Competence areas







May 2014

Interview with Martin Gruss


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In December 2013, the European Commission imposed an initial two-year ban involving a restricted use of three neonicotinoids in fields with blooming crops such as oil seed rape. The substances are accused of being harmful for bees. An interview with Martin Gruss, Head of SeedGrowth Products, Bayer CropScience, on this highly relevant topic.
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Martin Gruss

Neonicotinoids are controversial, and have not only been so since the EU regulation. Could you tell us why their use is so important for agriculture?

Martin Gruss: “Neonicotinoid-based products have replaced many older crop protection products because of their effectiveness, excellent operator safety, and a relatively favorable environmental profile. According to a scientific study by the Federal Association of German Plant Breeders (BDP) and the German Industrial Agricultural Association (IVA), seed treatment with neonicotinoids ensures in Germany alone an annual aggregated value of up to €884 million and in agriculture of €599 million. In North America 94 percent of seed corn is treated with neonicotinoid insecticides, leading to yield increases of 6 to 14 bushels per acre.”

What consequences do you fear for farmers and their yields due to the two- year ban imposed by the EU Commission?

Martin Gruss: “There was no scientific basis for the EU Commission’s ruling. That leads now to farmers no longer having adequate solutions for these crops. Moreover, without neonicotinoids or a suitable replacement, farmers could face sizable losses. One industry study estimated the loss of up to 50 000 jobs. In addition, yields of major crops such as corn, canola, winter wheat, barley and sugar beet could fall by up to 40 percent, which could make the cultivation of some crops entirely uneconomical with the costs passed on to consumers. This systematic focus on these three insecticides as a cause for bee deaths means that the most likely reasons are going unaddressed.”

Could you please explain that in more detail?

Martin Gruss: “Most scientists do not believe that a single trigger is sufficient to cause bee health issues and that it is the interaction of multiple causes, not all of which would be present in every case of poor bee health: pests and diseases such as Varroa mite, Nosema (unicellular fungal parasites) and viruses. Control of Varroa mite appears to be the key determinant. But management aspects including apicultural and agricultural practices as well as environmental aspects such as land management practices or improper use and application failure of pesticides and extreme weather conditions must also be considered. Not enough attention has been paid to these problems. Instead, crop protection products, and in particular the neonicotinoid insecticides, are repeatedly given the blame.”

What else would you say to someone who is of the opinion that crop protection products harm mankind and the environment?

Martin Gruss: “What you have to bear in mind is the following: Crop protection products are among the most painstakingly investigated products around before they are approved in the first place. Up to ten years can elapse before a crop protection product receives official approval because the authorities check our studies in detail, which takes several years after submission. We investigate everything that might constitute a risk, and that is why we remain convinced that if our products are used according to the label instructions they pose no threat to humans, animals or the environment.”

What are the next steps for Bayer on the EU ban?

Martin Gruss: “In addition to taking legal action against the EU, we aim to improve the situation by means of new studies that prove our products are safe for bees when used responsibly and properly according to the label instructions. Not for nothing did we receive registrations and approvals for our products prior to the ruling. Furthermore, we are naturally doing a lot to increase stewardship measures to reduce the potential risk to honey bees. By the way, just a few weeks ago we inaugurated our new Bee Care Center in Research Triangle Park, where our North American headquarters is located.”
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