Millions of honey bees in France are suffering from “Mad Bee Disease,” becoming too disoriented to find the way back to their hives. If they can’t get home again, they die within hours.

Environmentalists say the problem can be traced to the pesticide Gaucho, sprayed on sunflowers. The French government ordered a two-year extension of a ban on spraying the chemical on sunflower seeds, to allow more study of its impact on the nervous systems of bees.

The National Union of French Beekeepers says that the amount of honey produced has fallen drastically since the pesticide was introduced in 1994. Gaucho is also used on wheat, barley and sugar beets.

One bee keeper describes the situation this way: “After just a few days, the activity around the hive was sharply reduced and the bees were wandering all over the field, completely disoriented, and eventually dying.”

Bayer, the German manufacturer of Gaucho, says that the pesticide, which is sold in 70 countries, is not the problem and that scientists must look for other causes for the decline in the bee population.

Despite advances in the genetic engineering of crops, farmers still rely on bees for pollination, so this could be a devastating blow to European food production.

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