Pesticides Implicated in Decline of Bees—Corporations Spend Millions on PR Response

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on

If you like to eat, then you should care about what’s happening to bees, which are the prime pollinators of two-thirds of our food crops. Since 2006, there have been significant losses of honeybees from Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). A new study from the Harvard School of Public Health shows that two widely used neonicotinoids—a class of insecticide—appear to significantly harm honeybee colonies.

The European Union banned the three most widely used neonicotinoids, based on strong science indicating that neonics can increase bees’ vulnerability to pests, pathogens, and other stressors—in some conditions killing bees outright.

In response, three of the leading corporations that produce neonicotinoid pesticides–Bayer, Syngenta, and Monsanto–have engaged in massive public relations campaigns, costing more than $100 million. They’re using tactics similar to those Big Tobacco used for decades to deny public health findings. These tactics include blaming anything but pesticides for the honeybee collapse–for example, blaming farmers for misuse of the pesticides.

These companies also attack scientists and journalists, and cultivate alliances and strategic partnerships with farmers, beekeepers, and agricultural organizations in order to bolster their legitimacy and position themselves as “friends of the bees.” Thus, for example, Monsanto announced the formation of a Honey Bee Advisory Council, a strategic alliance of Monsanto executives and others. And the British Bee-Keepers Association received significant funding from Bayer, Syngenta and other pesticide companies. In return, they endorsed the insecticides as “bee-friendly.”

Policymakers, the media, and the public should be aware of such tobacco-style PR tactics, employed to mislead the public and delay policy action. The US should follow the lead of the European Union to protect bees. Our very food supply is at stake.


Marge Dwyer, “Study strengthens link between neonicotinoids and collapse of honey bee colonies,” Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, May 9, 2014,

Michelle Simon, “Follow the Honey: 7 ways pesticide companies are spinning the bee crisis to protect profits,” Friends of the Earth, April 28, 2014,

Student Researcher: Stephanie Armendariz (San Francisco State University)

Faculty Evaluator: Kenn Burrows (San Francisco State University)