There is no ‘bee armageddon’: Misguided neonics ban threatens honeybees and farming

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This story appeared as “Attack of the Killer Regulators” in the Friday, June 6, 2014 edition of the Wall Street Journal Europe

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Science can’t be rushed. Usually legislators make policy decisions on controversial issues only after carefully weighing current research. But just the opposite has unfolded in the EU.

European Commissioners last year passed a two-year ban on a class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids in a preemptive move to protect honeybees, after sketchy reports of higher-than-normal winter deaths among the arthropods. Now the unintended consequences of what seems like a hasty decision are emerging.

The commission’s moratorium vote, which took effect throughout the EU in December 2013, came despite contradictory field evidence—and well before the release of a spate of new studies suggesting that bee health is now improving globally. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported in May that bee deaths dropped more than 25 percent this past winter, and that the overall population has increased 13 percent since 2008.

According to the latest report from the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, bee populations have been steadily increasing over the past decade and have hit a record high, with the number of hives increasing even in Europe.

Yet EU officials passed the moratorium using anecdotal reports of high winter bee deaths. (Beehives regenerate quickly in the summer, so normal winter losses don’t necessarily translate into declining populations.)

Only after the EU decision did the commission complete its first-ever comprehensive study on bee health, known as Epilobee. Released in April this year, the commission’s survey focused on 17 EU states in 2012-13, when Europeans shivered through the kind of harsh winter that often decimates bee colonies. Although neonics were widely in use at the time, 11 countries accounting for 75 percent of Europe’s bees experienced winter-loss rates of only 3.5-15.3 percent during the period. That’s far better than the 18.9 percent rate that beekeepers in the U.S. say is acceptable.

According to the EU’s report: “Members States with more than 20 percent mortality rates (Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Sweden, and U.K.) represent 6.24 percent of the surveyed population”—a tiny fraction of Europe’s bees. And in these countries, weather was identified as the culprit: “[H]igh rates of winter mortality were located in the Northern member states of the European Union suggesting a strong geographical influence probably due to climate.”

Will European policy makers revisit the moratorium in light of the new evidence? If they do not, food prices will rise along with farming costs. A working paper by the Humboldt Forum for Food and Agriculture estimated the EU ban could cost Europe €17 billion over the next five years as farmers shift to less efficient chemicals and land-use practices. The costs might be justifiable if evidence showed that neonics use was killing off honeybees.

But the EU instituted its precautionary ban without actually examining beehives—firing first and then asking questions.

To control pests, European farmers faced with the neonics ban are now being forced to turn to more toxic chemicals: organophosphates and pyrethroids, known pollinator destructors, according to a January study in the Journal of Applied Ecology. The researchers expressed particular concern that patchwork bans and moratoriums not supported by science could result in stressing bee colonies even more, leaving bees in a worse state than before the EU commission decided to intervene to save them.

Read the full, original article: Attack of the Killer Regulators

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  • RobertWager

    After listening to several government regulators from both sides of the Atlantic, it is clear the case against neonics is shaky at best and likely complete junk science based on emotion not careful analysis. returning to harsher compounds that have known negative effects on bees is a perfect example of emotion based public policy.

    • crush davis

      Beekeepers do more to ruin the “health” of beehives than anything growers do. The worst perps are the ones who rent bees out to pollinate, move the hives incessantly, and/or take the honey and other bee products out. Not to mention the acaricides they apply to hives to manage parasitic mites. Yes, it’s an inconvenient truth that the sanctimonious fools on a crusade to ban imidacloprid had the hemolymph on their own hands.

    • TruthHurts

      Of course, emotion is the reason French scientists (and others) dubbed neonics a 1000 times more deadly to bees than DDT… Also, why would Monsanto, Bayer and others want to keep manufacturing this in roundup and other pesticides? Maybe, just maybe this is good to speed up the process of relying solely on GMO products in the future. No bees, all GMO, right? That makes sense, all emotion. Why would poison kill bees? Think about it. Since most respondents here are all for neonics, then hell, why don’t we all welcome back DDT too while we’re at it. Mexico still uses it, I am sure they’re all perfectly healthy too.

      • MDBritt

        Where on earth do you get the idea that GMO crops don’t need pollination? Seriously, do you anti-GMO guys *always* just make stuff up as a matter of policy or just omit reference to actual facts when it suits?

        • Reading

          Okay, well, I guess you must think these current articles are full of rubbish too I suppose?

          http://www.globalresearch.ca/former-pro-gmo-scientist-speaks-out-on-the-real-dangers-of-genetically-engineered-food/5424010

          http://gmojudycarman.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/The-Full-Paper.pdf

          It is really funny to me that there are a lot of PRO GMO arguers out there when you think back in our history of scientific discovery and innovations. For example, Uranium, DDT, new fancier chemicals that supposedly make things easier and better have ALL taken many years to finally understand their full potential whether harmful or not, but mostly harmful to us because scientists cannot instantly understand all aspects of the risks involved right after the launch of using these new chemicals or “ideas”. 10 to 20 years later after excessive GMO use, we are now seeing their true effect on pigs, mice, and the soil itself. Living organisms have biochemical reactions, it takes longer than a week to see if something’s wrong! Just look at Cancer for instance. It has been assumed for quite some time that GMOs are safe for the environment and humans, so why are there peer reviewed articles with studies that don’t quite agree with that “safe” assumption?

  • First Officer

    If there is such a dearth of hoenybees, why isn’t there such a shortage of honey?

  • Mrzyphl Moon

    Dave Goulson published an extensive study on the decline of bee populations and concluded that pesticides were the main cause. I have been unable to find any peer reviews refuting his claims. I tend to agree that the issue of bee deaths is more complex but has anyone pointed out flaws in this study?

  • Freeballer

    I re-visited this subject after hearing of a u.k. “ban” on neo…. and some progressives raving/ranting how good this was… I think they’re giving the rest of us a bad name, they’re resorting to a lot of “faith” over practical science and not thinking critically about the studies they read… we need to be careful not to play “god” with nature, but its not like going back to organophosphates would help… so instead of banning, I don’t understand why they wouldn’t regulate it? — seems sooner or later the science is catching up and proving this is nothing but scare tactics… Its too bad so many fall for it.

  • David Smith

    This piece is just pesticide industry spin.

    Although all scientists agree that the occurrence of CCD is a complex interaction of factors, the role of pesticides has clearly emerged as an important contributing factor (note the nature and Science publications):

    Rondeau et al. (2014). Delayed and time-cumulative toxicity of imidacloprid in bees, ants and termites. http://www.nature.com/srep/2014/140704/srep05566/full/srep05566.html

    van der Sluijs et al. (2013). Neonicotinoids, bee disorders and the sustainability of pollinator services. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1877343513000493

    Aufauvre et al. (2012). Parasite-insecticide interactions: a case study of Nosema ceranae and fipronil synergy on honeybee. http://www.nature.com/srep/2012/120322/srep00326/full/srep00326.html?WT.i_dcsvid=8954534-MjIxNjEzNTE5NDUS1&WT.ec_id=MARKETING&WT.mc_id=SR1204CEBIO312

    Doublet et al. (2014) Bees under stress: sublethal doses of a neonicotinoid pesticide and pathogens interact to elevate honey bee mortality across the life cycle. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1462-2920.12426/pdf5.756

    Lu et al. (2014). Sub-lethal exposure to neonicotinoids impaired honey bees winterization before proceeding to colony collapse disorder. http://www.issuepedia.org/wikiup/d/de/Vol67-2014-125-130lu.pdf

    Pettis et al. (2013). Crop Pollination Exposes Honey Bees to Pesticides Which Alters Their Susceptibility to the Gut Pathogen Nosema ceranae. http://www.plosone.org/article/fetchObject.action?uri=info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0070182&representation=PDF

    LAURINO et al. (2013). Toxicity of neonicotinoid insecticides on different honey bee genotypes. http://smallbluemarble.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/vol66-2013-119-126laurino.pdf

    Henry et al. (2012): A Common Pesticide Decreases Foraging Success and Survival in Honey Bees. http://www.sciencemag.org/content/336/6079/348.full.pdf

    • aloha1010

      Indeed. Jon works for the poison industry, er,ahem, excuse me ,seed companies, that make the poisons used for the GMO industry. His job is to defend them under the guise of a unbiased journalist who he is clearly not. He came to Kauai to help this companies to fight a law that the people of Kauai wanted passed for the sake of protecting them from poisons being tested in the island.They payed his way and then some ,presumably as he then proceeds to write this articles. He also collaborated in the character assassination attempt against a scientist that has spoken about the atrocious poison Atrazine, that is banned in Europe but used abundantly in the States. In sum, a man with no conscious. http://www.stoppoisoningparadise.org/

  • Jonah

    How about this site on the whole? yet interesting indeed as it surely is….

    • aloha1010

      Please look at my answer. This page as a whole is Mr. Entine’s baby, and he is PR, public opinion manipulator that works for the chemical industry. He manages a very elaborate propaganda machine and he is handsomely rewarded for it. He also works for the fracking industry and the arguments he uses to defend those polluters are essentially the same he uses to defend the poison makers that have taken control of the US seed growing system.

  • Jonah

    Honey bee farmers have obviously no time nor means mayhem to put their eyes on this piece of independent journalism. All of them I know, I repeat, all of them I know (four, not many, all not knowing each other) have said “it was about time someone gives an eye on what’s been going on for years with our bees…” I have been listening to their complaints for years, they complain for the poor choices offered from research development on any new product to protect bees and quality of honey, wax and other derivatives that seems to have stopped to a couple of compounds, to be used with extreme care (by one’s own discretion). Unless one wants to simply spray bulks of antibiotics to have their loads safely delivered to supermarkets for peanuts prices….

    I am glad to learn it’s all bogus, all self delusional. I am going to tell them, they’ll be happy!

  • Nils

    It is not good journalism to suggest that the temporary ban of neonicotinoids within the EU is based on “sketchy reports of higher-than-normal winter deaths”. In fact, the ban was enacted after the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) had published a study showing health risks to bees from neonicotinoids in January 2013: http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/press/news/130116.htm
    One can argue whether the precautionary principle was well applied in this case or whether regulators should have waited longer, thus risking more damage to pollinators. The European Environment Agency argued in December 2013 that given the risks, the ban was and is justified: http://www.eea.europa.eu/highlights/neonicotinoid-pesticides-are-a-huge
    Given the evidence, I support the cautious approach, but I understand that others disagree. Yet taking one bad or good winter, as the author does, is not a good argument against the number of studies that have shown the negative effects of neonicotinoids on bees (and a range of other species).

  • MDBritt

    “Poisons”? GMO crops are the most extensively tested agricultural products in the history of mankind. The whole “poison” smear is just juvenile given that we’ve consumed them for years without a single case of harm.

    I know that you folks are just aching to return to the Medieval Ages when religion and folk-philosophy reigned supreme and science didn’t exist, but could you maybe restrict it to Maker Faires or something so that the rest of us could get on with modern life?

  • Jonah

    He’s genetically and biologically a complete an alphabet, hoping his readers are no better and working hardly to make them so. Who else would think that a given gene in bananas is the same in an elephant, yet finding perfectly legit to swap them? either an idiot, or someone who thinks we are.