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Bayer Crop Sciences, which is the leading producer of neonicotinoids, says it is used on 90 percent of the corn grown in the U.S. and is safe. Bayer eco-toxicologist David Fischer said the honeybee study used unrealistically high doses of the chemicals, amounts that would not be used on crops bees normally pollinate.

Berenbaum, Pettis and a third outside scientist said the bumblebee study was more convincing than the honeybee research because it used lower doses and didn’t make as many assumptions.

Bayer’s Fischer said perhaps bumblebees are more sensitive to the pesticide and that issue is worthy of more study. But he said his company is one of the biggest canola growers in Canada and it uses the pesticide. The honeybees that pollinate Bayer’s fields are “some of the healthiest bees in Canada,” he said.

But environmental activists and some beekeepers are convinced the pesticide is a problem.

“The simple fact is, we know enough to take decisive action on this class of pesticides which covers well over 143 million acres of U.S. countryside,” said Heather Pilatic, co-director of the Pesticide Action Network North America.

The EPA, in a prepared statement said the decline in bee health, is due to “complex interactions” that involve inadequate food sources, diseases caused by parasites and viruses, habitat loss and bee management practices, as well as pesticides.

Bees are needed to pollinate fruit, vegetables and nuts. Without them experts say our diets would be very bland. Honeybees, which aren’t native to America, are managed by professional beekeepers, carted from farm to orchard and raised to produce honey. Bumblebees, native to this country, are wild pollinators.

Without bees, Berenbaum said, “we’d be a scurvy-ridden society.”

Science: http://www.sciencemag.org

Seth Borenstein be followed at http://twitter.com/borenbears