Tagged: beekeeping

The buzz about neonicotinoids: Hive minding your own business.

ImageI noticed a request to sign a petition on facebook with the heading

BAN THE PESTICIDES THAT ARE KILLING BEES

I was also alerted to the same issue on facebook via a butterfly conservation page that said

Today the March of the Beekeepers, organised by Buglife and others, will advance on Parliament Square, Westminster to support a temporary ban of neonicotinoid pesticides. Could these pesticides affect butterflies and moths as well as bees?

and linked to details of a protest against neonicotinoid insecticides called March of the Beekeepers.

So, the claim is that neonicotinoid insecticides, having proven to be killing bees, may also be the cause of butterfly decline. Facebook messages followed in support of the march.

This seems like a good thing, right? The huge german company Bayer are manufacturing these pesticides, and there’s a ton of evidence to prove the connection between this stuff and the bees dying. Surely.

So, I decided to take a look at some of the evidence on offer, linked from the campaign. Here’s their science (a very short pdf). Now, straight away, I have little problem. They say

…independent studies showed serious sub-lethal impacts on non-target invertebrates.

which suggests to me that nobody is talking about the killing of bees, oh, except for the

BAN THE PESTICIDES THAT ARE KILLING BEES

people.

Secondly, I have a problem with the way they casually broaden out the category to include any environmental impact, including earthworms and mammals, however interesting that is, when the issue at hand is bees. To me this looks like cherry picking, although it’s very hard to be certain because the most relevant sounding studies listed are seemingly unavailable (google-wise).

For a little balance, I came across the Scientific Beekeeping site which appears to present quite a different story.

Yes, bees can be effected by this pesticide when dosed enough. It appears to be general scientific consensus, seen here in the Relatively objective reviews section, however, that it is very unlikely to be the cause of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).

My concern is that people are allowing their political judgement (perhaps a suspicion of companies like Bayer, and a dislike of “unnatural” pesticides) to cloud their scientific judgment. In my view, this situation could become another mass moral panic, resulting in a blanket ban. My fear is that the campaigners will move on to some other issue and the bees will keep dying.

The science is not simple here, and the slogans of the marchers (who I suspect may not be exclusively beekeepers) do not reflect the scientific complexity, resulting in an emotion-driven movement that is unlikely to be productive.

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