Bees, pesticides, and public opinion

Work by the European Food Safety Authority has demonstrated a strong connection between certain agricultural pesticides, in a class known as neonicotinoids, and bee die off, often known as Colony Collapse Disorder. Of the four pesticides implicated, clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam are used on crops in Canada. The federal Pest Management Regulatory Agency is currently undertaking a review of their effects on bees.

In the United States the Environmental Protection Agency is being sued by  a group of four beekeepers and five environmental and consumer groups for its failure to protect pollinators from what are claimed to be dangerous pesticides. The allegations made have not yet been confirmed or rejected by the Federal District Court.

European reviews of these pesticides seem to be reasonably conclusive that they are harmful to bees, though whether they are the sole, or even primary, cause of Colony Collapse Disorder is to some extent awaiting further evidence. Restrictions on use of the pesticides are being put in place.

Public opinion may be as important as scientific and legal opinions in determining the future of these neonicotinoid pesticides. Despite their sting, bees are seen by most people as friendly and human-positive beings. Many kids’ books portray bees as helpful providers of human food. In a tussle between pesticide companies and bees, the bees are likely to be the big winners.

Rather than disputing science-based findings regarding the effect which a few pesticides have on bees, GallonDaily suggests that the pesticide industry might choose to launch its own pro-bee initiative, advising farmers not to use the suspect pesticides in situations where they become a risk to bees. Any other strategy risks damage to the credibility of the pesticide, regulatory, and agricultural communities.

Details of the lawsuit mentioned in this story are summarized at

A PAN commentary on the European restrictions is at

A summary of US EPA’s actions on Colony Collapse Disorder is at

The European assessments of risks to bees from the neonicotinoid pesticides are at

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