French Bees Dying
By The Millions:
Mad Bee Disease?
From Terry H Jones
PARIS, April 9 (UPI) _ The French government today moved to combat an outbreak of what's being called ``mad bee'' disease, which the scientific community says is killing millions of honeybees in western France.
With half the money coming from the European Union, the French ministries of agriculture and environment said today a total $1 million will be spent to find out why the honeybees are dying.
A high bee kill was first reported last summer by beekeepers who said increasing numbers of bees became disorientated and failed to return to their hives after gathering pollen and nectar from sunflowers.
Beekeepers in the region call the malady ``mad bee'' disease and blame it on a widely used insecticide that the beekeepers say is destroying the insects' sense of direction.
They report the phenomenon has drastically affected the region's bee population and dramatically reduced production of area's famed honey by 60 percent.
That's more than a third of France's total output.
At issue is what the Ministry of Environment reports may be the insecticide, Gaucho, produced by the German agrochemical company Bayer SA. It is used to protect sunflowers from parasites.
Ministry spokesman Andre Lesireux said this morning, ``The research will tell us why the bees turn crazy and die.''
The beekeepers say only those insects collecting nectar from sunflowers appear to be affected.
The Bayer group has agreed to contribute 5 percent of the total cost of research.
Franck Allaitru of the FDSEA agriculture union said in Paris today ``A poisoning problem from insecticide is the only explanation for the behaviour of the bees and their systematic disappearance during the first week that the sunflowers bloom.''
Regional authorities have already suspended use of Gaucho in three areas of western and central France - the Vendee, Indre and Deux-Sevres.
The research initiative, reported earlier in the newspaper Ouest- France, will determine if the bees in those areas recover.
But the French Green Party has demanded the product be removed entirely from the market.
Gaucho first went on sale in 1994.
The producer says Gaucho is based on imidaclopride, a chemical which acts on the nervous systems of a wide variety of pests, including wireworm and aphids.
Bayer SA defends the product as the most widely used sunflower insecticide in France and insists ``the accusations have no scientific foundation.''
Bayer SA French marketing director Bruno Feldrops says imidaclopride has been used in more than 70 countries and was subjected to rigorous testing.

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