Beepocalypse, Colony Collapse Disorder, Fish & Wildlife Service, Genetic Literacy Project, Glyphosate, Jon Entine, Junk Science, Kayleen Schreiber, National Wildlife Refuges, Neonicotiniods, Neonics, Nydia Velázquez, Paul Driessen, Pesticides, Sierra Club
False claims that a certain class of pesticides threaten the world’s bee populations are commonplace, and we hear the same more recently about various species of birds. The origins of the “beepocalypse” rumor were not based on scientific evidence, but on a narrative that developed among environmental activists in response to a phenomenon called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) that began around 2006, roughly a decade after neonicotinoid pesticides (so-called neonics) replaced earlier, more toxic compounds as the pesticides of choice. But Jon Entine writes at The Genetic Literacy Project:
“What causes CCD? It still remains a mystery, in part. But researchers turned up historical examples of CCD-like bee die offs across the globe over hundreds of years, well before the introduction of pesticides, but activist groups would have none of it.”
CCD essentially tapered off by 2009, according to Entine, and the number of honeybee colonies are higher now that before the introduction of neonics. See Entine’s charts at the link showing changes in honeybee populations over time. In Australia, where the use of neonics has been especially heavy, bee populations have grown steadily and remain quite healthy.
Entine’s article provides a nice summary of the real and imagined threats to the world’s bee populations as well as distorted claims associated with normal winter die-offs. He provides a number of useful links on these subjects, and he summarizes research showing the lack of any real threat to bees from neonics:
“Over the past seven years, there have been a flood of studies about the potential impact of neonics on bees. Many small-scale, forced-feeding studies that generally overdosed bees with neonics found various negative effects; not a surprise, many entomologists have said, as they do not replicate real world impacts.
In contrast, a multitude of large-population field studies—the ‘gold-standard’ of bee research—have consistently demonstrated there are no serious adverse effects of neonic insecticides on honeybees at the colony level from field-realistic neonic exposure. …
By last year, even the Sierra Club—for years one of the leading proponents of the honeybee Armageddon narrative—was backpeddling, writing: ‘Honeybees are at no risk of dying off. While diseases, parasites and other threats are certainly real problems for beekeepers, the total number of managed honeybees worldwide has risen 45% over the last half century.'”
Then Entine turns his attention to another front in the war on pesticides: a Canadian study in which white-crowned sparrows were force-fed a mixture of seeds and pesticide via gavage — ie, through a tube:
“Only sparrows force-fed the highest dosage were affected, and then only temporarily. They stopped eating, quickly lost body weight and fat, became disoriented and paused their migratory flight—all after tube full of chemicals was forced down their throat and into their stomach. … That said, within a few days of what was likely a trauma-inducing experience, all recovered completely and continued their migration normally.”
Yet the authors reported that the very existence of some wild birds is threatened by neonics, and the media, always eager to report a crisis, ran with it.
Paul Driessen also describes the junk science underlying misleading narratives regarding pesticide use. It is a driving force behind legislation in the House and Senate that would ban the use of neonics in National Wildlife Refuges, where the Fish & Wildlife Service permits farmers to grow various crops. Driessen has some advice for Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-NY), a sponsor of the legislation:
“She should also recognize potentially serious threats to bees, wildlife, soils, waters and plants in refuges from sources that she, her colleagues and their environmentalist and media allies routinely ignore: solar panels, for instance. Not only do they blanket many thousands of acres, allowing little to grow beneath or between them. They can also leach cadmium and other metals into soils and waters. They should no longer be built near wildlife refuges.
Finally, it’s not just bees. It’s also birds, and bats – which are already being killed and even eradicated in many areas by America’s 56,000 wind turbines. Imagine what Green New Deal turbine numbers would do.”
More perspective is offered in this excellent six-part (and growing?) “Pesticides and Food” series (all at the link) by Kayleen Schreiber:
- Has pesticide use decreased? Yes, dramatically in per capita and per unit of output.
- Have pesticides improved? Yes, with dramatically lower toxicity, improved biodegradability, and lower use rates.
- How dangerous is glyphosate (a herbicide)? Not very. Covered in my last post. Glyphosate is only 1/10th as toxic as caffeine.
- How do organic pesticides compare to synthetic pesticides? It’s a mixed bag, with great variability across both classes. Organics are more toxic in some applications, and synthetics are more toxic in others.
- Soil health: Are synthetic pesticides more sustainable than “natural” organics? Organics require more tillage, which creates sustainability problems.
- Pesticide residues — Something to worry about? The USDA finds little residue in its testing, with extremely low detection rates for both organics and synthetics.