Collapse of bee colonies is latest target for anti-pesticide groups

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This article originally appeared in Investor’s Business Daily on May 13, 2013.

Beekeeping is big business, and everyone loves honey and foods made possible by pollination. But “colony collapse disorder” threatens bees and crop pollination in many areas.

CCD and other bee die-offs are nothing new.

What we now call colony collapse was first reported in 1869, and many outbreaks since then have sent scientists scurrying for explanations and solutions. Fungi, varroa mites and other possible suspects have been implicated, but no definitive answer has yet been found.

That’s created a perfect environment for anti-pesticide groups. They want the U.S. and EU to ban a widely used class of safe “neonicotinoid” pesticides, by blaming them for bee population declines in various countries.

Their scary assertions are pure conjecture, but that hasn’t stopped activists — or news outlets — from promoting scary stories implicating the chemicals.

Derived from naturally-occurring nicotine plant compounds, “neonics” have been hailed as a low-toxicity pest treatment.

They are often applied to seeds or on soils during planting, become part of the plants’ physiology, and work by giving treated plants internal defenses against invading pests.

Bee clusterThat means neonics are toxic only to insects that feed on crops — dramatically reducing the need to spray entire fields with other pesticides, and curtailing risks to farm workers and beneficial insects.

Claims that these insecticides could kill bees appear plausible at first blush, and lab studies have shown that high doses can affect bees.

However, the doses that bees receive in lab studies “are far above what a realistic field dose exposure would be,” says Dr. Cynthia Scott-Dupree, environmental biology professor at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada.

Scott-Dupree helped coordinate a Canadian field study that compared hives exposed to neonics to those that weren’t exposed — and found no difference in colony health between the two groups. Another study by Britain’s Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs reached the same conclusion.

A DEFRA evaluation of studies purporting to link neonics to bee harm found the lab work was conducted under extreme scenarios that wouldn’t occur under real-world conditions.

“Risk to bee populations from neonicotinoids, as they are currently used, is low,” it concluded.

That’s hardly surprising. Plant tissues contain only tiny amounts of neonics, bees are not feeding on the plants, and pollen contains barely detectable neonic levels.

Various neonicotinoids are widely used in Canada to protect its vast canola fields, and Canadian bee populations are thriving, notes science writer Jon Entine.

Australia is likewise one of the world’s prime users of these pesticides, and its bee colonies are among the planet’s healthiest.

Nevertheless, four beekeepers and five activist groups (Beyond Pesticides, Center for Food Safety, Pesticide Action Network of North America, Sierra Club and Center for Environmental Health) have sued the Environmental Protection Agency, demanding that the EPA immediately ban all neonicotinoids.

The lawsuit is not merely ill-advised. By blaming pesticides, activists are ignore Bee flower— and deflect attention from — a real, serious threat to bees: a parasitic mite aptly named “Varroa destructor.” Varroa threatens honeybees directly, while spreading and activating previously dormant or harmless bee viruses, which then become dangerous. It is not easy to destroy.

“You can imagine how hard it is to kill a bug on a bug,” says John Miller, president of the California State Beekeepers Association, and sometimes the cure is worse than the disease. Treating varroa requires an insecticide that can be toxic to bees at levels high enough to work. Well-intentioned apiarists fighting varroa can accidentally overdose hives with miticides.

Multiple studies point to other factors that explain why bees are struggling. They include bees developing resistance to antibiotics, funguses like Nosema, multiple bee viruses and parasites, bacterial infections like foulbrood, exposure to commonly used organophosphates, bee habitat loss, and even long-term bee inbreeding and resultant lack of genetic diversity.

Activists aren’t asking for investigation into these problems — which calls their science, sincerity and integrity into question.

Right now, no one knows why bees aren’t thriving. Studies show that neonicotinoids are innocent, and reflexive bans will harm farmers, whose crop yields will fall; consumers, whose food bills will rise and food safety will fall; and environmental values, as older, more toxic insecticides will have to be reintroduced to protect crops.

The prudent, precautionary approach would be to avoid eliminating vital, low-toxicity neonicotinoids, while continuing to study their potential effects on bees and the causes of die-offs and colony collapses.

Sound, replicable science must underpin all pesticide policies, or the unintended consequences will be serious, far-reaching and most harmful to poor families.

We need answers, not scapegoats.

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About the Author: Paul Driessen

Paul Driessen

Paul Driessen is senior policy advisor for CFACT and author of Cracking Big Green and Eco-Imperialism: Green Power - Black Death.

  • Mad Dog

    Craig, Is everything in your world always so ‘black & white’?

    If an experiment shows that large levels of neonics don’t kill off the entire hive, then neonics must be safe. Bull-shit!

    “…They [neonics] are often applied to seeds or on soils during planting, and become part of the plants’ physiology, . . . That means neonics are toxic only to insects [or animals] that feed on those crops.” — Paul Driessen

    Guess what, Craig – YOU and I and the bees ARE such animals! We feed on those plants. We feed on the livestock that feed on those plants.

    Pesticides are bad, my friend. They may not always kill us [and in your estimation that makes them safe], but they lower our immune systems. And they lower the immune systems of bees. Now other challenges – mites, fungi, viruses, maybe even RF waves – are able to wipe out entire colonies. And other challenges to humans and livestock (other toxins, viruses, germs, genetic diseases, etc.) have the ability to weaken, sicken, genetically affect our reproductive organs, and even kill.

    Here’s the situation, Craig. If we – as the species of superior intelligence – is going to err, do we err on the side of caution and limit the amount of toxins we artificially and unnecessarily introduce into our food chain? Or do we just start using any only old poison, pesticide, herbicide, fungicide … because – so far – no one can prove it is a direct cause of death.

    I would strongly urge you to investigate the herbicide call IMPRELIS produced by DuPont and approved by our EPA as SAFE for all vegetation, animal and human life EXCEPT broadleaf’s like clover and dandelions. Oops – over the last 3 years IMPRELIS went on to KILL tens of thousands of trees AND earthworms (in just one season’s application). They have no idea the impact it had on birds that might have eaten those worms, or the mycelia that are critical to ALL plant life, or our CHILDREN that love to play on our lawns. Imprelis has since been taken off the market. My Point: Corporate and government regulatory tests are either inadequate (negligent) or nonexistent (fraud).

    This, Craig, is a FACT – not a “False Buzz”. Did you know about Imprelis? I doubt you did. Have the majority of Americans ever heard of this killer? NO! Where’s your network of experts now? Where’s the media coverage? Where’s the public outcry? What justice will DuPont face? What actions have been taken within the EPA (and other regulatory/testing institutions) to ensure this doesn’t happen again? Where’s that Obama “government of transparency”?

    Your “Radical Enviros” could turn out to be our best friends … our last line of defense … the one player in this game that is NOT self-serving or driven by monetary or political gain. FOLLOW THE MONEY, Craig. The “radical enviros” exist on shoestring budgets — DuPont, Monsanto, Cargil, ADM, and our government operate on Trillion dollar budgets. DuPont netted billions in profits off Imprelis – and will pay only a few hundred thousand in restitution for their negligence. The EPA (and other government regulatory agencies) cost the US taxpayer Trillions over the past couple of years – and provide the American public with almost NO reliable data or health protection.

    FOLLOW THE MONEY !!!

  • littlemas2

    Mad Dog,

    Thanks for the great science lesson. When presented with real scientific data in the article you call it BS. Then, once again using great “science” you point to a completely unrelated compound to prove your point that all pesticides are bad!!

    How about considering some other question (that the article addresses)?

    What are the consequences of stopping the use of all pesticides? How many people might be harmed by malnutrition if crop production fails?

    Might there be negative consequences from trying to make sure we have a chemical free world: like more diseases getting to the human population (like organic crops that have more chance for e coli), like lowering production and causing more poverty and instability, which could lead to less care of the environment, or like certain pests spreading so widely that they wipe out native populations.

    What might be the consequence of focusing on the wrong thing or taking the wrong action based on incomplete knowledge? Perhaps some other human activity is causing harm and we focus so much on this one thing that fail to correct other problems?

    Your solution does not really seem like a solution to me because you fail to account for so many things. In an effort to appear to do good you could in fact end up harming both people and nature because you are in fact not concerned with good science but are basing your choices on biased ideas.

    • Mad Dog

      There was no ‘science lesson’ — unless you meant the ‘Political Science’ approach advocated by “Following the Money”.

      I can understand your desire to want to do ‘good things’ for the sake of humanity, malnutrition, and crop failures. But you need to know that these ‘good things’ are short-term solutions with long-term negative consequences.

      Dupont’s Imprelis is NOT unrelated. Monsanto’s Round-Up (aka Agent Orange) is NOT unrelated. Those two – and so many other examples – aptly demonstrate the motive (Money) and ultimately devastating results. I encourage you to study the story of Round-Up, how it has bastardized the way we grow food, how it has crippled the smaller-independent farmers, how each year more and more insects and pest become immune or resistant to Round-Up, how each year the manufacturers of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, etc. petition the FDA, USDA, et al to double – even triple the potency (toxic poisons) of their products. ALL in the name of “humanity” and “feeding the starving”. If you study these and other “philanthropic” endeavors of the Ag Giants – you’ll discover that the underprivileged, developing countries suffer – while the Ag Giants get rich.

      Let’s look at the multi-billion dollar example of Imprelis again. It was designed and intended to do one thing: Kill the Clover and Dandelions in our lawns and golf courses. And though it did that, it also killed tens of thousands of other living organisms that we know of. Other unknown, undocumented or un-researched fatalities have forever been swept under the carpet. So, LittleMas2, how has humanity benefited? Dandelions are edible and healthy. Clover is edible and healthy. Grass is non-edible and certainly not healthy. The loss of thousands upon thousands of carbon-monoxide to oxygen conversion plants in major metropolitan areas is VERY unhealthy.

      And the loss of all those critically dependent pollinators (BEES) is unimaginably unhealthy. Without those pollinators, there will be NO future crops to pollute (or protect) with your toxic pesticides. So I ask you: “How many people might be harmed by malnutrition if crop production fails?”

      That was YOUR question. My question is “How will the Ag Giants benefit”? Less food = higher prices = larger profits.

      Follow the money, LittleMas2. Philanthropy died a long time ago. Our regulatory bodies, legislators and the judicial branch have ensured that ONLY the Ag Giants can continue to operate in our modern economy. And they are mandated by law and their share-holders to be PROFITABLE … NOT to be PHILANTHROPIC.

      But their Public Relations programs and Marketing Campaigns are apparently VERY successful. You’ve bought into it ALL – HOOK, LINE AND SINKER!

  • Bartender

    If the bee colony collapse was first reported in 1869 and it been up and down ever since could it be just down to changes in climate? At the moment the earth is going through a period of global cooling which could possibly explain their decline. The long hot summer days are the perfect environment for bees to thrive.

    • Mad Dog

      IF – the bee colony collapse was first reported in 1869 ??
      IF – it’s been up and down ever since ??

      . . . IT COULD just be changes in the climate ??

      Bartender, you may be correct — perhaps at the moment the earth is going through a period of global cooling … which could possibly explain their [Bees] decline.

      I am NOT a big advocate of global warming … or global cooling. I accept that either scenario is possible for the next several decades or millenniums. It matters not whether the bees are extinguished at the hands of men or mother nature. It does matter – however – that the bees and other pollinators are extinguished from our agricultural process.

      What we might have considered to be a normal and natural phenomenum COULD and WILL result in the death of millions – if not billions – of people. If we are aware of this, and could off-set such an event … should we?

      • Bartender

        Remember…If nothing else, that the bee population will always flourish during warmer climates not cooler ones. As in the case of agricultural processes the humble bumble bee will stand this test of
        time as it did through many decades to present day. The Sun in many respect is the bee’s life-blood for without it [Sun] life become harsh and unsustainable. The Sun also plays an important role in our life’s but we as a race over centuries old has learned how to adapt to changes to normal and natural phenomenon. So your question should we off-set such an event my answer back to you is impossible; see King Canute or President Obama, remember hurricane Sandy?. Can computer models predict such an event? What with garbage-in, gospel-out I don’t think so.

  • Daniel
  • J.P. Katigbak

    I am aware of the situation that justifies the ideological and philosophical doctrine of environmentalism. Be sure to have an analysis of the adverse effects of such a doctrine have on bee farming. Thanks very much. – J.P.K.

    • J.P. Katigbak

      And do not forget that new and improved pesticide technology needs to introduced to ensure appropriate applications well suited to bee farming.
      Do not forget, also, that challenging the ideological and philosophical doctrine of environmentalism remains important as of now. – J.P.K.