Don’t Bee-Lieve the Latest Bee-Pocalypse Scare

Now wild bee junk science and scare stories drive demands for anti-pesticide regulations

by Paul Driessen

Honey Bee
Honey Bee
Paul Driessen
Paul Driessen

United States -(AmmoLand.com)- As stubborn facts ruin their narrative that neonicotinoid pesticides are causing a honeybee-pocalypse, environmental pressure groups are shifting to new scares to justify their demands for “neonic” bans.

Honeybee populations and colony numbers in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia and elsewhere are growing. It is also becoming increasingly clear that the actual cause of bee die-offs and “colony collapse disorders” is not neonics, but a toxic mix of predatory mites, stomach fungi, other microscopic pests, and assorted chemicals employed by beekeepers trying to control the beehive infestations.

Naturally, anti-pesticide activists have seized on a recent study purporting to show that wild bee deaths in Britain have been correlated with neonic use in oil seed rape fields (canola is a type of OSR). In a saga that has become all too common in the environmental arena, their claims were amplified by news media outlets that share many activist beliefs and biases – and want to sell more subscriptions and advertising.

(Honeybees represent a small number of species that humans have domesticated and keep in hives, to produce honey and pollinate crops. Many are repeatedly trucked long distances, to pollinate almond and other crops as they flower. By contrast, thousands of species of native or wild bees also flourish across the continents, pollinating plants with no human assistance.)

The recent Center for Ecology and Hydrology study examined wild bee population trends over an 18-year period that ended in 2011. It concluded that there was a strong correlation between population and distribution numbers for multiple species of British wild bees and what study authors called their “measure of neonic dose” resulting from the pesticide, which is used as a seed coating for canola crops.

The study is deeply flawed, at every stage – making its analysis and conclusions meaningless. For example, bee data were collected by amateur volunteers, few of whom were likely able to distinguish among some 250 species of UK wild bees. But if even one bee of any species was identified in a 1-by-1 kilometer area during at least two of the study period’s 18 years, the area was included in the CEH study.

This patchy, inconsistent approach means the database that formed the very foundation for the entire study was neither systematic nor reliable, nor scientific. Some species may have dwindled or disappeared in certain areas due to natural causes, or volunteers may simply have missed them. We can never know.

There is no evidence that the CEH authors ever actually measured neonic levels on bees or in pollen collected from OSR fields that the British wild bees could theoretically have visited. Equally relevant, by the time neonics on seeds are absorbed into growing plant tissue, and finally expressed on flecks of pollen, the levels are extremely low: 1.3–3.0 parts per billion, the equivalent of 1–3 seconds in 33 years.

(Coating seeds ensures that pesticides are incorporated directly into plant tissue – and target only harmful pests that feed on the crops. It reduces or eliminates the need to spray crops, which can kill birds, bats and beneficial insects that are in the fields or impacted by accidental “over-sprays.” Indeed, numerous field studies on two continents have found no adverse effects from neonics on honeybees at the hive level.)

A preliminary U.S. Environmental Protection Agency risk assessment for one common neonic sets the safe level for residues on pollen at 25 ppb. Any observable effects on honeybee colonies are unlikely below that. Perhaps wild bees are more susceptible. However, at least two wild bee species (alfalfa leaf cutters and miner bees) are thriving in areas where OSR/canola fields are widespread, and the CEH study found reduced numbers of certain wild bees that do not collect pollen from oil seed rape.

Perhaps most important, the CEH authors appear to have assumed that any declines in wild bee numbers were due to neonicotinoid pesticides in OSR fields, even at very low doses. They discounted or ignored other factors, such as bee diseases, weather and land use changes.

For instance, scientists now know that parasitic Varroa destructor mites and phorid flies severely affect honeybees; so do the Nosema ceranae gut fungus, tobacco ringspot virus and deformed wing virus. Under certain circumstances, those diseases are known to spread to bumblebees and other wild bees.

Significant land development and habitat losses occurred in many parts of Britain from 1930 to 1990, causing wild bee populations to decline dramatically. Thankfully, they have since rebounded – during the same period that neonic use was rising rapidly, replacing older insecticides that clearly are toxic to bees! The CEH team also failed to address those facts.

To compensate for these shortcomings (or perhaps to mask them), the CEH researchers created a sophisticated computer model that supposedly describes and explains the 18 years of wild bee data.

However, as any statistician or modeler knows, models and output are only as good as the assumptions behind them and data fed into them. Garbage in/Garbage out (GIGO) remains the fundamental rule. Greater sophistication simply means more refined refuse, and faster computers simply generate faulty, misleading results more rapidly. They also enable emotional fear-mongering to trump real science.

The CEH models are essentially “black boxes.” Key components of their analytical methodologies and algorithms have not been made public and thus cannot be verified by independent reviewers.

However, the flawed data gathering, unjustified assumptions about neonic impacts, and failure to consider the likely effects of multiple bee diseases and parasites make it clear that the CEH model and conclusions are essentially worthless – and should not be used to drive or justify pesticide policies and regulations.

As Prime Minister Jim Hacker quipped in the theatrical version of the British comedy series Yes, Prime Minister:

“Computer models are no different from fashion models. They’re seductive, unreliable, easily corrupted, and they lead sensible people to make fools of themselves.”

And yet studies like this constantly make headlines. That’s hardly surprising. Anti-pesticide campaigners have enormous funding and marvelous PR instincts. Researchers know their influence and next grant can depend on issuing studies that garner alarmist headlines and reflect prevailing news themes and imminent government actions. The news media want to sell ads and papers, and help drive public policy-making.

The bottom line is fundamental: correlation does not equal causation. Traffic lights are present at many intersections where accidents occur; but that does not mean the lights caused most or all of the accidents. The CEH authors simply do not demonstrate that a neonic-wild bee cause-effect relationship exists.

The price to society includes not just the countless dollars invested in useless research, but tens of billions in costs inflicted by laws and regulations based on or justified by that research. Above all, it can lead to “cures” that are worse than the alleged diseases: in this case, neonic bans would cause major crop losses and force growers to resort to older pesticides that clearly are harmful to bees.

There is yet another reason why anti-pesticide forces are focusing now on wild bees. In sharp contrast to the situation with honeybees, where we have extensive data and centuries of beekeeper experience, we know very little about the thousands of wild bee species: where they live and forage, what risks they face, even how many there really are. That makes them a perfect poster child for anti-neonic activists.

They can present all kinds of apocalyptic scenarios, knowing even far-fetched claims cannot be disproven easily, certainly not in time to address new public unease amid discussions about a regulatory proposal.

The Center for Ecology and Hydrology study involved seriously defective data gathering and analytical methodologies. More troubling, it appears to have been released in a time and manner calculated to influence a European Union decision on whether to continue or rescind a ban on neonicotinoid pesticides.

Sloppy or junk science is bad enough in and of itself. To use it deliberately, to pressure lawmakers or regulators to issue cures that may be worse than alleged diseases, is an intolerable travesty.

About the Author:

Paul Driessen is senior policy analyst for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow, Heartland Institute and Congress of Racial Equality, and author of Eco-Imperialism: Green power – Black death.

  • 16 thoughts on “Don’t Bee-Lieve the Latest Bee-Pocalypse Scare

    1. Why has several states seen the largest bee die offs this past year,in 04,05,this crap was fast tracked,in 06 we had the largest bee & bat die off ever,this crap is killing our environment,bees provide us with 1/3 of our food,so I don’t where this guy is getting his info,but is WRONG.

      1. If you actually did the research, you’d find that those die-offs are directly related to the very large commercial migratory pollination companies, NOT the small apiaries and hobby beekeepers. Those huge operations cause a lot of stress on those bees in several ways – long haul moves, multiple chemical treatments, putting bees on acreages that have been sprayed with herbicides and insecticides, etc. Those bees are often introduced to areas where there may be heavy “pest” concentrations (mites, hive beetles, wax moths, bacteria, fungus, etc), whereas the smaller apiaries limit the exposure of their bees to those stresses, AND spend more time inspecting their hives and warding off problems. I’ve been keeping bees (50-150 hives) for more than 40 years and have NEVER had a die off.; losing a few hives a year is expected.

    2. Remember, that first war for our independence was because the then-in-power tyranny “had a mind to tell us how we should live, and we had a mind that they wouldn’t”.

      This business about the bees, and related ones about foods, government meddling, etc, are valid. It is the same spirit of government as god attempting to take over and control every minutia of our lives. WE happen to stress the importance of retaining our best means of putting tyranny at bay. But often enough we need to see the root reason for keeping them handy. This this IS appropriate in the larger sense of things. Guns? Yes. But WHY?

      1. So were is the “other side” of the argument?
        Note:
        1. Honey bees are a non-native, exotic imported species.
        2. Honey bee hive dieoff / collapse is of great concern to agricultural production; not so much to wildlife and conservation.
        3. Pesticide / Herbicide use and overuse are of great concern to wildlife and conservation.
        4. Paul Driessen is a very biased, “anti-environmentalist”, lawyer, and lobbyist. Always consider the source, funding, and the author’s “ax to grind” when reading such articles.
        5. Nothing requires a “gun” site to be only one-sided on all issues, to always take the current “conservative” stand, to take the large corporation viewpoint. Many of these topics, like this one on bees, is multifactorial, complicated, and much of the science still not clear and still being debated. One reason Trump has been so successful is that “conservative” and “Republican” have been hijacked, by the powers that be, into to being pro-large business, pro-moneyed interest. Note that Driessen is a lobbyist for these same interest. Corporations, by definition, are money driven, ie, soulless and lacking morals. Do think Monsanto or DuPont cares about the environment or wildlife or hunting? Just because I’m a red neck gun nut and generally anti-government, does not mean I automatically support the stand of these giant corporations.

    3. Not sure how this relates to firearms but great article. Just another example of how the envirowackos are using poor data to foist their agenda on the general populace. Hope there are cool heads that can show what garbage the study is when legislators contemplate laws regarding neonic pesticides.

    4. What this article is missing is the fact the pesticides, like Round-Up, are one of the leading causes of Cancer in Human Beings! These Pesticides have in them what is called Gligesates, which are nearly as deadly as putting G*n in your mouth (Russian Roulette)..!!! You don’t know when the chamber with the rounds is coming, but you know it is coming! There are natural pesticides that can be used and have been used for thousands of years, but then Monsanto would not make billions selling their poison, i.e., depopulation juice, to the World. People need to do their research before posting articles. God help us, PLEASE!

      1. And we get another spew of ignoraance who hates corporations and FAILS to understand that the old “natural” pesticides are NOT as effective and using ONLY them would have a SIGNIFICANT impact on the production of food stuffs in this country and others.
        Want to see food shortages and prices sky rocket? Then do what you demand.
        If you don’t like “Round-Up” then buy ONLY organic produce and food stuffs

        1. Organic produce, just like our bodies, contains pesticides. Granted, it is much lower than in conventionally produced food, but it’s still there. The CDC reports that there are measurable levels of 29 different pesticides in the average American’s body. Breakdown products of DDT are found in about 85% of Americans, even though it has not been used since 1972. Babies are born with pesticides already in them and then acquire more through breast milk, which is high in fat (most pesticides are fat soluble). I assume you are familiar with the term “carcinogenic”. Turns out some pesticides are and some are not. Interestingly, this seems to be unrelated to their accute toxicity nor to their environmental impact. But obviously it’s of great importance to us humans. Familiar the term “endocrine disruptor”? A much bigger and real issue with pesticides. Regarding glyphosate, there is evidence it causes cancer in animals and that it can damage human DNA. The World Health Organization declared glyphosate a probable human carcinogen based on much more extensive research than that considered by our EPA and the USDA. Aware of that?
          And even though I might be a redneck gun nut, I do choose organically produced food, when I can.

      2. Stupid people like you should not comment. Roundup (Glyphosate) is NOT a pesticide, it is a herbicide. And what the hell is “Gligesates”? I think you need to use that g*n in your mouth!

    5. An article about bees has no place on a gun / shooting site. Seems obvious, doesn’t it.
      We have a farm, we have bees, and we are interested in this topic. But not on a website that is supposed to be dedicated to guns, shooting, hunting, 2nd amendment rights, etc.. Yes, Mr. Driessen is entitled to his opinion and his evidence and argument may be valid, but this is an inappropriate venue.

      1. Take a Flying leap; Move back to New York or New Jersey where your home really is!!
        I find it interesting, it addresses a MAJOR issue in the area of nature which could and would impact huniting and shooting in the future.
        Any and EVERYTHING in nature has an impact on shooting and hunting. The same idiots spewing the stupidity about bees can just as easily turn against hunting and shooting.

        1. I’m a fifth generation Floridian …how about you, smart mouth?
          Yes, it is a major issue in agriculture, but not necessarily nature, or at least North American nature. Honey bees are not native to the USA, but were imported when Europeans came here. We have our own native pollinators, ranging from different butterflies and months, to native bees and wasps.
          As I said, Mr. Driessen is entitled to his opinion and to present evidence supporting his argument. But his is only one side of the issue and, as expected, he emphasizes evidence that supports his conclusion. There is a lot of evidence against his argument, as well. One issue with having such a one sided article like this on a site like Ammoland is that there are few here informed enough to really comment on it’s validity. I found it interesting, but one sided — written more like an editorial than a science article. I still say this is the wrong venue.
          And, oh, as a Southerner, I was brought up to be polite. How about you? Civility while still disagreeing?

          1. Always someone like you that needs to bitch about something. Just because it is a gun site doesn’t mean they can’t throw in a few off topic articles. When scrolling down the list of articles, YOU can simply pass over articles you are not interested in reading. Instead you open an article, like this one, and waste space with a worthless complaint. It’s like watching TV, if you don’t like the programming, change the channel!!!!!

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