Stinging fears over ‘bee-pocalypse’

“Pollinator summits” in Minnesota and elsewhere during the past year have showcased discussions among beekeepers, landscapers, farmers and government agencies on how to better protect honeybees, butterflies, birds and bats that pollinate flowers, crops and other plants.

If those efforts are going to be Washington Times mastheadsuccessful, we all have to focus on facts, and some interesting history.

European colonists brought domesticated honeybees to North America nearly 400 years ago. Additional species were introduced over the following centuries. Of all pollinators, the honeybees do the truly heavy lifting.

In recent years, higher-than-normal wintertime deaths have generated understandable concerns about “colony collapse disorder,” bee extinctions, a potential “bee-pocalypse” and the “plight of the bumblebee.” Some have blamed the high death rate on pesticides, especially neonicotinoids that are used primarily as seed coatings and, to a lesser degree, in other applications.

However, most people are unaware of some important facts that need to be included in pollinator discussions, if we are to get the science and policies right.

For one thing, reports of major, unexplained bee disappearances date back at least to 940 A.D. in Ireland. The vexing problem is nothing new.

Second, actual field studies of bee populations in association with extensive neonicotinoid use in canola and corn production in Canada and elsewhere show no observable adverse effects on honeybee colonies from exposure to properly applied neonic pesticides. Laboratory studies that have found harm almost invariably involves overdosing bees with the insecticides being tested — and that is hardly an accurate measure of the actual risk to bee colonies under field-realistic conditions.

In fact, Department of Agriculture data show that U.S. bee populations have actually increased from 2.6 million colonies in 2000 to 2.7 million in 2014. That’s 100,000 more colonies and tens of millions more bees, just in the United States, over the same period that neonic use was increasing dramatically.

“Stats Canada” data show the number of Canadian colonies increased by 17 percent between 2009 and 2014, and colony totals for 2014 and 2015 are the highest in three decades. European and global numbers are also rising.

Obviously, there is no bee-pocalypse. Honey bee populations have been holding steady or rising as neonic use grew exponentially over the last two decades. However, bees clearly have faced problems in recent years, and beekeepers, entomologists and agricultural experts have worked hard to figure out why. The summits have been a part of that work.

Although the mistake has often been made in news stories, it is important not to confuse over winter losses — which have been higher than 30 percent in some recent years — with overall population declines. That’s because bee numbers quickly rebound in the spring, when foraging and breeding resume.

Research increasingly points to the invasive “Varroa destructor” mite, a nasty parasite that arrived in the late 1980s from Asia. It is probably the chief culprit in bees’ health problems today, and one that is more widely epidemic than experts previously believed.

The mites transmit over a dozen viruses and other diseases as they feed like mosquitoes on honeybees’ hemolymph or “bee blood.” While parasitizing bees, the mites also secrete an enzyme that compromises the bee’s immune system and makes the effects of transmitted diseases even more virulent.

Mite-infested hives become much more susceptible to other diseases, especially when beekeepers bring hundreds of thousands of hives from across the United States to pollinate California’s almond groves each winter. There the bees can share their parasites and diseases, including Varroas, the Nosema ceranae gut fungus, parasitic phorid flies, tobacco ringspot virus and deformed wing virus.

Interestingly, as these results came in, anti-neonic scientists presented exotic, new indirect mechanisms by which neonics “could” be harming bees.

One claimed chronic exposure to Thiamethoxam caused bumblebees to learn foraging tasks more slowly, forget what they learned more quickly, and thus become less efficient in feeding their colony. Another claimed honeybees foraging on neonic-treated fields disappeared faster than normal.

However, no matter what effects these researchers have been able to hypothesize or even demonstrate in laboratories regarding effects on individual bees, no observable adverse effects have been found on bees at the colony level, under field-realistic levels of neonic exposure. That has been the case even when bees are foraging in neonic-treated canola and other crops.

Ironically, the most prevalent pesticides found in beehives today are AA - Beesthose used by beekeepers themselves to combat Varroa mites — trying to “kill bugs on bugs.” Those chemicals do work, to a point. But they can turn beehives into toxic chemical swamps. Careful selection and application are absolutely essential.

These complex considerations suggest that regulators should not ban or restrict neonicotinoids.

For one thing, the activists’ appeals to do so are based on a misdiagnosis of honeybee problems, exotic unproven theories and groundless fear-mongering. Second, “the cure would be worse than the disease,” if a neonic ban forced growers to return to older pesticides that actually are harmful to bees.

After all, the goal of modern science is to solve problems without creating worse consequences.

This article originally appeared in The Washington Times

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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.

  • J T

    I don’t for a minute believe that CO2 emissions are driving global warming, but SOMETHING is killing the honeybees, be it neo-nicotinoids, verroa mites, both, or something else. Back in the 70s, 20 out of 100 dandelions had a honeybee on it. Now, NONE, for some years. Plenty of dandelions, no bees. NONE on the clover, either. This is in the White Mountains, north VT. Not good; I hope it all cycles around eventually…………………………

  • The flapping wings of one butterfly can alter weather patterns in lands thousands of miles away; tiny changes in initial conditions can produce huge changes in outcomes. In the closed environment of laboratory experiments.
    In the open reality of the real world the flapping wings of trillions of butterflies cancel out the effects of the one mathematical butterfly.
    The world of scientific experiment and the real world often have little resemblance.

  • AllenBarclayAllen

    US Bee population are under attack by parisights and nutrition !
    http://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/beehives-made-of-mushrooms-could-save-colonies-from-collapse/
    Mushrooms spors in water spray stop these parisights !
    Nutrition they lack we humans lack too ! Nutrition from a very cheep fertilizer additive the fifth element Boron !
    Boron inriched farm products with calcium are nessary to stop osteoporosis in humans endoskeleton and exoskeleton Bees!
    This nutrition used in rasing a wide variety of flowers around a field these bees are polinating will give them missing bits and to survive the task of pollination a single crop that does not provide that nutrition !

  • jameshrust

    The Sierra Club has been using honey bee colony collapse as a means of fundraising. Go to this website: http://www.sierraclub.org/south-dakota/youth >
    This is the standard technique of environmental organizations to use fake anthropogenic catastrophic events (like global warming) to raise funds to keep their jobs going.
    James H. Rust, professor of nuclear engineering (ret.)

  • benhemp

    From personal experience as a 63 year-old country man and a former beekeeper, I know that Paul Driessen is flat out wrong. He argues from statistics rather than from field observations. As a boy, I could not walk barefoot through white clover in bloom without getting stung by a honey bee; they were everywhere! Every second or third blossom was being worked by a bee. Now, you can safely walk barefoot through white clover in bloom because their are no honey bees AT ALL. This is upstate NY, 100 miles north of NYC. So he is flat out wrong to say all is well.
    I was a bee keeper when the varroa mite arrived. It was one of the reasons I got out of bee keeping; it was hard to produce honey without the use of pesticides to kill the mites, and I did not want pesticide-laden honey. But you STILL could not walk barefoot through white clover without getting stung. Driessen is wrong to pin the problem entirely on the varroa mite.
    I generally support CFACT, but on this issue, they have got it WRONG.

    • Roger

      I don’t see butterflies like I use to in the past, either.

  • Scott Frasier

    fear and emotion…. a basic advertising technique. liberals and Democraps have been doing this years. old people eating dog food instead of buying meds. Social Security
    withering away on the vine. Barry Goldwater using the Atomic Bomb on Viet Nam
    while a little girl picks at a flower (TV commercial 1964). Why not use the same technique, with good and proven science?

    • reagangs

      This technique works wonders on Democratic sheeple and minions.

    • Dano2

      So it is them thar dimmycraps killin all the bees to control you?

      Whoa. SCARY!!!111one

      Best,

      D

  • AndRebecca

    I live in the Southwest, and I can tell you honeybees are alive and well here. Along with the honeybees we have a plant introduced as a crop here, nicotiana the tobacco plant. It grows wild in my yard. The bees love the nectar from that plant. I think I now know why. As for the bees disappearing in other parts of the country, maybe the beekeepers are disappearing. The average age of farmers is quite high, and as they retire from farming, it’s possible no one is taking over for them. Maybe we have endangered beekeepers, not bees.

    • Dano2

      As for the bees disappearing in other parts of the country, maybe the beekeepers are disappearing.

      Clearly that is not the reason.

      Best,

      D

      • AndRebecca

        It isn’t? The bees around where I live, come and go according to where their hives are moved.

        • Dano2

          The beekeepers disagree with you. You should read up on it.

          Best,

          D

          • AndRebecca

            We also have bats, butterflies, and birds plus an assortment of other insects which may have been discussed at the conference.

            • Dano2

              Totes awesome deflection from your derp. Well done!

              Best,

              D

              • AndRebecca

                You know, the various departments of the government have meetings open to the public on just about any subject. The departments also have their own 501c3s in order for it to appear they have public support for their projects. The congress O.K.s seed money for the 501s, and the public can donate money as well. Together, these public/private partnerships make it appear that whatever the government is doing behind the scenes is great and necessary work… We’re being hornswoggled. Get on the USDA site and see for yourself. They have become an international welfare clearing- house under the guise of helping American farmers. The actual American farmers are the last people they help, but even they are making out O.K. if they play ball.

                • Dano2

                  Right, right.

                  Best,

                  D