April 23, 2015
The bees are dying, and it’s our
been ecochondriac organizations’ mantra for years, as they scaremonger -- and
raise millions -- over colony collapse disorder (CCD).
by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as “sudden and widespread disappearances
of adult honey bees from beehives,” CCD is real, and it is disturbing. Bees are
vital to the agriculture industry, and as Americans increasingly embrace
locally grown produce from small farms,
pollination services will matter more than ever.
be combatted, broadly and aggressively. But peddlers of junk science, always on
the prowl to profit from problems they can blame on technology, aren’t
contributing to a rational and effective response.
Angela Logomasini is. Her “‘Beepocalypse’ Not: Alarmist
Honeybee Claims Collapse Under Scrutiny,” published by the D.C.-based Competitive Enterprise
Institute, fires a bracing shot of facts and data at CCD hysteria.
counter the charge that CCD is a result of mankind’s “tampering with nature,”
Logomasini notes that “honeybees
are not even a ‘natural’ part of the ecosystem in the United States. They were
imported from Europe during the 17th century for honey production
and crop pollination, although some colonies now live in the wild. Like cattle,
they are an agricultural commodity that is farmed and managed by human hands.”
In the Western Hemisphere, the newcomers “generally do not survive as well,” in
part due to “greater genetic variability that makes them more resistant to
disease” in the Old World.
all hive wipeouts are due to CCD. America’s honeybees, Logomasini notes, “die
and disappear for many reasons,” including parasites, stress from
transportation, and inadequate nutrition. Varroa
mites have “already nearly eliminated wild honeybee populations in the United
States.” Trucking hives from state to state causes aggravation and spreads
disease. Crop limitation might be making bees’ “nutritional sources … too one
dimensional,” and the practice of supplementing diets with high-fructose corn
syrup could prove unwise.
bother with complexity and nuance when a scapegoat can be found? Eco-loons have
fingered a particular family of chemicals as the source of CCD. Neonicotinoids
are defined by Texas A&M
University as “a
new class of insecticides … related to nicotine” that can “be applied to soil
and be taken up by plants,” in order to reduce “the risks for insecticide drift
from the target site.”
Logomasini explains, are often applied to seeds “before planting, a practice
that avoids broad environmental exposure.” Many of the studies that purport to
prove a link between the insecticides and CCD were not conducted in the field,
but in laboratories, where bees were subjected to unnaturally high levels.
Sometimes the “research” is simply irrelevant. The destruction detailed in a
frequently cited Harvard study did “not constitute CCD. While some honeybees
abandoned the hive, there were lots of dead bees present and some hives lost
queens as well as their brood. This does not resemble CCD, which involves disappearance of nearly all worker bees
with few dead bees present, with live queens and brood left behind.”
reason to be skeptical: If neonicotinoids impose a death sentence on honeybees,
why is the carnage so limited in some regions? In “many places where these
chemicals are used widely, such as in Australia, CCD is not a problem.” Canada
is another country that uses neonicotinoids, but has experienced minimal hive
destruction. And history is more than a little instructive. As Jon Entine of
the Center for Health & Risk Communication
in Forbes last year,
“unpredictable bee deaths [have] occurred periodically for more than a century”
-- long before the era of neonicotinoids.
the best approach to deal with CCD? First, do the opposite of Europe, which
instituted a ban on neonicotinoids in 2013. Earlier this year, Bloomberg
reported that in response, “farmers across the continent applied older
chemicals to which many pests had developed a resistance, allowing them to
survive. Now, infestations may lead to a 15 percent drop in this year’s
European harvest of rapeseed, the region’s primary source of vegetable oil used
to make food ingredients and biodiesel.”
answer to CCD is “collaboration among the parties with an interest in
protecting bees -- beekeepers, farmers, conservationists, entomologists and
other researchers, consumers, and even chemical companies.” Continue the
studies, but make sure to “follow the best available science in beekeeping
most importantly, vex the worrywarts -- acknowledge the positive. The good news
is that “during 2013-2014 hive losses were lower and at manageable levels after
several years of relatively high losses.”
D. Dowd Muska (www.dowdmuska.com) writes about government, economics, and technology. Follow him on Twitter @dowdmuska.
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