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Studies fault Bayer in bee die-off

A corn pesticide manufactured by the German chemical company Bayer has come under scrutiny in two scientific studies that indicate that it is responsible for mass deaths of pollinating bees. 

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Honeybees fill a hive at Golden Angels Apiary in Singers Glen, Va., last month. Though colony collapse disorder has not affected Valley beekeepers, local hives are still susceptible to a variety of dangers, like neonicotinoids, an insecticide thought to attack the insects' central nervous system.

Michael Reilly/Daily News-Record/AP

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In a spring ritual as old as life itself, Steve Ellis' bees return to their hives day after day loaded with pollen from the dandelions and flowering trees that are in full bloom across central Minnesota.

But for too many of them, a day of foraging ends in convulsions and death.

"You wouldn't think people could get attached to insects," said Ellis, a commercial honey producer from Barrett, Minn. "But it's hard for us to see our bees getting injured like that."

Hard enough that Ellis and other beekeepers from across the country last month asked the federal government for a temporary ban on one the most widely used pesticides until its effect on bees is clear. They fear it is contributing to a worldwide die-off and the inexplicable phenomenon known as "colony collapse disorder" that is devastating honeybee hives.

"We are asking the EPA to do its job," said Jeff Anderson, a commercial beekeeper from Eagle Bend, Minn. "Give us products that are safe."

The beekeepers and several environmental groups argue in an emergency petition filed with the EPA that the agency failed to require some legally mandated field testing before the pesticide was approved in 2003. New research, including two studies published last week in the journal Science, raises serious questions about its effect on pollinators of all kinds, they maintain.

The EPA said it has based its continued approval on hundreds of studies. In 2010, the agency said no data show that bee colonies are harmed by exposure. Nevertheless, it agreed to accelerate its routine review of the pesticide – meaning it will be completed in 2018.

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