OPERA Research Center, a front group for the pesticide industry in the bee debate

Tuesday 24 December 2013

conflict of interest bee health pesticides

Bees and other pollinating insects, playing a crucial role in biodiversity and agriculture, are under threat. Bee colonies decline has been increasing in Europe. Neonicotinoids, a group of widely-used insecticides are accused of being one of the main culprits. Neonicotinoids are a class of ‘systemic’ insecticides, chemicals that are easily absorbed by and transported throughout the plant. They show high acute and chronic toxicity to honeybees. Scientific evidence of the effects of neonicotinoid pesticides on bees has been highlighted over the last decade.

The pesticide industry does everything it can to defend its business and fend off any action taken against their products. One strategy for this is to support and fund academic institutions that may have more credibility than they do to support industry-friendly positions. A second is to infiltrate regulatory agencies as the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Syngenta found a suitable target for both: the OPERA Research Center is part of the largest private university in Europe (Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore), based in its satellite campus in Piacenza, Italy. But OPERA also has a lobby office in Brussels.

Many of OPERA's activities and reports are done jointly with the pesticide industry, notably Syngenta. It's 2011 report “Bee Health in Europe” echoes industry positions that pesticides are not one of the main causes of bee decline. Contributors to the report include people from corporations like Dow Agrosciences, Syngenta, Bayer and BASF. Another contributor, who then worked at the UK Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA) recently went through the revolving doors to Syngenta.

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