Bayer CropScience breaks ground on RTP bee health facility

May. 29, 2013 @ 06:44 PM

About a month after the European Commission decided to restrict the use of a class of pesticides as a bee protection measure, Bayer CropScience held a groundbreaking Wednesday for a bee health research facility in the Research Triangle Park.

The company, a subsidiary of the German company Bayer AG that works on crop protection, non-agricultural pest control, seeds and genetically-determined traits, makes products in a class of pesticide that was linked in two studies published in the journal Science this year to harmful effects on bees.

At the new facility in RTP, the company is looking to attract researchers to study bee health. The less-than-6,000-square-foot building, which also will be used for bee education work, will cost between $2.2 and $2.6 million, said Jim Blome, president and CEO of Bayer CropScience LP. It’s expected to be completed this year.

 “I think it’s good whenever we have any effort in bee health,” said Jeff  Pettis, research leader at the Maryland-based U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service bee research laboratory, in reaction to the news of the construction of Bayer CropScience’s North American Bee Care Center.

Pettis said the loss rate of honey bees in the United States is too high, and it’s making it difficult to meet pollination demands for agriculture. The population of managed honey bee colonies was down 31 percent this past winter compared with the prior winter, according to an annual survey by the Bee Informed Partnership and the Apiary Inspectors of America that was supported with U.S. Department of Agriculture funding.

The winter’s losses were higher than the six-year average loss of 30.5 percent.

Multiple factors affect bee health, Pettis said, including poor nutrition, mites, infections and pesticide use.

“Some beekeepers and others will claim it’s been the rise and use of” a class of pesticides called neonicotinoid,” Pettis said. “When they do surveys, (they’re) not always present in bees that are in poor health. The bottom line is that bees are affected by a lot of different things, and pesticides are just one of those things.”

Blome said in an interview after Wednesday’s groundbreaking that there’s a need for research into factors affecting bee health including parasites and diseases.

“Our position is, when used as labeled, we don’t have studies that find that they’re a threat to bees,” he said of neonicotinoids.

However, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has accelerated the schedule for the registration review of neonicotinoid pesticides in the country due to “uncertainties about these pesticides and their potential effects on bees,” according to the agency.

And in April of this year, 15 European Union member states voted to support a proposal to restrict the use of three neonicotinoid insecticides there. Eight voted against it, and four abstained. Because there was not a qualified majority, the decision was left to the European Commission. The group put two-year restrictions on the pesticides in place.

Bayer CropScience said in a statement in reaction to the move that it was “extremely disappointed” about the decision to restrict “useful products with a strong track record of safe use.” The company said it’s concerned that the restriction would limit farmers’ ability to produce affordable food in Europe.

“Bayer CropScience remains convinced that neonicotinoids are safe for bees when used responsibly and properly according to the label instructions,” the statement said.

Blome said the European Union restrictions for the pesticides will impact global sales, but he said there’s no impact to the company’s U.S. business.

The company employs about 500 people in the Research Triangle Park, which is also the location of Bayer CropScience’s North American headquarters. The company has been growing its site here.

“I think we’ve found that the center of the biotechnology market…is in North America,” Blome said.

Last year, the company held a grand opening for a 62,000-square-foot greenhouse. Also $16 million’s worth of renovations were completed to laboratories to house workers relocated to the facility from Kansas.

The company announced the purchase of an additional 70 acres adjacent to its site in the park.

 “Quite frankly, we really like the area, it’s been very solid for the development of our business,” Blome said. “We find it easy to attract and recruit employees to this area.”

He added that also said that Syngenta and BASF have biotechnology operations here, and there are other smaller life science companies growing or starting up in the area.