Honeybee solution takes new twist – possible financial interests

A recent story in the New York Times suggested that the cause of the major deaths of honeybees had been found. But a reporter from Fortune says the story is not so clear – in addition to some scientists suggesting the breakthrough wasn’t that much of a breakthrough, the reporter also says one of the key scientists has a major conflict of interest:

What the Times article did not explore — nor did the study disclose — was the relationship between the study’s lead author, Montana bee researcher Dr. Jerry Bromenshenk, and Bayer Crop Science. In recent years Bromenshenk has received a significant research grant from Bayer to study bee pollination. Indeed, before receiving the Bayer funding, Bromenshenk was lined up on the opposite side: He had signed on to serve as an expert witness for beekeepers who brought a class-action lawsuit against Bayer in 2003. He then dropped out and received the grant.

Bromenshenk’s company, Bee Alert Technology, which is developing hand-held acoustic scanners that use sound to detect various bee ailments, will profit more from a finding that disease, and not pesticides, is harming bees. Two years ago Bromenshenk acknowledged as much to me when I was reporting on the possible neonicotinoid/CCD connection for Conde Nast Portfolio magazine, which folded before I completed my reporting.

Bromenshenk says this is not an issue and didn’t influence the results of the recent study. The scientific community will have to figure this out – one issue will be whether the scientific study actually solved or helped the honeybee issue and the other issue will be Bromenshenk’s past history.