, even when used in good agricultural conditions, their "homologation" was not sufficiently studied in a pertinent manner. In both cases, their use results in a hemorrhage of bees, or weakening of exposed bee colonies, even if one doesn't observe the dead bees in front of the hives. One can refer to sub-lethal effects of a neurotoxic pesticide, without observable death within the few hours after contamination but expressed with "sly" and more complex symptoms relating to behavior problems".

These symptoms of comportemental sub-lethal intoxication are multiple. At extremely low dose levels, certain neuro-toxic pesticides affect reproductive comportment, feeding behavior or the ability to lay eggs properly. Influence on locomotion as seen in the de-coupling of flight muscles occurs - resulting in difficulties in controlled directional flight, whilst at intra-colony level functioning of essential communication between individuals is disturbed.

During the last four to six years at the beginning of the sunflower honey flow, with an absence of mass mortality before hives, it has been easy to observe that harvesting bees have an abnormal comportment. In the sunflower fields themselves the work undertaken by the bees actually on the flowers is ineffective or non-existent, with too long periods of rest or sequences of persistent body cleaning/ scratching. Bees that are to be found away from the normally attractive areas of the plant and those to be found on the ground are hit by a sort of paralysis. Their predators have a field day! In front of the hive entrances there are very frequent failures in landing or take off. This is associated with excessive filtering and aggressiveness by guard bees.

It is reasonable to associate these symptoms with the massive "melting away" of the populations, which consequently profoundly deregulate and damage the global activity of the colony. Those bees that remain try to reorganize, notably by a reconstitution of the colony; directing energy towards increased reproduction. The symptomatic study of harvesting bees at the beginning of the sunflower honey flow allows for correlation between the massive depopulation of the colony and the sub-lethal intoxication by minute doses of a neuro toxin.

Since 1997, more than half of the sunflower seed has been treated with "GAUCHO", (BAYER), formulated with the active neurotoxic material Imidacloprid - and as its introduction onto sunflower coincided with the debut of apicultural problems, the treatment with "GAUCHO" had to be considered as the probable cause of beehive depopulation.

punaise.gif (183 octets)3. THE GAUCHO DOSSIER.

From its introduction, "Imidacloprid" the active substance was announced as the first systemic soil insecticide applied as a seed treatment ("GAUCHO"). Neuro toxic, it works by contact as well as ingestion, on the nervous system by maintaining neural activity, inducing a tetanic condition resulting in the death of the insect. It presents a wide spectrum of effectiveness: soil pests as well as piercing/sucking insects are affected.

Even just coating a seed, due to its persistence it will be present throughout the whole of the plants growing cycle, and due to its remarkable systemic properties, it will be transported by the sap circulation to all parts of the plant. It is very toxic for the bee, but the formulation "GAUCHO" was not supposed to contaminate pollen and nectar, which are susceptibly harvested by bees during the flowering of the crop. "GAUCHO" is authorized as a seed treatment for Beet, Maize, all straw cereals and sunflowers.

Imidacloprid is found in other formulations in France: "CONFIDOR" (spray treatments for fruit trees), "POLYAXE" (Horticulture), "ADVANTAGE" (treatment against fleas on dogs and cats).

The principal stages and diverse studies characterizing the research on the possible effects on bees following applications of "GAUCHO" to sunflower seed are as follows:

On the 13th of August 1999, the Dutch Government decided to withdraw all authorizations for the use of Imidacloprid in open-air conditions from 1st Jan. 2000. The reasons invoked were: the too long persistence in soils of the molecule with regard to European Standards, a intolerable toxicity vis a vis birds (A beet treated seed ingested by a bird the size of a sparrow was lethal), toxicity vis a vis bees did not conform to Uniform Principles. BAYER blocked the process notably by submerging the Dutch administration with "new scientific data". A decision is to be taken 1st Nov. 2000.

It seems that France is the only country in the world to authorize the use of GAUCHO on sunflowers: it was also troubling to see that French beekeepers were originally alone in announcing grave problems on "colony melt down" in areas of arable agriculture. 
Recently, beekeepers in Spain, Italy, some states in the U.S.A. are encountering problems that cannot be explained other than by sub-lethal intoxication caused by Imidacloprid, very notably from maize treated with "GAUCHO": bees harvest the pollen from maize plants.

punaise.gif (183 octets)4. THE STATE OF KNOWLEDGE RELATING TO GAUCHO - BEES AT THE DATE OF 15th Oct 2000.

It is true that certain study reports ordered in January 1999, by the Minister J. Glavany have still not seen the light of day (Rapport N° 4 from CNRS / Orleans - Dr Bonmatin: residues in pollen, nectars and honeys), and that others are reserved for a selected public (the rapport's of BAYER and of CETIOM). It is still possible to propose a synthesis.

The resulting analyses on residues undertaken by CNRS/Orleans confirm the strong hypotheses of 1998 or reveal the following:

The biological effects on bees are reported as follows:

punaise.gif (183 octets)5. QUESTIONS ARISING FROM THIS ACCOUNT.

Wouldn't it be a grave error of judgment not to correlate the sub-lethal toxic effects of Imidacloprid, which start at a level of some ppb. in laboratory conditions with those of hive depopulation in the field, knowing that it is biologically available at levels of several ppb.?

One may read today: " that "GAUCHO" risks to come into play at a level of a few ppb.". Remarking that in the risk evaluation of a pesticide in relation to human health, there is a security factor resulting from strict tests of 100 put in place for tolerated exposure levels; (undertaken upon animals such as rats, mice, dogs, cats and rabbits). It seems normal that Man should benefits from these safeguards, since apparently in the domain of toxic risk assessment science is not exact. Believing Albert Einstein, Man survives thanks to the bee, "No bees, no pollination, no plants, no animals, no Man". Would it not be better to apply in all cases the results of toxicological studies undertaken in laboratories to bees, with a coefficient of security greater than 1, to fix tolerable limits in bio-availability?

Does "GAUCHO", also used as a preventative treatment against aphid attack not pose a problem as aphids cause harm only one year in six. When the former situation arises only one year in six. Is this compatible with the concept of "reasoned agriculture"?

The bee is considered as a true indicator of the environment's state of the health. As it is not a question anymore that the available Imidacloprid in the natural environment is a danger for bees does it not suggest that other useful insects are being aggressed?

If with the domesticated bee, other auxiliary insects are being attacked, does it not inevitably lead to a lack in pollination plus an absence of predator insects preying on pests? The too long persistence in soils of Imidacloprid, added to its frequent and multiple use result in a fear that there will be an accumulation of it and its metabolites in soil?

The extreme toxicity of Imidacloprid for earthworms has been shown, notably by A.C.T.A.: according to BAYER, the worm population recovers after six to nine months. In these conditions, do we not need to worry for the survival of earthworms, indispensable agents for the working of soils and development of the microbial mass?

The suspension of "GAUCHO" on sunflowers during the last two years has allowed a more recent molecule to establish onto the market: "FIPRONIL" (produced by Rhone-Poulenc, now Aventis). For sunflowers it is found under the form of: Seed treatment ("Régent"); micro-granules (+ aldicarb as "Trident"); Ground spray ("Schuss").

Beekeepers have observed that where sunflowers are treated with "REGENT", bees become ill once the sunflowers start to flower and produce nectar (Filmed sequences are available).

The report from studies undertaken by Dr.M.E. Colin (INRA-Avignon), show that the bees have a foraging behavior less efficient and less conform when compared too the one seen on organically grown sunflowers. "FIPRONIL" concerning its chronic toxicity for bees, is as least as toxic as "GAUCHO". "FIPRONIL" is present in the plant and is very persistent in soil.

punaise.gif (183 octets)6. AUTHORIZATION AND REGULATIONS.

In France, the regulations covering the use of insecticides date from 1943. They have since undergone several modifications.

Imidacloprid obtained its first provisional authorization for sale in 1991 - for the treatment of Beet seed ("GAUCHO / Beet) after passing an examination by the "Commission des Toxiques", charged to evaluate the product and an examination by the "Comité d'Homologation", charged to evaluate a product's effectiveness. The authorization dossier for "GAUCHO"(1992), under the chapter " toxicity towards non-target organisms / bees", mentions nothing more than the L(ethal) D(ose)50 allowing for the classification of Imidacloprid as very toxic for bees. As a general rule, the authorization is given by the Minister of Agriculture for a ten-year period. Logically, "GAUCHO" should therefore be re-examined according to national regulations during 2001 if BAYER wishes to continue with its sale: in this case, BAYER should already have signaled this fact to the administration.

Imidacloprid, being on the market before 25th July 1993, had no need to be evaluated by the European Directive 91/414 and is not therefore really listed on the European positive list, a required obligation in the granting of permission to have formulation accepted in one of the E.U. countries. (Derogation was given to substances produced before the date of 25th July 1993).

It appears therefore that Imidacloprid is due for examination under this directive in the year 2003. For many reasons other than considerations concerning bees, it is improbable that Imidacloprid will pass the examination of the directive 91/414..

The risk assessment for the bees only considers acute toxicity: for this reason, it is not surprising that the sub-lethal effects were never taken into account before the aforementioned studies were evoked.


15th October 2000

La Coordination des Apiculteurs de France (SNA, SPMF, UNAF, FDSEA 79, FDSEA 85)

The Co-ordination of French Beekeepers.
Translated by Peter Dillon 


Following an important fall in production in Sunflower honey, an enquiry into the quantities harvested was undertaken by the Chamber of Agriculture in the county of Deux-Sevres following a request from a beekeepers union

Four beekeepers were chosen. They owned approximately 10% of the hives found in the county (2500 against 20000 present).
The figures relate to the years 1992 - 1999.

The apiaries had become non-productive, either in 1995/96, year of introduction of "GAUCHO", or between 1996/99. The areas in the plains appeared to be most affected. The nectar flows produced by other crops pose no questions.

Results (Sunflower harvest): For the period 1992/93, three exploitations were taken into account. For 1994/95 four exploitations are taken into account.


Number of hives  

Total production (kg)

Hive production (kg)



29 458




35 331



1 146

90 011



2 331

87 808



2 462

52 615



2 467

59 535



2 670

59 298



2 760

56 270



16 333

470 326





5 988

242 608



10 345

227 718


- 46 % !

For the bee farmers, an average loss of 215 538 kilograms of honey was noted, which represents a loss in turnover of 2 550 456 FF if a sale price of 12 FF is applied.



1995  1 000 893
1996  1 109 950
1997  638 727
1998  637 446
1999  500 000


*For 1999, Figures based on expected supplies from information supplied to Co operative by beekeepers.


The Co-operative France-MIEL, created in 1958, has at its disposal significant data on the trends of different varieties of honey. These figures are informative, since the beekeepers are committed to supply the totality of their annual harvests to the Co operative, which has in turn a laboratory specializing in the floral determination of the supplied honeys.

Due to this fact, the amount harvested determined as sunflower honey corresponds to precise technical criteria.

The Co-operative collects on average 2 000 tons of French honey per year, a third of which is sunflower

Other file: Gaucho, sunflower and bees

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