Scientist defends findings of new pesticides study from industry criticism

Published by Lia Flattery on

July 27th, 2017

The lead author of a study that found neonicotinoid pesticides (NCPs) to be harmful to European bees has defended his findings against criticism from pesticide manufacturers that part-funded the research.

The study by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) published last month in Science was part-funded by pesticide producers Bayer and Syngenta.

Carried out in the UK, Hungary and Germany, the study demonstrated that exposure to winter oilseed rape crops treated with NCPs from both companies lowered the overwintering success of honeybees in the UK and Hungary.

The study also found that NCPs reduced the reproductive success of wild bees across all three countries. The new study was notable as it was the first time that NCPs had been tested on such a large scale.

Greenpeace’s Energydesk has since reported that Dr Ben Woodcock, who led the study, has said that Bayer and Syngenta sought to disparage his work after it was published.

Both Bayer and Syngenta have accused CEH scientists of misrepresenting the data and exaggerating the danger posed by NCPs to honeybees and wild bees.

Bayer’s head of UK government media relations, Dr Julian Little, told Energydesk: “We’re quite frustrated about how these results have been portrayed. The reality seems to be a long way away from the headline.” Syngenta’s environmental specialist also claimed that CEH had misrepresented the study.

Speaking to Energydesk, Dr Woodcock said that it “wasn’t a surprise” when Bayer and Syngenta responded negatively to the results.

“We knew as soon as the results came back as being negative, they weren’t going to be happy and I understand that”, he said.

However, he said that he did not appreciate being accused of being a “liar” and of “falsifying results by cherry-picking data”.

“I’ve got little to gain from this and it’s been a major headache,” he added. “We just present the results we get.”

Earlier this month, Energydesk also revealed that Bayer and Syngenta made repeated requests to the CEH for raw data from the experiments prior to publication of the study, but were refused.

Email correspondence, obtained by Energydesk, showed that the companies had also sent their own studies to the scientists concluding that NCPs posed a low risk to bees. Dr Woodcock accused these studies of being “statistically flawed”.

In 2013, the European Commission implemented a temporary ban on certain NCPs in the EU because of the health risks for bees. Recent reports suggest that the Commission will call for a total ban by the end of 2017.

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Lia Flattery

Lía is a former writer and Deputy Editor at Trinity News. She also has a BA in History and English Literature from Trinity College Dublin.