A recent paper published in The Bulletin of Insectology claiming that neonicotinoids are the sole cause of CCD has been circulating in the media. The author, Chensheng Lu, has a history of doing research that makes spurious claims about the relationship between CCD and a specific group of pesticides. In this post, I am going to discuss Lu’s research, and use it as a stepping stone to discuss the role that pesticides play in honeybee health.
Why are honeybees exposed to pesticides?
Bees are insects which are raised as livestock, and kept around farms in order to pollinate crops. In order to combat mites which damage adults and spread diseases, beekeepeers use a variety of pesticides. The two most widely used are a pyrethroid called Fluvalinate and an organophosphate called Coumaphos. It is easy to forget that we treat these mites with insecticides, and many popular media reports neglect to mention this completely and instead focus on the agricultural pesticide angle. However, Fluvalinate and Coumaphos are found in virtually all pollen and wax samples. They are frequently found with chlorotalonil, which will synergize the activity of pyrethroids. Coumaphos is the only pesticide found more frequently in non-CCD afflicted colonies. These pesticides are an important part of the honeybee health story.
In 2010, a team lead by Christopher Mullin did a broad survey of agrochemicals found in American beehives that is (to my knowledge) the only wide-scale survey of agrochemicals found in American beehives. The dataset they generated is so immense that it is impossible to properly discuss in a single blog post, so I will need to relegate myself to a very narrow discussion. In general, pesticide levels were well below the lethal limit (Mullin et. al, 2010). It’s important to note that there were occasional exceptions where some insecticides, namely a variety of pyrethroids, organophosphates and the neonicotinoid imidacloprid, did approach lethal limits (Mullin et. al, 2010). Because Lu’s paper focuses on neonicotinoids I will focus the majority of my discussion on this group of pesticides. I will, however, return to discuss the broader implications of Mullin’s work.
How do neonicotinoids affect bees?
Honeybees are in a unique position in the world of insects which are important to agriculture. They’re social insects who must leave their home, find food by recognizing specific plants, return to a specific area, and communicate to their nestmates the location of food. In addition to this, there is a division of labor within the nest. Newly hatched bees will care for young, and perform pest control. As they age, they gradually move into a forager type position and guard the nest. This sort of lifestyle takes a lot of brainpower. Thus there is a concern about neurotoxins which affect the behavior of bees.
The question of how toxic a pesticide can be is figured by determining which dose kills 50% of bees in a test group, a dose called the LD50. This dose is figured using individual bees, which is all well and good, but bees are a superorganism and this might not capture effects that effect colony health at lower than lethal levels. You need the superorganism LD50, which isn’t nearly as straightforward due to space limitations and variation between colonies.
Because bees rely on a complex set of behaviors, levels of pesticides that disrupt these behaviors represent a particular concern. This is actually pretty intuitive, and we can draw parallels with alcohol. A lot of important human activities, like driving and social interaction, also depend on complicated behaviors which can be disrupted by neurotoxins well below lethal levels. I like to draw parallels with alcohol, because it’s something everyone will understand. The NSFW website Texts From Last Night compiles textbook humorous examples of human social behavior which have been disrupted by the neurotoxin alcohol. It could be said that bees can potentially become drunk on neonicotinoids.
Neonicotinoids are neurotoxic pesticides which incorporate themselves into plants, and can be found in the pollen and nectar of treated plants. Neonics can be coated on the seed (known as seed treatment) or simply dumped in the soil around the plants (known as drench treatment), or injected right into the plant (usually reserved for ornamental crops). The Xerces Society has a good review on Neonicotinoid concentrations in plant tissues. Concentrations in pollen can vary widely and depends on the crop they’re used on, the application rate, and how the pesticides are applied. Seed treatments, which represent most neonicotinoid use, likely present few problems because these application rates are very low and result in pollen neonic levels of 1-2 ppb. Soil drenches may present problems, because neonic levels can exceed 50 ppb in pollen in some cases. The real problems with neonics lie with ornamental crops because these can have application rates 10 times those used in agriculture, and neonic levels in pollen can reach fatal levels.
Any response to Lu’s study shouldn’t shy away from discussing potential problems with neonicotinoids, however, in various interviews Lu makes it very apparent he thinks neonic seed-treatments are the cause of CCD. He frequently singles out corn pollen in his interviews, and claims (but never demonstrates) that the corn syrup beekeepers use is contaminated with the insecticides. He also frequently claims in these interviews that the levels he exposes bees to are lower than field rates.
Before long, I’ll demonstrate that Lu’s claims are false. But first things first…
How did Lu conduct his experiment?
Lu’s experimental design was a bit complicated. Lu began with 18 colonies, and split them into two groups of nine. One group of colonies was fed sucrose syrup; the other, High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). These groups were subdivided into groups of three, and fed with one of two neonicotinoid pesticides (Imidacloprid or Clothiandin); another was fed only syrup. In essence, he had 3 pairs of triads fed either different syrup or different pesticides. One representative from each pair of triads was shuttled to one of three apiary locations.
He divided three of these groups among three sites, let them forage for the summer and began to feed the treatment groups pesticides once they were ready to overwinter. He treated the colonies at .74 ng/bee/day for the pesticide treated groups. Treatment time was 13 weeks during the overwintering stage.
If we take Lu’s interpretations at face value, he believes that he managed to replicate CCD because his neonicotinoid treated hives shrunk during the winter, without dead bees accumulating at the bottom of the hive. According to Lu’s analysis of his team’s results:
One of the defining symptomatic observations of CCD colonies is the emptiness of hives in which the amount of dead bees found inside the hives do not account for the total numbers of bees present prior to winter when they were alive. On the contrary, when hives die in the winter due to pathogen infection, like the only control colony that died in the present study, tens of thousands of dead bees are typically found inside the hives. The absence of dead bees in the neonicotinoid-treated colonies is remarkable and consistent with CCD symptoms.
Did Lu manage to replicate CCD using neonicotinoid treatments?
Unfortunately there’s a lot of areas where Lu went wrong, both in his methods and in his interpretation of his results. His main finding is that he believes that he replicated CCD, and this has been widely reported in the media. So let’s tackle his take-home message first, before moving onto the nitty-gritty details.
Remember that Colony Collapse Disorder is a very specific set of symptoms, and that dead and abandoned hives aren’t neccessarily afflicted with CCD. In general, beekeepers lose about 1/3rd of their hives to things like parasites, pathogens, pesticide poisoning, and CCD. CCD accounts of about 1/3rd of the lost hives, or about 1/9 of the total colonies. This is how the USDA defines CCD:
- Sudden loss of the adult bee populations with very few bees found near the dead colonies.
- Several frames with healthy, capped brood
- Low levels of parasitic mites, and absence of nest-damaging kleptoparasites (e.g. wax moths, hive beetles).
- Avoidance of hive by other bees
- Laying queen present, with a small number of newly emerged adult bees.
So…did Lu recreate CCD as he claimed?
At best, Lu’s results in both his 2012 and 2014 papers can be interpreted to demonstrate that honeybees can have trouble overwintering if fed high amounts of neonicotinoids. This point is well taken, but his claim of demonstrating that neonicotinoids are the cause of CCD is a giant overstep in interpretation.
Lu did report declines in levels of bees which seem to indicate that insecticides made a difference in adult survival during overwintering. However, Lu also reported that of the honeybee hives which survived the insecticide treatment, all had either no queen or no brood. Hives afflicted with CCD must have both queens and brood. He did, to his credit, report low levels of mites and didn’t mention the kleptoparasites so he’s got that working in his favor. However, the symptoms he reported did not match the case definition CCD. The biggest problem with Lu’s interpretation of his data is that he conflates hive abandonment with CCD.
To understand this result, you need to know a little bit about social insect biology. While hive abandonment is a part of CCD, hive abandonment is not unique to CCD. Hive abandonment in social insects is, in essence, suicidal quarantine. They leave the hive in order to prevent spread of disease to nestmates. Hive abandonment can be triggered by pathogens (e.g. Malpighamoeba mellificae), sublethal doses of toxic chemicals other than neonicotinoids (e.g. pyrethroids), even CO2 narcosis (Evans & Schwarz, 2011, vanDame et. al, 2009, Cox & William, 1987, Rueppell et. al, 2010). Hive abandonment is a generalized response to sickness in social insects, and by itself does not indicate CCD.
The picture in the next paragraph allows a side-by-side comparison between Lu’s hives and a hive which has CCD. Suffice to say, Lu’s pictures are very different from those which have been affected by CCD. There are very important differences between the colonies Lu poisoned with insecticide and those which have been affected by CCD. Despite these differences, Lu claims he has replicated CCD. However, his data demonstrates that he did not replicate CCD.
What did Lu do wrong?
Lu’s tests were not precisely performed, and suffered from a small sample size of 18 hives. In essence, he had six treatment regimes but treated them as three by merging the two different types of separately prepared syrup for his analysis. While this might not have had a huge effect, it probably still introduced some variability. Many other variables were completely unaccounted for. For example, it wasn’t discussed if the dead colonies were spread evenly through the sites, or if they were found in the same site. Instead of measuring the temperature at his colonies, he instead looked at NOAA measurements taken at the local airport. I could discuss these problems in detail, but I think the problem which is most worthy of discussion is the fact that Lu is claiming that this experiment demonstrates that neonicotinoids are responsible for wide-scale problems with honeybee health.
Lu’s experiment was a no-choice feeding test, which is kind of similar to a cell-culture test. The tests occur in an environment which may not match real-world scenarios. Basically, he dosed the bees with neonicotinoids by pumping them straight into the colony in corn syrup which they’ll consume because it’s the closest food source.
No-choice tests don’t take into account the fact that bees will feed preferentially from different sources in real-world situations. So while levels of neonicotinoids in pollen from seed-treated crops will vary from 1 ppb to more than 10 ppb, the levels they actually eat are very different for a number of reasons. At a certain level of contamination (~20 ppb in corn syrup), it’s likely they’ll avoid pesticide contaminated pollen (Blacquiere et. al, 2012). They’ll also gather pollen from uncontaminated crops, and mix it in with the contaminated pollen. So neonicotinoid residues in pollen don’t necessarily reflect what they are in bee colonies.
Doses in honey aren’t nearly as straightforward because there’s scarce data for the United States. However, they appear to be in the neighborhood of 1 ppb in other countries (Blacquiere et. al, 2012). Based on levels found in actual bee colonies a field-realistic dose of neonicotinoid in pollen is probably 1-3 ppb, although significantly higher levels can occur (Mullin et. al, 2010, Blacquiere et. al 2012). However, the neonicotinoids are not found ubiquitously in bee pollen. Mullin et. al 2010, for example, found imidacloprid in less than 3% of pollen samples taken from colonies. Lu treated his bees at 136 ug/l of syrup. Assuming a liter of syrup weighs 1375 grams (based on density of HFCS), his syrup contained 99 ug/kg of the neonicotinoid insecticides, which is a 5x higher dose than even the most contaminated pollen bees are likely to encounter in crops with seeds treated as per the pesticide label. More importantly, it’s also a dose 33-fold higher than the neonicotinoid contaminated pollen which is found in typical honeybee colonies. Bottom line: he appears to have overdosed the colonies compared to what they are encountering in the real world.
There are also some severe issues with his dosing schedule. He claimed that he dosed the bees at .74 ng/bee/day, but the paper seems to indicate that he did not change the dosing schedule as the populations declined during the winter. As the bees declined, the dosage per bee increased. He also neglected to measure the bee populations to determine his initial dose. He merely assumed a starting point of 50,000 bees.
Lu does not cite literature which undermine his Hypothesis
Just as telling as Lu’s misinterpretation of his results, and his questionable methods, are Lu’s citations in the article. He cites a handful of popular media reports, which is unusual but not completely unheard of in the scientific literature. However, there are a lot of citations which should be there but aren’t. For instance, there is no discussion of field-realistic levels of agrochemicals found in honeybee colonies. This information can be easily found in open-access journals (Mullin et. al 2010, Blacquiere et. al, 2012). Perhaps the most damning omission from Lu’s citation list are field trials. There have been many field trials which have attempted to look at the effects of neonicotinoids on bees (Pohorecka et. al, 2012, Schmuck et. al 2012, Cutler & Scott-Dupree, 2007, Nguyen et. al, 2009, just to name a few). While they all represent different scales, and while each has its own quirks and intricacies, they overwhelmingly indicate that neonicotinoids do not affect colony health under field conditions and proper use. These are high profile papers which are easy to find and which cast doubt on Lu’s claims, but Lu makes no attempt to reconcile his results with these tests.
Pesticides and Bees: the Bigger Picture
The relationship between pesticides and bees is extremely complex, and would probably take several dozen posts to fully discuss. Earlier, I mentioned detections of specific pesticides in Mullin, 2010 and I’d like to return to that point. This study reported a high amounts of imidacloprid in one sample, but neonicotinoids were found in less than 10% of the samples tested. When they were found, they were far below the levels which caused harm (Blacquiere et. al, 2012). While neonicotinoids didn’t appear in the concentrations or frequency which could cause harm, the team found that multiple types of pesticides (mainly pyrethroids and organophosphates) can approach LD50 levels in honeybee colonies. We’d reasonably expect sublethal effects in the colonies where they reach these levels. Often, these are found with fungicides which will synergize their activities by blocking the enzymes bees use to detoxify them. The effects of the miticides on bees are similarly in question, given their frequent and high detections in colonies. A lot of pesticides are found in honeybee colonies and based on pesticide survey data the USDA actually suggests that pyrethroid insecticides are a higher risk to honeybee colonies than are neonicotinoids. Ironically, Lu cited this report but did not discuss this conflict between his data and the views of the larger community.
Neonicotinoids are a small subsection of the pesticide story. Pesticides are a very small part of the CCD story, and are a small part of the overall honeybee health story. Landscape changes due to agricultural intensification and urbanization can change the diversity of the available food, which can change the physiological status of the bees. Bees are kept in crowded, stressed conditions and are driven cross-country where they will come into contact with other bees. This creates an opportunity for rapid disease transmission to new populations, and creates conditions which favors strains of existing diseases evolving to become more virulent. Pesticides act as a stressor on top of all these. Because there are so many interacting factors, it is generally believed that there is no ‘One True Cause’ of CCD.
The story of CCD is a serious one, and it should be discussed in the public sphere. What disturbs me about this discussion is that the Lu paper discussed above has managed to go viral among the media outlets not because it’s quality science but because it fits an anti-pesticide narrative that the media has become increasingly comfortable with. The standard neonicotinoid narrative is convenient because it makes the situation simpler…a single problem, and a single solution which involves banning a single substance. However the real pesticide story involves dozens of compounds with wildly different uses, which interact with biological and environmental factors which are still poorly understood at best. The neonicotinoid story is just as complex because they likely don’t cause problems in all crops, but issues with proper use and application rates still need to be sorted out. There’s also a human component in some systems which is never discussed, where neonicotinoids frequently replace pesticides more toxic to people like organophosphates. Unfortunately, Lu’s research does nothing to highlight legitimate issues with these pesticides in particular. The thing that perhaps makes people the most uncomfortable, is that unlike climate change or evolution, the issues discussed here are not a case of settled science and continue to evolve as we better understand these factors.
Lu, Chensheng. Warchol, K. Callahan, R. (2014) Sub-lethal exposure to neonicotinoids impaired honey bees winterization before proceeding to colony collapse disorder. Bulletin of Insectology 67 (1) 125-130
Lu, C. Warchol, K. Callahan, R. (2012) In-situ replication of honey bee colony collapse disorder. Bulletin of Insectology (65) (Online)
Mullin, C. Frazier, M. Frazier, J. Ashcraft, S. Simonds, R. vanEngelsdorp, D. Pettis, J. (2010) High Levels of Miticides and Agrochemicals in North American Apiaries: Implications for Honey Bee Health. PLOS ONE. 5(3)
Blacquiere, T. Smagghe, G. van Gestel, CAM. Mommaerts, V. (2012) Neonicotinoids in bees: a review on concentrations, side-effects and risk assessment. Ecotoxicology. 21: 973-992
Stoner KA, Eitzer BD (2012) Movement of Soil-Applied Imidacloprid and Thiamethoxam into Nectar and Pollen of Squash (Cucurbita pepo). PLoS ONE 7(6): e39114. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0039114
Evans JD. Schwarz, RS. (2011) Bees brought to their knees: microbes affecting honey bee health. Trends in Microbiology. 12: 614-620.
van Dame, R. Meled, M. Colin, ME. Belzumces, L. (1995) Alteration of the Homing-Flight in the Honey Bee Apis mellifera Exposed to Sublethal Dose of Deltamethrin. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry 14(5): 855-860.
Cox, R. Wilson, W. (1984) Effects of Permethrin on the Behavior of Individually Tagged Honey Bees, Apis mellifera (Hymenoptera: Apidae). Environmental Entomology 13(2): 375-378
Rueppell, O. Hayworth, MK. Ross, NP. (2010) Altruistic Self-Removal of Health-Compromised Honey Bee Workers From Their Hive. Journal of Evolutionary Biology 23(7): 1538-1546
Pohorecka, K. Skubida, P. Miszczak, A. Semkiw, P. Sikorski, P. Zagibajlo, K. Teper, D. Zbigniew, K. Skubida, M. Zdanska, D. Bober, A. Residues of Neonicotinoid Insecticides in Bee Collected Plant Materials From Oilseed Rape Crops and Their Effect on Bee Colonies. Journal of Apicultural Science 56(2): 115-134
Schmuck, R. Schoning, R. Stork, A. Schramel, O. (2001) Risk Posed to Honeybees (Apis mellifera, Hymenoptera) by an Imidacloprid Seed Dressing of Sunflowers. Pest Management Science 57(3): 225-238
Cutler, C. Scott-Dupree, C. (2007) Exposure to Clothianidin Seed-Treated Canola Has No Long Term Impact on Honey Bees. Journal of Economic Entomology 100(3): 765-772
Nguyen, BK. Saegerman, C. Pirard, C. Mignin, J. Widart, J. Thirionet, B. Verheggen, F. Berkvens, D. DePauw, E. Haubruge, E. (2009) Does Imidacloprid Seed-Treated Maize Have an Impact on Honey Bee Mortality? Journal of Economic Entomology 102(2): 616-623
USDA (2013) Report on the National Stakeholders Conference on Honey Bee Health. Online.
Oldroyd BP (2007) What’s Killing American Honey Bees? PLoS Biol 5(6): e168. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0050168
There are some things I couldn’t squeeze into this post that I wanted to mention as a springboard for further discussion. This post should be read as Part 2 of my post from 2013:
1.) The paper I spent most of the time discussing, Mullin et. al 2010, was a very well performed and groundbreaking study in many ways but it left me with a whole host of questions. I’d like to know how in-colony pesticide levels change depending on the crop the bees are pollinating, and how pesticide levels change depending on distance away from pesticide treated crops. This isn’t a criticism because the data Mullin generated needed to be generated before that could even be thought about.
2.) This has been mentioned by Raymond Eckhart in other forums but because Neonics are basically an organophosphate substitute in some cropping systems, I wonder if bees would be worse off if we banned neonics. After all, Mullin’s team found lots of organophosphates in the colonies and those are pretty nasty insecticides.
3.) Lu counted the percentage of frames containing bees, and then used an ANOVA to analyze his data. I talked to Bill Price about this over Twitter, and I’m not sure this is correct. Counting whether or not a frame has bees on it has a binary outcome (bees present or absent), and isn’t normally distributed because of that. An ANOVA is for normally distributed data, and a non-parametric analysis like Kaplan-Meier Survival Analysis would probably be more appropriate. In fact, Rueppell et. al 2010 uses either Chi-squared or Fisher’s tests to analyze data that is very similar to what Lu generated.
4.) A second problem with the statistics is that Lu simply analyzes a lot of timepoints. When you analyze a lot of timepoints, you can get a different result just from chance. To eliminate this possibility, data is frequently corrected using a Bonferroni correction which takes this into account. Lu does not mention a Bonferroni correction anywhere in his paper which makes me thing he did not take this into account.
So…more food for thought for those who want to discuss this paper.
Nice try Joe, why don’t you repeat the study and apply all the corrections that you speak about?
“In general, beekeepers lose about 1/3rd of their hives to things like parasites, pathogens, pesticide poisoning, and CCD. CCD accounts of about 1/3rd of the lost hives, or about 1/6 of the total colonies. ”
Shouldn’t that be 1/9th of the total colonies?
Yes, Skeptico…it should. Thanks for pointing that out…it’s been corrected.
The result of the 2 years ban in Europe should clarify this hypothesis.
Or generate a new round of excuses.
Actual CCD losses have been declining in recent years. From the 2012-2013 ARS report (http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/br/beelosses/index.htm):
My understanding is that CCD in 2013-2014 was minimal as well. Bee management issues and stress would appear to be more important factors in overall health. Also from this report is a telling clue:
That 20% is important because many of these bee keepers are running 1,000’s, if not 10,000’s of hives in such operations.
The place to look at for clarification is going to be the Netherlands this past March they banned all Neonicotinoids for all uses permanently.
I think France also has a similar ban, however they got CCD nonetheless.
That’s an awfully dismissive comment. Joe gave specific reasons and explained why these flaws matter for science. You just said “Nice try” with no details that any of his criticisms were off-base. I think the point is that the study design should have been carefully considered before the study was done, and then the results should have been more carefully scrutinized for whether they confirm or reject the null and alternate hypotheses. Think about that the next time you want to express your disagreement.
There’s no reason I should attempt to replicate every study I’m skeptical about.
Lu did his experiments wrong, he ignored nearly all relevant background information, he incorrectly analyzed his data, he didn’t recreate the condition he claimed he was replicating, and above all he ignored and possibly misrepresented conflicting information.
Replication just simply isn’t a factor here, because most of my criticisms are about real-world relevance, misinterpretation, and overselling.
I actually think the result of the 2-year neonic ban in Europe will do little to shed light on CCD specifically.
CCD is a specific diagnosis based on a specific set of symptoms. While American scientists were quick to recognize CCD and settle upon a case definition, European scientists have been much slower to do so. In fact the first case of CCD was only published in 2012, and hasn’t been cited by anything in pubmed. It’s clearly there, but Europe has been very slow to study it for reasons I don’t quite understand.
Europe has still had problems with colony losses from other reasons, even in areas where neonics are banned. In the US colony losses have fluctuated without any major changes in neonic use. In fact, there’s even a paper which applies epidemiological criteria to the question and finds no association.
Of course, it’s still possible that new data could emerge and fill in some of the gaps mentioned in Cresswell. Specifically, I’d like to see more landscape level studies.
However, from my reading of the literature, I don’t buy a neonic-specific explanation of either CCD or widespread colony losses. CCD is most likely multifactorial, and bees die for a variety of reasons unrelated to pesticides.
Do they play a role? Probably, but it’s likely other pesticides play similar or larger roles. Are neonics the sole reason beekeepers have problems? No, and we shouldn’t pretend they are.
Great article, really well put together. It is indeed important to remember that there are many other agricultural chemicals that may impact on pollinators.
Here are a few observations from a European perspective, bit of a rush so apologise now if not as well referenced as I would like.
CCD – while hives in the EU may occasionally show full CCD symptoms, it does not happen frequently enough for us to consider there to be one specific problem with honeybees. Over here the perception is that hive health has declined and overwintering success is now much poorer than it once was. Hence the question ‘are neonics the cause of CCD’ is of limited interest outside N America.
Other pollinators – it is unlikely that Honeybees here do more than 10% of pollinations, most food and wild flower seed arises from solitary bees, bumblebees, hoverflies, moths, etc. These are the species that we must also consider. Varroa mites, CCD and hive miticides are all irrelevant to most declining pollinator species.
Complexity of causes – there are many severe problems for bees and other pollinators and associated declines, and while wildflower loss is a key factor, insecticides doubtlessly also play a role. The European Food Standards Authority (EFSA) has determined three neonics to be a confirmed high risk for Honeybees. Generally the scientific papers indicate that bumblebees and solitary bees are more sensitive and more vulnerable to neonicotinoid poisoning (they also have a lot of remembering to do).
Key question – the key question is whether the risk posed by pesticides to pollinator populations is ethically acceptable. Part of this question requires an ethical judgement and part is theoretically knowable – do the benefits to humans of using neonics out-weight the costs.
Lu – clearly this work is only relevant to the little Honeybee section of pollination services (and we don’t have lorry loads of professional Honeybees in the EU). The effects of the neonicotinoids on Honeybees in his two papers are interesting, but the dosing rates are indeed far higher than what would be encountered just through pollen and nectar in arable crops. There are however other forms of contact – dust, guttation fluid (Girolami et al. 2009 Translocation of Neonicotinoid Insecticides From Coated Seeds to Seedling Guttation Drops. A Novel Way of Intoxication for Bees) and puddles – and other uses – ornamental and garden – for which there is less research relating to concentrations and exposure, some of which may be close to the levels used by Lu. In addition the potency of neonicotinoids can be higher in products (1000 times in Mesnage et al 2014 Major pesticides are more toxic to human cells than their declared active principles) or when acting in synergy with fungicides (2 to 5 times in Biddinger et al 2013 Comparative Toxicities and Synergism of Apple Orchard Pesticides to Apis mellifera and Osmia cornifrons (Radowszkowski)). Lu’s own theory that the neonics were concentrated into sugar syrup from treated maize crops that was then fed to bees does not appear to be evidenced and indeed sounds unlikely, but it would be interesting to hear from anyone who understands that purification process and could say if the theory is or is not feasible. The EU coverage of Lu’s work has generally been rather cautious http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/nature/new-pesticide-link-to-sudden-decline-in-bee-population-7622263.html
Do neonicotinoids work – we know that pollination services are worth billions, but what are the benefits of neonicotinoids. The US report ‘Heavy Costs’ shows that the evidence from field studies is not conclusive – it is not clear that the value of yield increases is higher than the costs of the insecticides – some of the UK costings indicate that our agriculture may be more profitable without neonics – more on this here – http://www.buglife.org.uk/blog/matt-shardlow-ceo/drugs-neonicotinoids-don%E2%80%99t-work.
Field studies not finding an effect from neonicotinoids – there are several published studies that failed to find an effect in the field, and the best of these do offer reassurance that the impacts of neonicotinoids on honeybees are not instantly disastrous. As you say they do all have some limitations. But for some of them the problems run well beyond limitations. For instance Cutler & Scott-Dupree 2007 is based on a regulatory study that was invalidated by the Canadian authorities. It was considered meaningless because of 1) the small area of treated crop available to the ‘treatment’ hives, 2) the treated crop was also within the foraging range of the ‘control’ hives and 3) the ‘treatment’ and ‘control’ hives were pretty equally contaminated with neonics. You say you name ‘a few’ of the published field studies, but your list is pretty comprehensive!
Interaction – Field studies are hard work and therefore are not readily capable of determining ecosystem wide impacts such as interactions between pesticides or between pesticides and diseases – effects that have been proven in the laboratory – e.g. Doublet et al 2014 Bees under stress. sublethal doses of a neonicotinoid pesticide and pathogens interact to elevate honey bee mortality across the life cycle.
Soil – neonics are surprisingly persistent in arable soils and are water soluble – this background build up may result in higher concentrations in pollen, nectar and water sources inside and outside arable fields. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ps.3836/abstract
You conclude that we should not tackle just one issue or one insecticide group and that is absolutely correct. But neonicotinoids are a significant concern and should be tackled. And I do question your claim that “neonicotinoids frequently replace pesticides” we have generally found that seed treatments are additional. Pyrethroid use has not dropped since the introduction of neonicotinoids. Farmers are taking a belt and braces approach.
Deryn Gilbey seeds and traits manager at Dekalb a majour supplier of Oil seed rape seed said in the Farmers Guardian this week that “the level of yield benefit from neonicotinoids in controlling its aphid vectors is highly questionable. Perhaps this is why there is no sign of any dramatic UK performance increase which could be linked to the introduction of neonicotinoids in the recent official yield record”.
Hope this adds some additional dimensions to the concerns about neonicotinoids and food production.
Additional to the fungicide synergy issue is this paper:-
Iwasa 2004 Mechanism for the differential toxicity of neonicotinoid insecticides in the honey bee, Apis mellifera
“Piperonyl butoxide,triflumizole and propiconazole increased honey bee toxicity of acetamiprid 6.0-, 244- and 105-fold and thiacloprid 154-, 1,141- and 559-fold”
Matt – I think it is important to highlight the entire quote attributed to Deryn Gilby:
“About two-thirds of the annual OSR crop is typically affected by the cabbage stem flea beetle and flea beetle pests the seed treatment is primarily targeted at.
“We know levels of infestation and crop damage vary widely from season to season, farm to farm and field to field.
“Equally, regardless of the theoretical losses from turnip yellows virus (TuYV), the level of yield benefit from neonicotinoids in controlling its aphid vectors is highly questionable.
“Perhaps this is why there is no sign of any dramatic UK performance increase which could be linked to the introduction of neonicotinoids in the recent official yield record (see graph).
“Indeed, the latest pesticides usage survey figures show about 30 per cent of the oilseed rape crop did not receive a neonicotinoid in 2010.”
In the context of the entire quote, I beleive he is stating that the neonicitoid seed treatment is targeted at flea beatles. I do not beleive he is stating that the seed treatment had no benefit, just that the benefit was with flea beatles and not necessarily aphids, which were a vector for a virus.
Prophylactic seed treatments are not targeted, sprays are targeted. Most of the early papers on imidacloprid efficacy focus on aphids.
For a systemic pesticide it is a significant challenge to determine if a yield benefit arises as a result of the control of flea beetles, aphids or something else, however, as there has not been a yield benefit (UK OSR yields have flat-lined) this problem does not arise.
In addition to the 19 studies reviewed by the Heavy Costs report Goulson, D. (2013) (An overview of the environmental risks posed by neonicotinoid insecticides. Journal of Applied Ecology 50, 977-987) – also concludes that there is no clear yield benefit.
I have just gone through Bayer’s own literature dating back to 1992 and the evidence presented there of efficacy is also highly flaky – and that was their own un-peer reviewed studies – may blog on this myself at some point.
Cresswell study pivots on Cutler & Scott-Dupree 2007 evidence – see below for problems with this being a pivot point.
Is there evidence that neonics are effective crop protection products?
See here for an analysis of claims that they are- http://www.buglife.org.uk/blog/matt-shardlow-ceo/drugs-neonicotinoids-don%E2%80%99t-work-2
Oilseed rape (canola) growers in France now have a new tool to replace neonics when they plant this fall. Methiocarb. Good news is it can control many of their key pests. Bad news is it’s highly toxic to bees and can also harm humans and non-insect wildlife. It’s effective for a shorter period of time than neonics and follow up sprays may be needed.
This is a prime example of why precautionary approaches don’t work. A real risk assessment would look at likely outcomes of a ban and understand this is a less desirable outcome.
The other option is to keep the bans coming until farmers have no options and yields fall, necessitating more area for cultivation and less for wildlife. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1365-2664.12035/abstract
Thanks Bill very interesting info.
I know that the pesticide companies have been claiming that the EU partial ban on Neonicotinoids was the result of the application of the precautionary principle. This is not true, you will find no reference to the precautionary principle in any of the relevant EC decision documents, risk assessments, regulations or press releases. This is because the decision to ban was taken by the EC after the European Food Safety Authority undertook an evidence based risk assessment (http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/press/news/130116.htm) that confirmed that the products and uses were a high risk to honeybees. Once a high risk to the environment or human health is confirmed the EU legislation gives little wriggle room to the EC, residual risk has to be managed through regulation.
The problem with a risk based approach, such as this, is that not all risks are apparent from the outset. Hence new pesticides can have a honeymoon period before the damage is detected and addressed. A risk assessment based approach results in a regime in which damaging pesticides are used for 10-15 years before the process rejects them and replaced by a less well understood chemical.
Your idealised model of risk assessment feels unfeasible, not only are risks unknown, the reaction of the market is unpredictable (as this development demonstrates!).
Just to re-emphasise, neonicotinoid seed treatments have not resulted in any reduction in follow up spraying, pyrethroid sales and applications have stayed constant. Seed treatment is an additional pesticide application.
Methiocarb as a seed treatment to replace neonics does sound like bad news, we will need to have a look at the toxicity evidence.
What is interesting is that the article you link to is from a British magazine. The suggestion appears to be that the company is making these French treated seeds available for use in the UK. However, currently methiocarb is not authorised as a Oilseed rape seed treatment in the UK (https://secure.pesticides.gov.uk/pestreg/getfullproduct.asp?productid=2954&pageno=1&origin=prodsearch). It is authorised as a maize seed treatment, but is being withdrawn in July 2014 (https://secure.pesticides.gov.uk/pestreg/getfile.asp?documentid=19606). There is a loophole in the EU legislation where it can be possible to import pre-treated seeds if that use is licensed in the EU country of origin. I am unsure if this is an authorised use in France, it would be surprising as the French Government is usually ahead of the UK Government in regulating pesticides (Paris is pesticide free for instance).
Clearly if methiocarb is as bad or worse than neonics then it should be risk assessed and similarly banned. If there is a lack of evidence to confirm the risks you claim then the only way it would be banned would be if the precautionary principle was applied.
Getting pesticide regulation right will mean that pesticides that are high risk to people and wildlife, or that do not provide yield benefits, do not come onto the market. It is your assumption that not allowing such pesticides would mean that there would be no pesticides on the market and yields would drop.
See – http://www.buglife.org.uk/blog/matt-shardlow-ceo/drugs-neonicotinoids-don%E2%80%99t-work-2 – for a review of the evidence (or lack of it) that neonicotinoid use improves yields significantly. If methiocarb is a less effective than this then the article is simply reporting a marketing scam.
In terms of organic farming the yield question is pretty complicated http://serenoregis.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/nature11069.pdf
I am also not a big fan of the precautionary principle. You can always hypothesize all manner of which harm can come to the environment or people using mathematical models, but when push comes to shove the best proof is from the system you’re interested in itself. Obviously, there are some caveats…but I really don’t believe that banning stuff at the first sign of possible harm-or political pressure is particularly wise.
I really should have replied to Mr. Shardlow’s comments, but I’ve got a lot of stuff going on in meatspace and Shardlow’s comments were very lengthy.
I realize that native pollinators are just as important, if not more important, than honeybees…however, the two issues are very different because these animals are affected by different things in different ways. Honeybees, for example, benefit from huge lumbering apes that treat them for diseases and supplement their diets in times of scarcity. We also pay more attention to honeybees than we do unmanaged bees, so that definitely affects that conversation.
So I’m only going to reply to the honeybee stuff for now. However, I do think Mr. Shardlow is in an excellent position to write an article about this subject from the perspective of native bees…and I extend an invitation for a guest post.
So here goes:
“CCD – while hives in the EU may occasionally show full CCD symptoms, it does not happen frequently enough for us to consider there to be one specific problem with honeybees. Over here the perception is that hive health has declined and overwintering success is now much poorer than it once was. Hence the question ‘are neonics the cause of CCD’ is of limited interest outside N America.”
I’m not sure what you mean by this comment. Who’s perception are we talking about-the beekeepers, scientists, or general public?
Over here the general perception of the public is that neonics are largely if not solely the cause of CCD, and that CCD is close to causing the extinction of the honey bee which means that we’ll need crops pollinated by tiny robot bees built by Monsanto in the next 10 years or so.
The perception of beekeepers and scientists is very different. I’ve heard lots of talk of stress-related factors, landscape changes, parasites, diseases…the stuff I wrote about in Colony Collapse Disorder: An Introduction. I’ve even heard some beekeepers muse that many health issues are simply because there are a lot of new beekeepers who don’t know how to properly manage their colonies.
Part of the reason I wrote this article was to address that disconnect between the people putting pressure on politicians to enact anti-neonic policies, and the scientists who are actually studying honeybee issues. Without knowing who’s perceptions we’re talking about, I’m not sure how to address the comment.
“Complexity of causes – there are many severe problems for bees and other pollinators and associated declines, and while wildflower loss is a key factor, insecticides doubtlessly also play a role. The European Food Standards Authority (EFSA) has determined three neonics to be a confirmed high risk for Honeybees.”
Well, yes…but risk is different than effect. We should be studying them because they’re persistent and taken up into plants. However, right now, there’s very little evidence of actual harm to honeybees.
Native bees, that could be a different story. If studies show actual harm, not potential for harm, but demonstrate that current practices hurt their populations in a way that causes significant decline of ecological function then it’s probably time to re-evaluate practices.
“Key question – the key question is whether the risk posed by pesticides to pollinator populations is ethically acceptable. Part of this question requires an ethical judgement and part is theoretically knowable – do the benefits to humans of using neonics out-weight the costs.”
Oh, I totally agree…and I’m agnostic on the issue. However, I don’t think that neonics are the entire reason for honeybee declines. You could make a case for small effects…but these wouldn’t be anywhere near the scale you hear from pop-sci sources.
“Lu – clearly this work is only relevant to the little Honeybee section of pollination services (and we don’t have lorry loads of professional Honeybees in the EU). The effects of the neonicotinoids on Honeybees in his two papers are interesting, but the dosing rates are indeed far higher than what would be encountered just through pollen and nectar in arable crops.”
I would actually disagree that his effects are interesting. Honeybees abandon their hives when treated with chemicals that effect their well-being. Hive abandonment needs to be studied more in bees, but the idea that insecticides would cause hive abandonment isn’t exactly a groundbreaking idea. Even if you wanted to claim this was his take-home message, he didn’t exactly do a great job of demonstrating that.
The fact that the symptoms of this abandonment don’t match CCD invalidates most if not all of his interpretation.
“There are however other forms of contact – dust, guttation fluid (Girolami et al. 2009 Translocation of Neonicotinoid Insecticides From Coated Seeds to Seedling Guttation Drops. A Novel Way of Intoxication for Bees) and puddles.”
Other technical changes in the composition of seed coatings and handling protocols of treated seeds have reduced neonic exposures to bees, which I think demonstrates my idea that risks to bees can be reduced by tools other than an outright ban.
Helen Thompson also raises some questions about guttation drops. It’s unknown whether they’re attractive to bees, or whether they’d be out at the same time as bees. So I think this needs to be looked into…but I’m not necessarily convinced it’s evidence that a ban is needed.
“In addition the potency of neonicotinoids can be higher in products (1000 times in Mesnage et al 2014 Major pesticides are more toxic to human cells than their declared active principles)”
Well, there’s also surfactants in the mix that could be more toxic to isolated cells than they’d be to the entire organism. In cell culture, they’re free to punch holes in cells that wouldn’t normally interact with the outside environment. It’s just not representative of what goes on in the system of interest. Thus, I don’t consider cell studies the least bit persuasive in this matter.
“when acting in synergy with fungicides (2 to 5 times in Biddinger et al 2013 Comparative Toxicities and Synergism of Apple Orchard Pesticides to Apis mellifera and Osmia cornifrons (Radowszkowski)).”
I’ve mentioned synergy before in passing, but haven’t really gotten into the subject in detail. There’s more pesticides which get into bee colonies at higher levels than neonics and I wouldn’t be surprised if, for example, some of the pyrethroid synergists caused the miticides to become more toxic.
Synergists are, from what I’ve read, a general pesticide issue as opposed to a specific neonic issue.
“Lu’s own theory that the neonics were concentrated into sugar syrup from treated maize crops that was then fed to bees does not appear to be evidenced and indeed sounds unlikely, but it would be interesting to hear from anyone who understands that purification process and could say if the theory is or is not feasible. The EU coverage of Lu’s work has generally been rather cautious http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/nature/new-pesticide-link-to-sudden-decline-in-bee-population-7622263.html”
According to USDA Pesticide Data Program, when imidacloprid is found in food, the maximum levels found are about 11 ppb. It’s not found in most food, and corn wasn’t tested.
So I guess it’s possible that the process could concentrate it, but Lu has never actually demonstrated that beekeepers are feeding their bees with corn syrup that’s contaminated with 100 ppb of imidacloprid. If that were true, I’m guessing it would have been detected much sooner, and CCD wouldn’t be so much of a mystery this time around.
Also, not to be nitpicky, but that article is indistinguishable from any US-authored popsci piece on Lu’s work. The article from Tom Philpott on Grist, for example, is really no different from this article.
“Do neonicotinoids work – we know that pollination services are worth billions, but what are the benefits of neonicotinoids. The US report ‘Heavy Costs’ shows that the evidence from field studies is not conclusive – it is not clear that the value of yield increases is higher than the costs of the insecticides – some of the UK costings indicate that our agriculture may be more profitable without neonics – more on this here – http://www.buglife.org.uk/blog/matt-shardlow-ceo/drugs-neonicotinoids-don%E2%80%99t-work.”
Yeah, that’s a separate issue…but again, it’s about how they’re used. They attack targets that other pesticides don’t attack, which makes them useful in some systems. If they’re not useful in seed treatments, they should probably be phased out.
“Field studies not finding an effect from neonicotinoids – there are several published studies that failed to find an effect in the field, and the best of these do offer reassurance that the impacts of neonicotinoids on honeybees are not instantly disastrous. As you say they do all have some limitations. But for some of them the problems run well beyond limitations. For instance Cutler & Scott-Dupree 2007 is based on a regulatory study that was invalidated by the Canadian authorities. It was considered meaningless because of 1) the small area of treated crop available to the ‘treatment’ hives, 2) the treated crop was also within the foraging range of the ‘control’ hives and 3) the ‘treatment’ and ‘control’ hives were pretty equally contaminated with neonics. You say you name ‘a few’ of the published field studies, but your list is pretty comprehensive!”
My point in mentioning them above was to point out that Lu should have addressed them, and not ignored them. There was obvious publication bias to the point where a funnel plot wasn’t needed to demonstrate this. I also believe he misrepresented the USDA paper he cited by not mentioning what it said about the risks of pyrethroids compared to neonics.
“Interaction – Field studies are hard work and therefore are not readily capable of determining ecosystem wide impacts such as interactions between pesticides or between pesticides and diseases – effects that have been proven in the laboratory – e.g. Doublet et al 2014 Bees under stress. sublethal doses of a neonicotinoid pesticide and pathogens interact to elevate honey bee mortality across the life cycle.”
Okay…so how do neonics compare to other pesticides in this regard? What’s the difference in effect sizes between neonics, organophosphates, pyrethroids and other classes of pesticides?
Again, by focusing on neonics you’re ignoring some of the larger issues with pesticides.
“Soil – neonics are surprisingly persistent in arable soils and are water soluble – this background build up may result in higher concentrations in pollen, nectar and water sources inside and outside arable fields. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ps.3836/abstract”
Well, yes they might do that. The numbers given in that paper are in the parts per billion range…which is high, but the question is how much of this gets back into the plant? That question as far as I know (which isn’t that far…I know more about the bug side of things) hasn’t been answered.
“You conclude that we should not tackle just one issue or one insecticide group and that is absolutely correct. But neonicotinoids are a significant concern and should be tackled.”
I think they should undergo scrutiny, but that’s really far away from an outright ban.
“And I do question your claim that “neonicotinoids frequently replace pesticides” we have generally found that seed treatments are additional. Pyrethroid use has not dropped since the introduction of neonicotinoids. Farmers are taking a belt and braces approach.”
See Bill’s comment above.
“Deryn Gilbey seeds and traits manager at Dekalb a majour supplier of Oil seed rape seed said in the Farmers Guardian this week that “the level of yield benefit from neonicotinoids in controlling its aphid vectors is highly questionable. Perhaps this is why there is no sign of any dramatic UK performance increase which could be linked to the introduction of neonicotinoids in the recent official yield record”.”
I’m not that familiar with the literature on sucking pests, but my questions about neonicotinoid efficacy focus on seed corn maggots (Delia platura), seed corn beetles (Stenolophus & Clivinia sp), and cutworms (Spodoptera sp.). However, and this is an important caveat to this concern, I do genetics and not pest management. I know these pests can be severe, but I’d also be surprised if they were more than a major annoyance to farmers. They’re not exactly key pests…but I’d imagine neonics would be effective against them.
Biddinger also has this to say on neonics:
>>Neonicotinoid insecticides have also proven to be safer to most beneficial insects other than bees and promote the biological control of pests such as San Jose Scale, Woolly Apple Aphid, European Red Mite, leafminers, and leafhoppers to name a few. A general ban of neonicotinoid insecticides would cause a reversion back to OP, carbamate and pyrethroid insecticides which would totally destroy current IPM programs and cause growers an additional $50 to $100+ per acre in secondary pest sprays. Some pests such as the Rosy Apple Aphid are resistant to most alternative products or in the case of plum curculio and apple maggot are best controlled with Calypso or Imidan® now that Guthion® registrations have been cancelled. A new twist on the honey bee decline issue brought up at this conference was that the miticides beekeepers are using in orchards are also strongly impacting the mating and general health of honey bee hives and the most recent product used after a succession of an OP and a pyrethroid, is an old orchard product known as Mitac® (amitraz) that can shut down the immune system of bees without killing them, but can make them more susceptible to pesticides at the next exposure.<<
More at the link:
This comment is a reply to a conversation between Save_Bees and Larissa Walker I had over Twitter concerning where activists are putting their energies. I would also welcome Mr. Shardlow’s comments on the matter.
The links below are google news searches for Organophosphates, Pyrethroids and Neonicotinoids. In the context of bee safety, OPs and PYRs are found in significant amounts in beehives far more frequently than neonicotinoids, but neonics have about 4x more media coverage.
Neonics: 590 google news results, mostly about bees.
Pyrethroids: 64 google news results, most not about bees.
Organophosphates: 84 google news results, most not about bees
I can see good reasons behind some of the campaigns. A lot of people want to plant pollinator friendly gardens, and given the high detections of neonics in ornamental plants I think labeling, limiting or eliminating neonic use in ornamental crops might not be a bad idea…especially for plants used for projects involving pollinators.
So I’m not criticizing campaigns like that, per se, but I do have questions about whether eliminating this particular practice would increase the use of other pesticides for these uses. Neonics aren’t that bad for people, especially compared to some other groups of pesticides…and I’d be concerned that spraying around populated areas might be increased as a result. So I think this needs to be considered, and I haven’t seen any concern for this possibility raised by activist groups.
The one response raised by Walker was that neonics are ‘a problem that can be taken care of right now’, and I’m not sure that that’s a wise approach given the data discussed above. There are some questions raised by these campaigns that I’d like to see answered.
1.) Why focus on a group of pesticides that’s found in low levels in a minority of bee colonies? Why not focus on groups of chemicals that are found in high levels in a wider proportion of colonies?
2.) Why not focus on pressuring legislators to restrict pesticide use around flowering crops which are attractive to bees?
It would seem that either of these two approaches would yield results that would have more beneficial effects on bees, and I don’t understand the emphasis on neonics when other pesticides seem to be a bigger large-scale problem.
The methiocarb toxicity data are available through the EPA’s RED. It’s listed as class I.
I think what your group is doing for native pollinators is a great model. I don’t mean to come off as dismissive of those goals. In terms of neonic use for ag applications, however, the data support a conclusion that the risks for long term honey bee health are low.
Continued bans of ag chemicals force us into a land sharing model where productivity is diminished and land for wildlife that doesn’t get along well with people or managed environments is limited. Land sparing is a better choice if we’re going to supply global import demands. The EU depends on soybean shipments from South America as does China. If Brazil pursued a land sharing model, they’d have to clear the Amazon basin and the Cerrado to meet demands from Europe and Asia. What would Japan, Mexico and Korea do without corn from the US?
I agree with Joe that you should put a post together for Biofortified. No one benefits from hearing only one side of the evidence.
I understand the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides will release a report on Tuesday examining the impacts of neonics on bees and other animals. Any thoughts you have on that would be interesting to read.
Precautionary principle should be used when the scientific dots are in place, the theories are reasonable and the proof is lacking, it should not be just modelling and should have a reasonably robust basis in evidence.
CCD – perception of beekeepers, researchers, conservationists and decision makers is that this is not a significant EU problem, public and media a bit more varied as some do pick up the US concerns.
“very little evidence of actual harm to honeybees” – do you actually mean this? There really is a lot of evidence of field realistic levels of neonics harming honeybees:-
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Marzaro, M., Vivan, L., Targa, A., Mazzon, L., Mori, N., Greatti, M., Petrucco Toffolo, E., Di Bernardo, A., Giorio, C., Marton, D., Tapparo, A. & Girolami, V. (2011). Lethal aerial powdering of honey bees with neonicotinoids from fragments of maize seed coat. Bulletin of Insectology, 64(1), 119-126.
Matsumoto, T. (2013). Reduction in homing flights in the honey bee Apis mellifera after a sublethal dose of neonicotinoid insecticides. Bulletin of Insectology, 66(1), 1-9.
Matsumoto, T. (2013). Short-and long-term effects of neonicotinoid application in rice fields, on the mortality and colony collapse of honeybees (Apis mellifera). Journal of Apicultural Science, 57(2), 21-35.
Maxim, L., & Van der Sluijs, J. P. (2010). Expert explanations of honeybee losses in areas of extensive agriculture in France: Gaucho® compared with other supposed causal factors. Environmental Research Letters, 5(1), 014006.
Palmer, M. J., Moffat, C., Saranzewa, N., Harvey, J., Wright, G. A., & Connolly, C. N. (2013). Cholinergic pesticides cause mushroom body neuronal inactivation in honeybees. Nature communications, 4, 1634.
Pettis, J. S., Johnson, J., & Dively, G. (2012). Pesticide exposure in honey bees results in increased levels of the gut pathogen Nosema. Naturwissenschaften, 99(2), 153-158.
Rortais, A., Arnold, G., Halm, M. P., & Touffet-Briens, F. (2005). Modes of honeybees exposure to systemic insecticides: estimated amounts of contaminated pollen and nectar consumed by different categories of bees. Apidologie, 36(1), 71-83.
Schneider, C. W., Tautz, J., Grünewald, B., & Fuchs, S. (2012). RFID tracking of sublethal effects of two neonicotinoid insecticides on the foraging behavior of Apis mellifera. PLoS One, 7(1), e30023.
Tapparo, A., Marton, D., Giorio, C., Zanella, A., Soldà, L., Marzaro, M., … & Girolami, V. (2012). Assessment of the environmental exposure of honeybees to particulate matter containing neonicotinoid insecticides coming from corn coated seeds. Environmental science & technology, 46(5), 2592-2599.
Vidau, C., Diogon, M., Aufauvre, J., Fontbonne, R., Viguès, B., Brunet, J. L., … & Delbac, F. (2011). Exposure to sublethal doses of fipronil and thiacloprid highly increases mortality of honeybees previously infected by Nosema ceranae. PLoS One, 6(6), e21550.
Wu, J. Y., Anelli, C. M., & Sheppard, W. S. (2011). Sub-lethal effects of pesticide residues in brood comb on worker honey bee (Apis mellifera) development and longevity. PLoS One, 6(2), e14720.
Johnson, J. D. (2012). The role of pesticides on honey bee health and hive maintenance with an emphasis on the neonicotinoid, imidacloprid.
Guttation risk – read Frommberger, M.et al., 2012; Pistorius, J. et al., 2012; Reetz
et al. 2011; Schneider et al.,2012 and Joachimsmeier et al., 2012
“I don’t think that neonics are the neonics are the entire reason for honeybee declines” – of course there are other causative factors and it is indeed frustrating when the media only pick out the words ‘neonicotinoid’ and ‘honeybee’ and ignore the other risks and species, we all need to keep emphasising the need for a range of action to save a range of pollinators.
“technical changes in the composition of seed coatings and handling protocols of treated seeds have reduced neonic exposures to bees” – possibly – the results of efforts to reduce dust emission appear to have variable effects in the scientific papers (including continued fatal effects on bees), some reduction does not necessarily mean safe levels have been achieved, and there are also concerns that the technology is simply not being used – see Nuyttens et al 2013 Pesticide-laden dust emission and drift from treated seeds during seed drilling: a review.
“I would actually disagree that his effects are interesting.” You may be putting too much emphasis on the word ‘interesting’ it has a range of meaning in British – see http://www.buzzfeed.com/lukelewis/what-british-people-say-versus-what-they-mean.
Cost effectiveness “Yeah, that’s a separate issue” – it is not really a separate issue if a pesticide is not creating a yield benefit why would anyone defend its use? Why if they are not working do they need to be replaced? It’s about sprays as well as seed treatments as the link above makes clear.
“by focusing on neonics you’re ignoring some of the larger issues with pesticides.” By focusing on neonics we are establishing the principle that destroying populations of pollinators with chemicals is not morally acceptable and we are encouraging others to ask similar pertinent questions about other insecticides. It is all good and we fully support Barack Obama ordering “The Environmental Protection Agency shall assess the effect of pesticides, including neonicotinoids, on bee and other pollinator health and take action, as appropriate, to protect pollinators” – we hope that this review is meaningful and thorough and encourage all American scientists to participate – this is your chance to gather and submit evidence relating to the toxicology to pollinators of all pesticides – http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/06/20/presidential-memorandum-creating-federal-strategy-promote-health-honey-b
Answered most of this above, action on neonics does not prevent action on any other damaging pesticide.
1) Risk = exposure+toxicity – good evidence base for neonics, better evidence needed for other insecticides.
2) We are, but complicated by soil persistence which causes pollinator exposure in untreated crops.
“the data support a conclusion that the risks for long term honey bee health are low” this was not the conclusion of the biggest risk assessment work done to date:-
With specific regard to neonics the evidence reviews do not indicate a significant yield benefit so it is far from certain that removing them would mean that more land was needed for agriculture (see ‘Heavy Costs’ and Goulson 2013).
First part of the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides report is now published – http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11356-014-3180-5
This is the review of the effects of neonics on vertebrates it says, amongst other things, that “Use of imidacloprid and clothianidin as seed treatments on some crops poses risks to small birds” and concludes that:
“Evidence presented here suggests that the systemic insecticides, neonicotinoids and fipronil, are capable of exerting direct and indirect effects on terrestrial and aquatic vertebrate wildlife, thus warranting further review of their environmental safety.”
I’m glad you are joining in on the discussion, but I want to point out to you that copying and pasting large sections of text is against our comment policy (see under the Biofortified Blog tab above). The reference list you pasted obviously came from somewhere else given its alphabetical order and formatting. In the future, please link to the list elsewhere (you can put it in a forum post and link to that if you don’t have a web link) so that readers aren’t presented with a wall-of-text that will interfere with discussion. Thanks.
OK point taken. A filtered download from our database so not available anywhere else.
Systemic pesticides pose global threat to biodiversity and ecosystem services
The conclusions of a new meta-analysis of the systemic pesticides neonicotinoids and fipronil (neonics) confirm that they are causing significant damage to a wide range of beneficial invertebrate species and are a key factor in the decline of bees.
First paper is out, more to follow.
Do not forget the very important factor of application intentional and unintentional misuse. This is very widespread, with very little closely suppervised regulation. Undereducated users are common.Blatant disregarde for applying the applicator education, in order to increase profit is common as well.
Anecdotally, significantly large numbers of bumblebee deaths have been associated and determined to be causative of bee dieoffs with commercial applicator opperations that totally ignored the label restrictions to carefully avoid flowering vegetation at times that could be frequented by bees. Linden tree urban aphid control was inappropriately approached. The dead in the immediate vicinity was very heavy, but the chronic low dose effects potential is ‘out of sight, out of mind’.Standards, criteria, and label restrictions are not much good without environmental monitoring and appropriate education, to groundtruth reality in the field.
and, by the way, I thought that neonics are ‘pesticides’ where many posts here do not make that clear, which adds to the confusion for media and subsequently the public.
I’m going to apologize for not responding in order, because I kind of want to split up different topics. I originally wrote the article to point out the difference between the media and scientific communities, and I want to keep these organized.
I’m also going to reply in parts, so my replies might take a few days. I’ll specify which I’ll reply to later in my responses.
But, in general, this has been a great discussion and I think it’s beneficial to continue!
[quote=Matt]Precautionary principle should be used when the scientific dots are in place, the theories are reasonable and the proof is lacking, it should not be just modelling and should have a reasonably robust basis in evidence.[/quote]
So, then is the question what we mean by reasonably robust?
Because a lot of studies that have been done are lab-based studies. These are useful in indicating potential problems, because it gives us a way to eliminate hypothesis without resorting to studies which are difficult, and complicated, and expensive. However, laboratory studies don’t provide any sort of proof-positive concerns. Field and landscape studies are needed to demonstrate that lab effects hold up, at least in my (perhaps inconsequential) opinion.
[quote=Matt]CCD – perception of beekeepers, researchers, conservationists and decision makers is that this is not a significant EU problem, public and media a bit more varied as some do pick up the US concerns.[/quote]
I’ve always wondered if this was due to actual occurrence, or if it was just low detections. Would you be willing to shed more light on this from a European perspective?
[quote= Matt]“very little evidence of actual harm to honeybees” – do you actually mean this? There really is a lot of evidence of field realistic levels of neonics harming honeybees:-snip[/quote]
As Karl said, posting walls of articles is against the rules here. This is because large walls of unexplained text serves as a barrier to conversation. Some use this as a way to cut conversation off-it’s a rhetorical method known as the Gish Gallop. Others simply get overexcited, and post a bunch of reading material.
However I don’t think these articles are completely irrelevent, and I do think an in-depth discussion of some of these articles could really help put some things I did not address in the above post (or my previous post) into perspective. If you’re willing, I think an in-depth discussion of a few of these articles would be of great benefit to our readers.
I have mixed opinions on some of these articles, and of lab studies in general. Some lab studies do hint at potential problems which neonics can exacerbate. For example, Alaux et. al 2010 found that neonics exacerbated Nosema infection at 5ppb…which is within a realistic field dose range. This result has been backed up by the Pettis group, which did similar experiments independently. So I think these results are a great example of how neonics stress bees in significant ways at sublethal doses.
The question remaining from this line of work, however, is whether this result carries over into colonies used in crop pollination. They might not be exposed the entire year, and they might recover between doses when the colony is treated for Nosema. Corn bloom, for example, is only a few weeks.
I do think an interaction between the two is very likely, and I want to make that thought clear before I continue. I am not discounting any interaction between Nosema and neonicotinoids. I think there is one, but I’m not sure if it’s significance outweighs other factors. One of those other factors is other classes of pesticides.
I think it’s still possible that there are more significant interactions between other groups of pesticides which haven’t been discussed or investigated because of the public’s obsession with neonics. The Pettis group recently put out a paper where they entertain the notion that fungicides can also cause increased sensitivity to Nosema. Many fungicides also synergize neonics, but fungicide detections are generally a lot higher in bee-collected pollen.
A recent industry paper questions whether the synergism is likely at field concentrations…but I haven’t looked at the data myself.
It should go without saying that the effects of different pesticides in field situations are very difficult to discern, because multiple detections are the norm. However if we ban the wrong group of pesticides we’re back at square one, and if we ban a group of pesticides that only has minor effects we’re set back further.
Some of the papers you posted, however, come to the conclusion that neonics by themselves aren’t a likely cause of widespread colony declines. The Cresswell paper, for example, states this. However, they do lay out a lot of unanswered questions. They claim it’s difficult to determine whether memory loss bees experience in lab experiments. They also point out that other neonics have lower bee toxicity.
I should also mention that they point out the low statistical power (probability of a true rejection) of the field studies. So they’re not definitive by any means…which means the science isn’t settled.
[quote=Matt] “technical changes in the composition of seed coatings and handling protocols of treated seeds have reduced neonic exposures to bees” – possibly – the results of efforts to reduce dust emission appear to have variable effects in the scientific papers (including continued fatal effects on bees), some reduction does not necessarily mean safe levels have been achieved, and there are also concerns that the technology is simply not being used – see Nuyttens et al 2013 Pesticide-laden dust emission and drift from treated seeds during seed drilling: a review.[/quote]
I briefly looked over the Nuyttens paper, and I’ll have to get back to you on that.
[quote=]“I would actually disagree that his effects are interesting.” You may be putting too much emphasis on the word ‘interesting’ it has a range of meaning in British – see http://www.buzzfeed.com/lukelewis/what-british-people-say-versus-what-they-mean.%5B/quote%5D
Sorry…I didn’t realize there was a difference in how our different cultures used the word. When I use it, I mean it’s worthy of consideration. I guess when you use it, it means the opposite? Is that correct?
Regardless, I don’t think Lu’s paper should be in the media spotlight.
[quote=]Cost effectiveness “Yeah, that’s a separate issue” – it is not really a separate issue if a pesticide is not creating a yield benefit why would anyone defend its use? Why if they are not working do they need to be replaced? It’s about sprays as well as seed treatments as the link above makes clear.[/quote]
I said that for two reasons. First, because I thought of it as more of a consumer protection issue at the time. Also, because I’m still going through some of the economic literature. I simply have no opinion on this topic at the moment.
Some of it seems valid, because there are instances (e.g. attempted control of thrips by organophosphates in peppers) where pesticides more efficiently kill off natural enemies than pests…which leads to problems. I know similar effects have been noted with imidacloprid, but I’m not sure to their extent.
However, I’m not entirely sure that’s the case across the board. Imidacloprid is pretty commonly used in potatoes, and has replaced some of the more expensive insecticidal machinery. Growers have also noted significant reductions in pest populations, and since we’re talking CPB that’s very likely an economic benefit. However, this species is famous for evolving resistance to stuff…and I don’t know how that figures.
However, it does not appear to decrease incidence of aphid-vectored diseases.
This reply is going to get at what I think are some of the larger issues with coverage, which isn’t specific to neonicotinoids. You see, a lot of people say stuff like this:
[quote=]“I don’t think that neonics are the entire reason for honeybee declines” – of course there are other causative factors and it is indeed frustrating when the media only pick out the words ‘neonicotinoid’ and ‘honeybee’ and ignore the other risks and species, we all need to keep emphasising the need for a range of action to save a range of pollinators.[/quote]
In my posts, this is what I’ve been saying. Perhaps not in these words, but I have voiced my frustration with the media for ignoring other factors. I’ve also brought up the issue of fungicides, and in my previous reply have discussed how multiple detections have clouded the issue.
However, the issue is exactly that. Of multiple people discussing the issues on this post, I alone have brought up factors other than neonicotinoids. So, given that everybody clearly thinks these are important…it confuses me when the same people who make the statement above say things like:
[quote=]By focusing on neonics we are establishing the principle that destroying populations of pollinators with chemicals is not morally acceptable and we are encouraging others to ask similar pertinent questions about other insecticides.[/quote]
Because these questions are clearly not being asked in the popular media. Continuing along the lines of pesticides, researchers are also starting to question if the stuff we’ve discovered neonics doing are also done by other classes of insecticides. Specifically the relationship between fungicides, other pesticides, acaricides, and diseases are beginning to be researched. Similar relationships between nutrition, disease, and parasites are also beginning to be researched.
There is also evidence that neonics aren’t the biggest problem facing bees, which hasn’t really been discussed in the media or in this thread.
Earlier, you said that neonics are a distraction. I agree with this statement, because the discussion of neonics has both in this microcosm and in the larger universe that is the popular media has clouded that of all other issues. Good papers on things like landscape changes are completely ignored and papers like the one discussed above go viral, without consideration of other research that is better performed.
[quote= Matt]Systemic pesticides pose global threat to biodiversity and ecosystem services
The conclusions of a new meta-analysis of the systemic pesticides neonicotinoids and fipronil (neonics) confirm that they are causing significant damage to a wide range of beneficial invertebrate species and are a key factor in the decline of bees.[/quote]
This paper isn’t out yet, yet the results have been discussed in the media by the authors almost a month in advance of the publication of the article. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll be able to judge it’s quality until mid July. The fact they conflate fipronil (a GABA agonist)and neonics (nicotinic acetylcholine receptors)doesn’t give me a lot of confidence since these pesticides have different chemistry. Both are systemic, but both act on different receptors.
One thing which hasn’t been mentioned in the articles I’ve seen is the question of who funded this task force. It was funded by the Triodos Foundation, which is heavily invested in organic agriculture. Because it’s funded by a group which advocates for organic production, I doubt that it will have as much nuance as I’ve described above.
That doesn’t mean it can be dismissed out of hand, but I think the USDA paper Lu distorted as well as this…
[quote=]It is all good and we fully support Barack Obama ordering “The Environmental Protection Agency shall assess the effect of pesticides, including neonicotinoids, on bee and other pollinator health and take action, as appropriate, to protect pollinators” – we hope that this review is meaningful and thorough and encourage all American scientists to participate – this is your chance to gather and submit evidence relating to the toxicology to pollinators of all pesticides[/quote]
…is a lot more promising and should be taken more seriously.
The TL;DR version of my comments above, just in case readers want me to get to the point.
I think there are some potential serious issues with neonics, but I also think they’ve been exaggerated by the media. The fact there are serious issues doesn’t mean they’re the only issue, or even the biggest issue when it comes to honeybee health.
I also think there are other classes of chemicals which can cause similar issues and should be investigated because honeybees are more frequently exposed to them in higher doses.
I would not say that any scientific peer reviewed papers were irrelevant or unworthy of consideration, but they should not be taken at face value either.
What Cresswell et al 2012 actually said was “We conclude that dietary neonicotinoids cannot be implicated in honey bee declines, but this position is provisional because important gaps remain in current knowledge.” – if you further examine the individual assessments you will see that this determination swings on the Cutler & Scott-Dupree 2007 study which cannot be a fulcrum for the reasons set out above.
“I alone have brought up factors other than neonicotinoids” Really Joe?
Not sure I did say that neonics were a distraction?
I realise that funding can affect trust and no funding source is wholly impartial. Not quite convinced that Triodos stands to benefit financially as directly from a neonic ban as others benefit from unfettered sales, although of course all farmers will benefit from better pollination rates. Again the question of the beneficiaries of the pesticides is important, if as the science suggests neonics are not significantly increasing yields then the public and farmers are not beneficiaries. In any case, best probably to look at the science before drawing your conclusions.
Just the prospect of having a class, or classes, of new technology becoming causative of such a devastating environmental change as pollinator reduction (let alone collapse)is a world wide alarm concern of highest order. If the pesticide industry can’t ‘get this right’ we had better think this through enough to become far more majorly ‘Precautionary’. The vast amounts of money being expended on high tech AG, and high tech AG research, and high tech new product production, yielding very significant ‘profit’ for many individuals, makes even the prospect of pollinator reduction potentially criminal. If AG can’t get it together to ‘get this right’, a very significant tax needs to be imposed on ‘profit-taking’ until independent labs are funded, adequately functioning, and capable of solving this world shattering decline in AG function capability. This is an emergency, and NEEDS to be treated as such. Independent labs need to drive the regulatory apparatus or we are lost. The PPP is not optional for intellectual integrity in the sustainability of the wellbeing needed for our great grandchildren. It should be clear as the fact that water runs downhill, that
we are not presently capable of adequate oversight currently. IMHO
That’s how the legislature avoids the water quality laws and the public health laws, they don’t fund adequate monitoring. The state agencies can then claim that since there is not enough evidence, they can’t justify looking for the evidence. The legislators reinforce and enable the agencies to perpetuate this ‘catch 22’. This all externalizes massive costs onto the public that should have been taken out of corporate ‘profit-taking’ before calling their gains profit. Corporations should be held responsible for costs of scientifically credible monitoring with integrity. Of course, they would then just pass on their costs to all of us… but at least the monitoring would be done, and would guide vast savings of money because our funding prioritization processes for public health and environmental assessment would be far more efficient so we could avoid paying such heavy costs for our mistakes over and over into the future. We would be far more careful to avoid making so many mistakes in the future, if we had to ‘pay as we go’.
Pesticide uses should be very carefully monitored environmentally.
I apologize in advance that this reply will not be a very long one, I’ve been very pressed for time recently. I also think Matt Shardlow has covered many of the points that I feel are most important to this conversation.
Just quickly, I am no fan of organophosphates or pyrethroids either. I think many folks (myself included) are suspicious of neonics given their systemic nature, even if they appear less toxic than the chemicals they are supposed to be replacing. It does seem as though we release one (actually many) “miracle” chemicals every so many years, then after a decade or two, discovering negative consequences, replace these with other chemicals as yet untested in the real world, on and on since the 50’s or so. Perhaps you will think me utopian, but I do believe that sustainable organic agriculture can feed the world. And that it can do so while improving the health of human beings and the organisms and microorganisms with which we share our world (compared with current ecosystem health).
When I try to motivate people on my @savebees twitter account and on my website savebees.org I try to focus on the whole picture (rather than, for instance, retweeting endless #neonic news). I am not discounting neonics by doing so, but instead I hope to make people think about chemical reliance in agriculture generally, about the importance of healthy habitat (so much of which has been lost with the rise of monocultural farming and other trends associated with a rising human population), as well as the importance of bumblebees and native bees (not just honeybees), and issues with the honeybee industry as it is today (large-scale operations, stressful trucking of bees all over the country, loss of genetic diversity…)
I do think that parasites and pathogens are more problematic when bees are weakened by various pesticides, just as we see in other invertebrates and vertebrates. I doubt that this is true only of neonics, but it seems likely true to a lesser or greater extent depending on the number and nature of chemicals involved.
To get back to your original article, I found it very helpful to read of the flaws you found in Lu’s study, and I did try to engage others on this topic. His study, coming out of Harvard, appeared to have credibility. I think the media world has moved on though, now that we have the new Worldwide Integrated Assessment of the Impact of Systemic Pesticides on Biodiversity and Ecosystems coming out.
I apologize for providing no references in this comment… Matt has done well with those, and honestly I am simply a layperson with a lifelong love of bees and other insects 🙂
A caution on Meta-Analyses: (For the record, I am a practicing statistician, having worked in and consulted in agricultural research for many years). I feel I should recommend some caution here regarding so called meta analyses. While useful in a general sense of guidance on a topic, it is a fools errand to draw definitive conclusions from most such studies. There are so many uncontrolled interfering factors across multiple studies that “seeing” the true picture or pattern behind them can be difficult at best. Of utmost importance is the consistency and quality of the studies being included in these analyses. Given the published reference above by Matt: “A review of the direct and indirect effects of neonicotinoids and fipronil on vertebrate wildlife”, one can begin to see this problem exemplified. In that work, the authors state “The great majority of the studies were laboratory-based (139/152=91 %) and most (146, 96 %) were direct toxicity studies.” This is problematic as toxicity studies do not necessarily have direct relationships to actual risk. What these studies do is identify potential hazards. Risk, however, is a hazard interpreted in terms of it’s actual potential for exposure. One can have a highly hazardous compound while also having very low risk, simply because exposure to the compound is minimal or rare.
The authors attempt to circumvent this issue by further stating “Field experiments have provided some of the most compelling evidence of the impact of neonicotinoids on populations in their natural environment (e.g. Whitehorn et al.2012)”. If one actually looks up the reference they cite, however, they’ll find the study was not precisely a field study, but rather a mix where bumble bees were deliberately exposed to a constant neonic level for two weeks in the lab and then subsequently observed over time in the field. (Their statistical analysis is also questionable, IMO, but I’ll turn a blind eye to that for now). We have no way to gauge whether this is field-realistic or not, especially in terms of the initial and continual ad-lib feeding regime. We do know that the overwhelming majority of studies used in the meta analysis paper are simple toxicity experiments, and as such, may or may not be relevant to actual neonic exposures. All conclusions drawn from this and similar analyses must be conditioned on that fact.
This response is actually a response to some Twitter posts on this topic, mainly from a conversation between Alex Wild, Mr. Shardlow, Save Bees and myself. I’m replying here, because I want to make an intricate point, and I don’t feel like I can do that over Twitter. 140 characters has it’s limit.
Somehow, and I’m not sure why, some people have gotten the idea that people criticizing the media for focusing on neonicotinoids are also criticizing conservation organizations for doing the same thing.
In my mind, the problem isn’t that conservation organizations aren’t focusing on things like habitat loss or disease introduction because they really are. Not only that, organizations like Xerces and Buglife (Mr. Shardlow’s organization) are doing some really good work which involves getting endangered bees on protected lists. Historically, conservation of insects which aren’t classically pretty has been a pretty big issue because it’s hard to get people to care about them. This sort of work is a wonderful thing because it gets habitat put aside and legally protected, which benefits not only bees but other insects which we really don’t know much about. If we don’t know much about them, we can’t really protect them. So this is good work, it needs to be done, and it’s being done by some of the commenters on this thread.
So it’s not that people aren’t doing stuff (because they are), but it’s that people aren’t really talking about anything but neonicotinoids. This gives people a false idea of what’s really important in bee conservation.
For example, Mr (Dr?). Shardlow above stated that highlighting neonicotinoid use was a moral issue. Save Bees, on Twitter, said that focusing on neonic use would make people more interested in other issues and increase awareness of pollinator issues. I’m not sure I agree with either of these because it doesn’t seem like this approach results in a good understanding of either the pesticide problem, or the overall issues with bee health, amongst the public at large.
I don’t necessarily disagree with highlighting use and misuse of neonics as a moral issue, but I do wonder why this consideration isn’t applied equally to other topics. For example, the Mullin article implies the use of pyrethroids and organophosphates results in a higher toxic load to the bees than does the use of neonics. If the issue is responsible pesticide use, it would seem like the focus on neonics would exclude these classes of pesticides. The media doesn’t talk about it, so the public at large doesn’t know about it.
Another thing I think is a problem is the question of disease introduction. Mr. Shardlow said Buglife works on this, and I’m sure other organizations are as well. However, if you get your news from the popular science media (which most people do, sadly) you would think that neonics are the biggest overall bee issue. Even amongst pesticides, I don’t think neonics are the biggest problem (see original article)…and overall, I think neonics are a drop in the bucket compared to V. destructor and it’s viral groupies. The introduction of V. destructor to North America was devastating to apiarists, and the viruses it carries are of significant concern.
There’s not much known about how bee viruses affect other Apids. For example bumble-bees (amongst many others…see linked article) can get Deformed Wing Virus (DWV), but little is known about the other bee viruses and their effect on native fauna. We know other hymenopterans can catch a surprising amount of A. mellifera viruses, but there’s not a whole lot of information about how severe they are, and how they’re transmitted ecologically. Given the importance to V. destructor and other pathogens/parasites to A. mellifera health, you’d think there would be more of a call from the public to see this investigated. However, this is not happening.
I also think this is a moral issue, because we have a duty to limit our effect on the environment. If we were to export foot-and-mouth disease carrying cattle to Africa, we would be responsible for the environmental chaos caused by the resulting outbreak. However, we don’t really know if that’s happening here. I think the public should be concerned about this as well, but it’s not being discussed in the media. Conservation agencies are concerned, but that concern is not being translated to awareness.
I could go on and on, but I think this is enough to continue the discussion.
Earlier I mentioned that Save Bees claimed that focusing on pesticides would make the public more concerned with pollinator issues, and I would agree that this is happening for one very small part of the story. There are literally, and I’m not making this up, organizations holding funerals for bees being killed by pesticides. That’s all well and good, but they’re focusing myopically on one particular issue.
If focusing on one group of pesticides is supposed to make the public more informed about the issues, then why isn’t it being translated into an accurate awareness of the full scope of the pesticide problem? Why isn’t it being translated to concern over bigger issues, like disease transmission and a lack of control options for viral infections of bees?
TL;DR version of the above comment:
I think the media should move it’s focus beyond pesticides because it’s likely that diseases and habitat loss are a much bigger problem.
In articles whose main point is to focus on pesticides (see criticism above), I think that focusing on neonics gives a picture of the issue that’s far from complete. See my above comments for more details.
I don’t want to say that pesticides aren’t a problem…but the media doesn’t look at the holistic picture. Habitat loss, nutrition, disease transmission…these are all very big things that have gotten almost no coverage. I think this should change, and that was what I was trying to do with my articles.
For bees and other pollinators, pesticides ARE habitat loss, they are nutrition loss, they are disease transmission and susceptibility increase factors. But, to politically call for all pesticides to be broadly attacked at the same time, though technically appropriate, would be goal averse. It is far more pallitable for society to begin to come to understand the details of adverse ecologic effects that all classes of pesticides bring, if the education is attempted in more specific scope. Pesticides definitely have beneficial effects for society, these benefits are huge, they are important, but they also come with great costs. The problem is that the pesticide industry has historically tried to educate the masses about only the beneficial effects and institutionally avoided the reality of the costs involved. Society needs to become informed about the costs (and the externalized costs projected from the industry onto society in order to maximize corporate ‘profit’ for management and stockholders)if it is going to become capable of any realistic assessment of regulatory responsibility for increased societal wellbeing. Yes, all pesticides and their effects, both beneficial and adverse need clarification, but it becomes far more pallitable for media and conservation organizations to focus on much more detailed clarification of neonics, as an educational tool that carries implications for further need for more detailed investigation of the wider ecology in general.Progress is usually made a grinding step at a time. If anyone can figure how we can realistically ‘get ‘er done quicker’ by broadening out the scope of the educational effort without just having the public throw up their hands and say ‘it is all just TOO much to cope with’ we could then educate more effectively, but I don’t think that society is currently capable of such a massive scope.
(S)ave (T)he (B)ees!
Honey and Honeybee populations dropping because of colony collapse disorder is frightening to me.
Is this from the transportation of the bees or monocultures or is it being caused by pathogens and parasites or even electromagnetic radiation and a proliferation of genetically-modified crops?
I am betting that it is mostly from Neonicotinoids which are a popular insecticide used and that is being tracked as being closely related in area to collapsing bee colonies
Here is the latest review of the evidence of impacts on invertebrates from neonicotinoids http://www.tfsp.info/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/wia-chapter4.pdf.
It is the result of several years work by a team highly respected scientists, convened by the IUCN. This is the most important review of this topic since Buglife’s 2007 report.
There is a lot of technical information about the impacts of the chemicals on different taxonomic groups of invertebrates – the conclusions are:-
“Despite large knowledge gaps and uncertainties, enough knowledge exists to conclude that existing levels of pollution with neonicotinoids and fipronil resulting from presently authorized uses frequently exceed the lowest observed adverse effect concentrations and are thus likely to have large-scale and wide ranging negative biological and ecological impacts on a wide range of non-target invertebrates in terrestrial, aquatic, marine and benthic habitats.”
“Given the clear body of evidence presented in this paper showing that existing levels of pollution with neonicotinoids and fipronil resulting from presently authorized uses frequently exceed lowest observed adverse effect concentrations and are thus likely to have large-scale and wide ranging negative biological and ecological impacts, the authors strongly suggest that regulatory agencies apply more precautionary principles and tighten regulations on neonicotinoids and fipronil.”
Neonics are Not the only pesticides that are affecting the beneficial insect population declines.
I have missed this excellent piece until now.
There is a dire need to deconstruct « science » for a cause, and this piece is most welcome.
That the honey bees cherished by activists and the media – and the less cherished wild bees and other insect pollinators – are threatened has become an article of faith. Yet, as regards Europe, there are surveys which tend to show that the situation is much less dramatic than usually depicted. One may even venture that the bees fare rather well in some parts of Europe. One may draw this conclusion from the EPILOBEE study, a pan-European epidemiological study on honeybee colony losses :
The competent Commission unit ventured: « Situation of colony mortalities appears to be better than previously expected. » Quite an understatement!
The same conclusion can be drawn from the COLOSS survey for the 2013/14 winter losses.
Activists and, following suit, the media have a single explanation for bee mortality: pesticides. And, among the pesticides, the most recent ones. And, among the most recent ones, the neonics. In France, the leading voice is a beekeepers’ association, UNAF. It has ganged up with some anticapitalist entities, including the minority farmers’ union Confédération paysanne. These are rather strange bedfellows, in particular insofar as the beekeepers (and the farmers) are taken for a ride. But accusing pesticides means accusing multinational agrochemical companies… which means fighting free entrepreneurship…
These groups have been very effective at national, European Union and even worldwide level, with three main effects.
Research has concentrated on the effects of pesticides and particularly neonics on bee health, no doubt to the detriment of investigations into other problems facing beekeeping. There is a clear research and a publication bias.
Political decisions have been taken to ban or limit the use of neonics (and earlier on fipronil). This is the case in Europe where a time-limited ban has been introduced « to see ». Unfortunately, we won’t see anything. The ban is Europe-wide, so there is no control. If the situation improves, activists will attribute it to other factors. If it doesn’t, they will blame the neonics’ remanence. Head, I win, tail, you lose…
This year’s beekeeping season has been catastrophic in France, on account of the climatic conditions… Yet neonics feature high in the list of culprits…
Pressure is also being exercised on the safety authorities, particularly EFSA, which tend to produce « politically correct » assessments (in addition to having to cope with the research and publication bias). You can read in a previous comment: « The European Food Standards Authority (EFSA) has determined three neonics to be a confirmed high risk for Honeybees. » Well… the issue is high risk (if really so) under which exposure conditions, leading to what result on beekeeping, calling for what measures.
One may in fact doubt whether there is such a high risk. The relevant documents contain a section which sets out the « Overview of the concerns identified for the authorised uses of […] », i.e. the summary of field (real world) experience. Strange tables in which an « R » means « Risk identified – where either a first tier assessment indicated a high risk (not including the screening step assessment for exposure via dust and guttation) or higher tier study indicated a high risk » and an « X » « Assessment not finalised – where there were no data, or insufficient data available to reach a conclusion / where there are no agreed risk assessment schemes available. » The highly precautionary definition of the X may be translated in the case of major crops as: « nobody complained »…
The tables show a – against the background of high running emotions on neonics – surprisingly low number of R’s; in the case of thiamethoxam they are essentially limited to acute risks from dust exposure and, in the case of corn, from guttation fluid.
Another document cited above, « Effects of neonicotinoids and fipronil on non-target invertebrates », by L. W. Pisa et al. summarizes rather nicely this state of affairs : despite an acknowledged « major knowledge gap », the authors draw firm conclusions. Which conclusions are misrepresented in scaremongering communications.
Bayer and Syngenta stand firm on their claim that their products are not harmful to honeybees when properly used. The products have also been extensively used in some regions without there having been a catastrophy for honeybees. Contrary to scientists who find (or claim to have found) harm, they stretch their neck out: if their position proves wrong, they may be sued for damages (that’s already the case in Canada). Their claims thus deserve attention and careful consideration.
Additionally, the question is not limited to risk from neonics. It is also whether the risk is manageable, whether alternative crop protection means are better or worse for bees, etc.
At the end of the day scientists like Lu render us – and essentially beekeepers – a major disservice.
Not got a lot of time to cover all this so will be brief.
Absolutely plenty of evidence of declines in wild pollinators, butterflies, moths, hoverflies and bees. Doesn’t appear in all broad brush analyses, because much of the decline is small scale or at a species level.
Perhaps there are honeybee ‘activists’ who have a single explanation, but vast majority and all charities concerned with a healthy environment recognise significance of wild flower loss, invasive species and other factors. This is clear in numerous treatises on the issue including this blog. Giving the impression that pesticides have somehow been unfairly singled out is just false.
You claim that research has focused on neonicotinoids to the detriment of other research – do you have evidence to support this claim. My impression is that over the last 15 years there has been vastly more funding for research into Varroa and other honeybee diseases – mostly funded by the pesticide manufacturers. While the last three years has seen a boom in the published work on pesticide effects I would be interested to see where the funding riches were even now.
You are right that EFSA identified a high risk so the partial ban was brought in. It is not an experiment. However there will be some more work done in a number of scenarios that will throw light on the issue further.
I wonder what pressure you think has been applied to EFSA to produce “« politically correct » assessments” – perhaps you could be more specific. I do know that the pesticides companies threatened EFSA with legal action before they produced the report, asked them to withdraw it and threatened to legally challenge the EFSA press release that was drafted to accompany the report – is this what you are referring to?
Fundamentally it is up to the pesticide companies to show that their products are save to the environment, not up to bees to show the reverse.
“…accusing pesticides means accusing multinational agrochemical companies… which means fighting free entrepreneurship”
Not necessarily. In many cases, the absence of multinational agrochemical companies has allowed free entrepreneurship to flourish. It all depends on whatever international regulations are in place. It’s now possible for MNCs to force their way into national markets by calling for enforcement of trade laws that prohibit any restriction of their operations whenever the MNC can show loss of expected profits. This often overrides national or state environmental protection policies. In this era of globalization, international trade laws can often override national sovereignty.
Re: neonics: “when properly used”. That is the problem, they are misused often, as are so many other pesticides. Trees that are flowering have been sprayed by licensed applicators, even though the label warns not to spray any flowering vegetation. Applicators often just shortcut the process, if the boss expects an empty tank before 5PM, if the spouse is waiting, if it is beer thirty… There is not good enough oversight and regulatory assessment. Chemical trespass happens in spite of the label restrictions, often. The real world is messy. There is not enough testing of adverse effects potentials with volitalization after applications. In the real world, outside the labs, the wind blows, there are mountains getting sprayed while water runs downhill into streams and into organic farms. This is a common problem of chemical trespass. If you can smell it you are getting exposed… sometimes that exposure is enough to harm health. The medical people can’t get timely information on exactly what chemicals were sprayed, so can not make goog diagnosis. The system is broken. Yes, we need more food,but we had better be a whole lot more skillful in how we provide it, or we will poison what we love.
For that matter ‘free entrepreneurship’ would be a disaster for the pesticide industry. The cost of developing a new product is high and therefore it important that there is a strong patenting system in place to limit entrepreneurs releasing cheap generics. Market regulation also stops the sale of ‘snake oil’ and helps to limit the number of environmental screw ups that would damage the market.
This is a comment which testifies to the need for an « Are Neonicotinoids the Sole Factor Responsible for Colony Collapse Disorder? » and similar analyses.
Your reply is off-target. There aren’t many people around who would argue against a notion of decline. The real issue is: what causes it? You have basically left that unaddressed. Of course!
You write: « vast majority [of honeybee activists] and all charities… » There is a difference between recognizing the significance of certain factors and overstating it; and even more between recognizing and jumping on junk science to feed a cause. Neonics have just become a political cause. For some researchers, they are an opportunity to get media attention and recognition – I may add: for work which does not offer them the desired scientific attention and recognition.
You write: « … pesticides have somehow been unfairly singled out… » This « unfairly » smells the activists’ answer. The issue is not whether it is fair or not, but whether the right service is done to bees, beekeepers, bugs, etc.
You write: « You are right that EFSA identified a high risk… » This is wrong! You should carefully read what you answer to.
And also the original pieces, not just the biased reports in the media. The summary conclusion on thiamethoxam, for instance, is: « A high risk was indicated or could not be excluded in relation to certain aspects of the risk assessment for honey bees for some of the authorised uses. For some exposure routes it was possible to identify a low risk for some of the authorised uses. » Your take of the EFSA report stops at the fifth word!
What does it mean? What is the meaning of « indicated » ? The relative strength of « indicated » and « could not be excluded »? Of « certain aspects… »? Of « for some of the authorized uses »? And how does this combine with exposure?
As I have indicated in my previous post, the reports from the real world only show problems of acute risks from dust exposure and, in the case of corn, from guttation fluid.
You also write that the temporary ban in the European Union is not an experiment. You are unfortunately right. It would have been if the ban had been applied in some regions and not in other, comparable, ones. But that was not the decision. The decision was politically motivated: flatter public opinion or, even worse, ensure that no conclusion can be drawn after two years of banning.
« I do know that the pesticides companies threatened EFSA with legal action before they produced the report, asked them to withdraw it and threatened to legally challenge the EFSA press release that was drafted to accompany the report ». Sources (credible ones)?
« However there will be some more work done in a number of scenarios that will throw light on the issue further »? I must have missed the news!
What I did was to describe the rationale for the activists’ cartel. If you want to be heard and seen as an activist, it is a good strategy to bring together technophobia, econophobia, apiphilia, etc. Save the bees, fight the MNCs…
Your comment takes us somewhat away from the original subject, but I feel it should not be left unanswered. Whether there are multinational agrochemical (or other) companies around or not, there is room for free entrepreneurship to flourish. Actually, these companies are themselves testimony to the existence of free entrepreneurship! Entrepreneurship which is only free to the extent that it does not contravene law, including competition law.
Your next remark – typical of the anti movement, which thrives on dysinformation and disingenuity – is equally ill-based. Any company, large or small, can already call for the proper enforcement of national trade and other laws, where those laws are not or improperly applied. What changes with – duly negotiated, signed and ratified – trade agreements is that an investor from one country who has a grievance against the other country party to the agreement will be able to (if it so wishes) submit the grievance to arbitration, rather than the judicial authorities of that other country. Provided that : (1) the agreement provides for the arbitration mechanism; and (2) the dispute fits into the scope of the relevant provisions.
The argument that « this often overrides national […] policies » is another patent lie. Your HR and Senate consenting to national policies being overruled? Big joke. Same for European and other Parliaments. You may wish to look up, as an example, the agreement between Australia and Singapore, Chapter 8, Article 16 (for the settlement of disputes mechanism) and 21 (general exceptions).
« [N]othing in this Chapter shall be construed to prevent the adoption or enforcement by a Party of measures:
(a) necessary to protect public morals or to maintain public order;
(b) necessary to protect human, animal or plant life or health;
Much easier to read than, say, the agreement between Colombia and the US.
Last, but not least, « [i]n this era of globalization » (an interesting subject in itself), international trade laws are conceived, negotiated and adopted in the same manner as they were some 150 years ago : treaties are usually*, at the end-stage, submitted to the national Parliaments for them to give (or refuse to give…) consent to ratification by Governments. National sovereignty is fully respected.
* The US has a fast track system where consent is given in advance.
« For that matter ‘free entrepreneurship’ would be a disaster for the pesticide industry »?
Premissed on the assumption that the « pesticide industry » currently does not operate in a world of free entrepreneurship.
I’m referring to disputes originating out of the NAFTA (or other international trade agreements) when a corporation decides it’s not being given “most favored status” in some business deal happening cross-border. These cases are decided via tribunals – which are not elected. The status of most favored can override various kinds of policies developed by local, state, or even federal governments.
Related to pesticides, here are a couple of examples of disputes where corporations made claims against democratically-elected governing bodies:
“On August 25, 2008, Dow AgroSciences LLC, a U.S. corporation, served a Notice of Intent to Submit a Claim to Arbitration under Chapter Eleven of the NAFTA, for losses allegedly caused by a Quebec ban on the sale and certain uses of lawn pesticides containing the active ingredient 2,4-D.”
“Chemtura Corporation (“Chemtura”), a United States agricultural pesticide products manufacturer, alleges that the Government of Canada, through its Pest Management Regulatory Agency (the “PMRA”), wrongfully terminated its pesticide business in lindane-based products, which are used on canola/rapeseed, mustard seed and cole crops to control flea beetle infestations, and on cereal crops to control wireworm. Chemtura alleges NAFTA violations of Article 1105 (minimum standard of treatment) and Article 1110 (expropriation).”
There are a number of interesting cases – Canada, the US and Mexico all and each being sued by companies in the other two.
So, corporations, through lobbying in DC, got NAFTA in place, and now taxpayers can foot the bill when a corporation wins a claim against their own sovereign nation’s trade policies.
Within the US (not having anything to do with international trade, but rather corporate rights) the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), the Snack Food Association, the International Dairy Foods Association and the National Association of Manufacturers are challenging Vermont’s new GMO labelling law. And Monsanto Co, Dow AgroSciences, and a number of other agrochemical companies, along with the GMA, are backing “a proposed federal law that would nullify Vermont’s labeling law and any other mandatory labeling of GMOs in the United States.”
So, within our country, corporations can lobby DC to pass laws that nullify individual states’ democratically-decided laws.
to me, these sorts of laws more often prove to be beneficial to a very small number of people, and detrimental to the average citizen who relies on an elected government to represent his or her interests – financial, health, environmental, etc.
Declines – wildflower loss, pesticides, pollution, disease, climate change, development, habitat mis-management are all partial causes- there are thousands of species, the story is slightly different for each one.
Junk science – what’s that then? Perhaps you could highlight which of the papers in the above list are junk science – or are they all junk science – what are you criteria?
High Risk – You must be reading a different set of reports, although the link seems to work! The phrase “high risk was indicated or could not be excluded” means that in some scenarios – certain products, certain uses, certain exposure routes – a high risk was indicated, but in other scenarios the risk could not be excluded. The following are direct quotes from the report on clothianidin:-
“In practice, this assessment indicates that forager honey bees or other pollinators occurring in this strip are at high risk (e.g. via direct contact to dust)”
“The first-tier ETRacute values greater than 1 clearly indicate a high risk for forager and nurse bees following the ingestion of contaminated nectar and pollen.”
“Where the exposure exceeded the toxicity endpoints a high risk was clearly indicated.”
“For the authorised uses on oilseed rape, the acute risk, and the chronic risk (at the highest application rate) was indicated as high by the first – tier risk assessment.”
“A high acute risk to honey bees was identified from exposure via dust drift for the seed treatment uses in maize, oilseed rape and cereals.”
“A high acute risk was also identified from exposure via residues in nectar and/or pollen for the uses in oilseed rape”
In summary look at Table 8 where R = Risk identified and X = insufficient data to reach a conclusion. There are lots of Rs.
The concept that the EFSA report does not identify high risks is complete horse manure!
Legal Action by Pesticide Companies
“« I do know that the pesticides companies threatened EFSA with legal action before they produced the report, asked them to withdraw it and threatened to legally challenge the EFSA press release that was drafted to accompany the report ». Sources (credible ones)?” I am surprised that you are surprised by this, its not news, everyone was talking about it at the time and while it may not have got into the papers that would be simply because it was expected behaviour and no legal action was eventually taken. Yes, I do have very credible sources.
“« However there will be some more work done in a number of scenarios that will throw light on the issue further »? I must have missed the news!” Sweden has been working on a controlled experiment for the last couple of years, looking forward to seeing the results of that. There are others, but one of the difficulties is that the levels of soil contamination are so high that it is making experimental work almost impossible.
Many thanks for your further elaboration and the examples.
You illustrated my point that « [a]ny company, large or small, can already call for the proper enforcement of national trade and other laws… » and that the new element introduced by trade agreements is the dispute resolution mechanims.
« On August 25, 2008, Dow AgroSciences LLC… »? The Vermont’s labeling law is being challenged?
In both instances companies, in one case individually, in the other collectively, challenged the legality of new legislation; in one case the ban on the sale and certain uses of 2,4-D-based lawn pesticides, in the other the mandatory GMO labeling.
The ability to challenge the legality of a new piece of legislation is in the fabric of democratic societies. A fact that, regrettably, those opposing free entrepreneurship – whether fully, or partially as it relates to multinational corporations or certain sectors of economic activity (here pesticides) – and free trade agreements tend to forget.
By the way, the two cases you referred to have nothing to do with « most favored status » (something that, also by the way, has no existence in the law of democratic societies, which are based on « equal status » (and unequal only if there are objective grounds therefor).
And by the way, if you had checked further for all facts, you would have easily found that Dow withdrew its notice and that Chemtura failed.
« So, corporations, through lobbying in DC, got NAFTA in place… »?
That is the horror tale from the anti-free trade crowd. It happens that NAFTA is a treaty entered into by three sovereign States, not just the one whose capital is abbreviated to DC. Those States negotiated the draft treaty among themselves at Government level, signed it into treaty by Government decision (three distinct ones), and gave their consent to abide and be bound by it through ratification, which ratification required, in each country, consent by the democratically elected Houses in accordance with the prevailing constitutional provisions.
This is very far from the story that may be summarized as: « Lobby Joe goes to the White House and says: “Bill (or George, or Barack) you’re gonna do this.” »
« So, within our country, corporations can lobby DC to pass laws that nullify individual states’ democratically-decided laws. »
You seem to ignore how privileged you are to live in a country where your « capital » – your Government and your two Houses – can be lobbied, not just by corporations, but by any representative of an interest.
Whether a federal system is superior or inferior to a centralized system is open for debate. You live in a federal system. A federal system, to work effectively and maintain the Union’s cohesion, must include mechanisms whereby a State’s interest must give way to the federal interest if the latter must prevail (and if the Constitution so allows). So corporations can lobby DC to have the Vermont law nullified; individuals can do as well. Corporations can also lobby against; individuals can do as well. A law may be passed eventually, one way or another. And the losing interests may turn to the Supreme Court.
Your country is one of the world’s lighthouses for democracy. Frankly, I am always disappointed when I see beneficiaries of that system criticizing it in ways which imply its rejection and a preference for totalitarism, at least partial.
So, “The ability to challenge the legality of a new piece of legislation is in the fabric of democratic societies.” But my criticism of NAFTA makes me a totalitariat? Hmm. Methinks I shall refrain from engaging too much further with this sort of reasoning.
In both the Dow case against a Canadian province, and the Chemtura claim against Canada, as well as in the FMA et al case against Vermont, we have corporations suing democratically elected sovereign bodies on the claim that profits take precedence over duly enacted laws. It’s not about who wins and loses in one case or another – it’s about the fact that who wins or loses is determined by a tribunal over which we have no control through either election or law.
Reading your first paragraph at face value, I thought you got the message… just to be disappointed by the second.
So let’s repeat in another way: « democratically elected sovereign bodies », in democracies (usually not the States which have included « democratic », or « people’s », in their designation):
first: are not at leisure to enact any laws or take any administrative decisions, but are bound to follow constitutional rules and general principles of law;
second: are not immune from ex post scrutiny by their constituencies, which constituencies include corporations.
This can be illustrated by the fact that there are, in those democracies, tribunals hearing complaints by parties – including corporations – that consider themselves aggrieved by decisions from, as you put it, « democratically elected sovereign bodies ». Those tribunals range from ordinary (sometimes) to specialized (usually). In the United States of America, the highest is called Supreme Court. In France, they are the Conseil d’État and the Conseil constitutionnel; in Germany the Bundesverfassungsgericht, etc.
The upshot is that what you call « duly enacted laws » – no doubt « duly enacted » only when you agree with them – are not duly enacted where they are found to be faulty.
Moreover, the entities you cited cannot sue « on the claim that profits take precedence over duly enacted laws ». Such a claim has no basis in law and exists only in the minds of those who challenge the very fabric of their society.
“first: are not at leisure to enact any laws or take any administrative decisions, but are bound to follow constitutional rules and general principles of law;”
The US State Dept under George H.W. Bush crafted NAFTA. They worked with MNCs to meet their goals and the stated goals of the Reagan/Bush administration. Perhaps you’re not familiar with the US State Department’s relationship with companies like Monsanto: see wikileaks diplomatic memos on the State Dept’s operations in Europe on Monsanto’s behalf.
In the US, we have townships and municipalities, counties, states and the federal governments. We’re a sovereign free nation. However:
“A NAFTA investor who alleges that a host government has breached its investment obligations under Chapter 11 may, at its option, have recourse to one of the following arbitral mechanisms:
the World Bank’s International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID); ICSID’s Additional Facility Rules; and the rules of the United Nations Commission for International Trade Law (UNCITRAL Rules).
Alternatively, the investor may choose the remedies available in the host country’s domestic courts. An important feature of the Chapter 11 arbitral provisions is the enforceability in domestic courts of final awards by arbitration tribunals.”
Tribunals aren’t elected and don’t belong to the US, or Canada, or Mexico. MNCs have become a nation unto themselves, petitioning the ICSID and UNCITRAL trade rules to settle their claims against individual nations which they feel have hindered their business. And further, they can call on domestic courts to enforce tribunal decisions.
In the case of Dow v. Canada, it’s true that the claim was withdrawn. It was withdrawn because Canada decided that 2,4D wasn’t as harmful as it initially thought – when used as directed. Dow got what it wanted and withdrew the claim.
You can read more about all the claims made under NAFTA if you follow the links I provided on the page I linked to above.
Trade agreements like NAFTA allow MNCs to undermine labor and environmental laws – if not directly through lawsuits, then indirectly through outsourcing of manufacturing and waste disposal in countries where labor and environment are less-protected. They also hinder entrepreneurship by removing protections for domestic business competition.
I’ll let you have the last word and hope the moderators don’t remove this conversation for being too long and off-topic. Cheers.
OT, but correcting what I believe are errors of facts (with personal opinion sprinkled in). Here you go:
While Bush was in charge in the US when NAFTA was signed, NAFTA is an extension of FTA between Canada and US signed in 87 (Reagan/Mulroney):
“The negotiations were long and intense. At almost literally the last hour, with congressional authority to fast-track a deal about the expire, the whole thing almost foundered, over Canadian insistence on a dispute resolution mechanism.
As Mr. Mulroney remembers it, Treasury secretary James Baker told him Congress would never approve a clause limiting its power to oversee international trade.”
So – it appears Canada was pushing for the dispute resolution process (not Bush and MNCs), which included the tribunal. Probably fearful of crazed local and state laws in the US that would pander to local industries and make it unfair for Canadian business (like the multi-year softwood lumber tariff put in place through lobbying by the US Pacific NW that was imposed to defend local logging and crippled several Canadian businesses). However, ask someone in Washington state and they’ll tell you the tariffs were because Canada was dumping wood in the US market.
What I believe the dispute resolution process is designed to do is prevent local governments from creating unfair laws to defend their local industry and allow foreign competitors to compete fairly. Dow’s claim, in my opinion, was withdrawn, because the Quebec government (not Canadian federal government) made statements that 2,4-D was harmful and therefore they were imposing a pesticide ban for use on lawns. This contradicted what the federal authority, who is in charge of safety evaluations, had to say about 2,4-D. Quebec backed down on the claim of harm (which they do not have the authority to determine in Canada-that’s a federal regulator) therefore Dow dropped the case. Quebec does have the authority to restrict the use of the pesticide on lawns and they did keep that in place.
To say NAFTA was crafted under Bush for the sole benefit of MNCs dismisses and discounts the ability of the other countries involved in the treaty to negotiate a fair and balanced treaty. Basically, you are implying that Canadians (under a Conservative government for FTA and Liberal government for NAFTA) are dupes and patsies of MNC and US agenda.
At the end of the day free trade being good or bad is simply an extension of personal ideology. Nothing I say can convince you FTA/NAFTA is good. Nothing you say would convince FTA/NAFTA is bad.
André – I have to apologize re: the Dow case. It appears that the ban still stands in Quebec. It’s confusing because the company seemed to claim a victory.
It’s still used in agriculture in Canada, but the Canadians are trying to restrict pesticide use for “cosmetic” reasons. Sorry for the mistake.
« Junk science – what’s that then? »
Bees are not my main area of interest. Nor am I involved in any activity – commercial or other – creating a particular interest in the matter. I won’t go into the papers which you listed in an attempt to argue about their nature.
There is a continuum between outright junk and excellent science. And good science may be turned into junk when communication relating to it becomes dysinformation and manipulation.
Lu’s work with 18 colonies, half of which fed with a fairly high amount of neonics for 13 consecutive weeks no doubt does not fall into the category of excellent science; and there is nothing to say against Mr. Ballenger’s analysis (which you find great…). And when you read that « Lu makes it very apparent he thinks neonic seed-treatments are the cause of CCD », one is bound to make a link to Seralinian science: experiments are set up not to gain knowledge, but to get the predefined result in support of a cause. Here: 13 weeks of continuing neonic feeding…
We read the same EFSA paper. But I do not stop at « A high risk was indicated », but read further in the summary: « …or could not be excluded… »
And I do not stop at each occurrence of « a high risk… », but read in context.
Your first quotation is a good example: « In practice, this assessment indicates that forager honey bees or other pollinators occurring in this strip are at high risk (e.g. via direct contact to dust) ».
This is in relation to dust drift during the sowing of maize, oilseed rape, and cereals. Taken on its own, this begs the question: so what?
A more complete extract is: « As regards the first-tier risk assessment based on the HQ values calculated with deposition values proposed in the draft „Guidance document on the authorisation of plant protection products for seed treatment, SANCO/10553/2012‟, a high acute risk was not excluded for bees foraging or flying in adjacent crops during the sowing of maize, oilseed rape, and cereals. It has to be noted however, that this conservative assessment is focussing on a relatively narrow strip downwind at the edge of the treated field. In practice, this assessment indicates that forager honey bees or other pollinators occurring in this strip are at high risk (e.g. via direct contact to dust) and may be able to carry considerable residues back to the hive (for social bees). Bees present beyond this strip or foraging upwind during the sowing will be considerably less exposed. »
And further down: « For the authorised uses on maize the available higher tier data overall exclude a high long-term risk to the colony, but some uncertainties were also indicated and the bee mortality was higher than the control. »
Yes, there are lots of « R »s. For acute risk from dust exposure and, in the case of oilseed rape (canola), from residues in nectar and/or pollen.
« The concept that the EFSA report does not identify high risks is complete horse manure! »?
In my view, it is rather the concept that one starts a scaremongering campaign on the basis of high risks having been identified.
« …its not news, everyone was talking about it [threats of legal action] at the time ?
The fact that « everyone was talking about it » is no evidence that what you have written is true.
You still find it difficult to come to terms with facts. They are incontrovertible, except for those who like to rewrite history in order to bend it to their ideology.
No, it is not the « US State Dept under George H.W. Bush [which] crafted NAFTA. »
NAFTA is the result of negotiations between three parties: Canada, Mexico and the USA.
The concept behind NAFTA is a fairly old one. President Ronald Reagan spoke of a North American agreement in his campaign in 1979.
In 1984, Congress passed the Trade and Tariff Act, which gave the President “fast-track” authority to negotiate free trade agreements, while only allowing Congress the ability to approve or disapprove, not change negotiating points. 1984? Ronald Reagan.
A first agreement was signed between Canada and the USA on January 2, 1988, following negotiations which started in May 1986. It passed the House and Senate in the USA on 9 September 1988. Still Ronald Reagan.
NAFTA in fact is a follow-up. It was signed in San Antonio, Texas, on December 17, 1992, by George H. W. Bush, Brian Mulroney and Carlos Salinas.
It was approved on November 17, 1993, by the House of Representatives, and on November 20 by the Senate. President Bill Clinton signed it into law on December 8, 1993. While signing the NAFTA bill, he stated that « NAFTA means jobs. American jobs, and good-paying American jobs. If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t support this agreement. »
You may look up the history in the other two countries. You will no doubt find that the agreement met with support (and opposition) across the political scene.
« Perhaps you’re not familiar with the US State Department’s relationship with companies like Monsanto »
You are again blinded by your ideology. The US State Department has the same kind of relations with industry (not just « companies like Monsanto ») as, say the British Foreign Office or the German Auswärtiges Amt. And, no doubt contrary to yourself, I have quite considerable experience in this area.
By the way, Monsanto – Wikileaks and the resulting hype notwithstanding – is a fairly small fish in international relations. Your diplomatic staff is much more interested in ensuring that the products from US farmers can be sold in Europe than by opening the European seed market to Monsanto’s GM seed.
« Trade agreements like NAFTA allow MNCs to undermine labor and environmental laws… »
Once again, you got it wrong, if only because whoever has clout can influence policies, with or without trade agreements.
You got it wrong because FTAs are no prior requirement to do cross-border business – of whatever kind. They only facilitate such business, in both directions.
Clearly there are problems with the Lu study, but they are not simply problems of intent, in fact I do not know his intent, although I would not contest that there may have been intent or that this may have contributed to the design of the experiment and the conclusions drawn. Mr. Ballenger does indeed make very valid points about the methodology and conclusions, and this is the nature of scientific debate. Hypotheses are developed and tested and written up with honesty and transparency, checked by peers, if considered valid published, and then discussed by scientists and others.
A scientific paper cannot simply be discarded on the basis of the intent of the author, and worse still would be to conclude that, because one author may have had a certain intention and tested a particular hypothesis, all other scientists who are testing the same hypotheses must therefore have the same intention, and because they all have the same intention all of the evidence pointing in a particular direction should be discounted.
This would be equivalent to claiming that there is no evidence that Varroa mites harm honeybees because the research that suggests that they are harmful was funded by pesticide companies who were intending to find a problem to distract from the impact of their products and to sell other products – so discard the research. This is the road to complete anarchy.
Yes intent and vested interests are important to understand, but so is the science.
Of course you are entitled to an opinion that high risks to pollinators from pesticides are not scary, but it is not an opinion shared by most people.
It is not my « opinion that high risks to pollinators from pesticides are not scary ».
some thoughts from an old farmer. I believe the dust contamination of the air during planting is worse then you think it is. we are told to be careful when we handle treated seed to minimize dust pollution. the bright green and blue seed coatings stick to everything, turning them bright green and blue (gloves, seed hoppers, truck beds). such things are easy to clean. my concern is the newer planters don’t just drop seed through a plate into a tube anymore, they have large vacuum that suspends the seed against a vertical disc until the vacuum is broken above the seed tube. the exhaust from this large hydraulic driven fan is then blown into the air while planting. “air planters” have become the norm since around 1985. seed coatings used with these type of planters doesn’t look like good stewardship to me
Only a little over 100 crop species provide 90% of food supplies for 146 countries… 71% of those species are bee pollinated.
This is plain crookery. For simple minds, diplomats pretending to define agricultural and environmental policies in UN bodies such as the FAO and the CBD, and politicians.
First of all, bees are not the only pollinators. As a matter of fact, they are thought to not be the most efficient. They were introduced in the Americas by the European settlers. Which means in plain words that the native American insect-pollinated plants were able to thrive without our bees. And that the native Americans could grow squash without the honeybee.
Secondly, let us take 10 crops :
The first three are not entomophiles. They are among, and representative of, the major food crops and provide the basis of our diets.
The other seven (which come close to the claimed 71 %) are insect pollinated.
Potato is an entomophile, but who cares? Potatoes are tuber-propagated. It is representative of some other major staple crops.
Many herbs and vegetables will require bees or other insects to set seed. But seed production is a very small segment of agricultural production. You arguably need a single bee or some other insect to produce the seeds to produce your annual carrot, cabbage, onion, etc. consumption.
Almond is representative of the crops for which insect pollination is a must.
So whilst it might be true that « only a little over 100 crop species… », we should not be fooled by the statement. Which does not mean a contrario that we can ignore the need to ensure the wellbeing of pollinators.
By the way, what is your source?
FAO stats show that 30 crops provide 88% of all food data here http://faostat.fao.org/site/567/default.aspx#ancor
Of those 30 crops:
Sugarcane 22% of all food bees do not pollinate
Maize 10.5% bees do not pollinate
Paddy rice 8.8% bees do not pollinate
Wheat 8% bees do not pollinate
Potatoes 4% pollination not required for production
Vegetables, fresh, not otherwise listed 3% bees required for some
Sugar beet 3% pollination not required for production
Cassava 3% insect pollinators required, some are bees
Oil palm fruit 3% bees do not pollinate
Soybeans 2.9% bees pollinate, but have little impact on production
Tomatoes 2% insect pollination not required, but can increase production – although not with honeybees
Barley 1.6% bees do not pollinate
Sweet potatoes 1.3% pollination not required for production
Watermelons 1.3% Bee pollination required
Bananas 1.2% bees do not pollinate
Onions 1% pollination not required for production, but it is for seed – bees pollinate
Seed cotton 0.9% bees can pollinate, but have little impact on production
Apples 0.9% bees pollinate and contribute to production
Cabbages, etc. 0.8% pollination not required for production, but it is for seed – bees pollinate
Oranges 0.8% bees pollinate, but often are not required for production
Grapes 0.8% self-pollinated, bees do not increase production
Cucumbers and gherkins 0.8% bees pollinate and are required for production
Rapeseed 0.8% bees pollinate, but have limited impact on production
Coconuts 0.8% insect pollinators required, some are bees
Yams 0.7% pollination not required for production
Sorghum 0.7% bees do not pollinate
Palm oil 0.6% bees do not pollinate
Cottonseed 0.6% bees can pollinate, but have little impact on production
Eggplants 0.6% bee pollination not required, but increases production
Mangoes and guavas 0.5% bees contribute variably to production
So as you can see the role of bees in total world food production is grossly over-rated. However, many of the more minor crops do require bees.
Thanks for the pollination detail. The previous numbers were listed as from the FAO as well but I’m not sure what species made up the 100 listed with 71% bee pollinated. The large number of countries and the larger numbers of species might be the difference.
A larger number of countries than the world as a whole?
Bees are required for pollination of many minor food crops including kiwi fruit, cantaloupe, pumpkin, and several nut species. If a large enough group of crop species are included it is inevitable that bees will pollinate some of them.
Also the 71% includes species that bees can pollinate, even if bees are not required for production, like grapes.
In response to Andre’s comment: “First of all, bees are not the only pollinators. As a matter of fact, they are thought to not be the most efficient. They were introduced in the Americas by the European settlers. Which means in plain words that the native American insect-pollinated plants were able to thrive without our bees. And that the native Americans could grow squash without the honeybee.”
You are conflating bees generally with honeybees specifically. It is honeybees that were introduced to the Americas by European settlers. Honeybees are not thought as efficient as our native bees in many cases (on a per-bee basis, but of course honeybee colonies are far larger with many more individuals). There were plenty of native bees already here… on the order of 4000 bee species native to the Americas, in fact, including squash bees, which specialize in squash pollination. And many other native bees specializing in particular flowering plants.
I really appreciate your input as an experienced farmer. Many people discuss these issues without realizing what it’s like on the ground. I will keep your comments in mind when discussing coated seeds with folks, thanks!
FAO estimates that of the slightly more than 100 crop species that provide 90 percent of food supplies for 146 countries, 71 are bee-pollinated (mainly by wild bees), and several others are pollinated by thrips, wasps, flies, beetles, moths and other insects. It has been estimated that at least 20 genera of animals other than honeybees provide pollination services to the world’s most important crops.
FAO Agriculture and Consumer Protection Department 2005
FAO Agriculture and Consumer Protection Department 2005
Today, mounting evidence indicates that pollinator populations are declining worldwide. In Europe and North America, the number of honeybee colonies has plummeted and most wild bee colonies have been lost. Many European butterflies are under serious threat owing to changing land-use and agriculture intensification.
Wild bees. While not all flowering plants depend on animals for pollination – cereals, for example, are wind-pollinated – most of the world’s orchard, horticultural and forage crops can only produce seeds and fruit if animals move pollen from the flower’s male anthers to the female stigma of the same or another flower.
Don’t neonics damage pollinator species other than honey bees?
Neonics don’t just kill honeybees, they must also damage some other native bee pollinator species as well.
With respect to native pollinators, habitat loss is the major reason for their decline.
everyone is concerned about the rise in herbicide usage,especially roundup. the main reason for this is no-till farming becoming popular. no-till is NEVER tilling the ground again. spray and plant. spray and plant. the soil comes alive with earthworms,bacteria, and other living organisms that build the soil and increase organic matter. diverse rotations keep the system thriving. my fields are becoming more and more productive every year. no erosion any more. plowing the ground uses up organic matter, slowly degrades the soil, and loosens it up for erosion and sedimentation problems. civilizations have had to move on or perish when the soil has been degraded to dirt. gmo’s are not bad. you mean the corn can kill the rootworm so I don’t have to fill all these boxes with this nasty insecticide? heck yes! I’ll plant some of that. roundup is becoming resistant to some broadleaves, but it controls grasses just fine.
anyway,coating seed with insecticide isn’t worth the convenience. we need to dribble it in the soil through boxes again, unless you have an old plate planter. john deere offers a “vacuum exhaust kit” for their vacuum-metered planters. it blasts the exhausts straight down instead of up. what a joke.
i’m sorry. it’s not a joke. it’s our bees.
So, let’s bring this conversation back to pesticides and bees in general. This article has gotten a lot more readership than I initially thought it would, but a lot of people seem to think that I’m saying that pesticides are not an environmental issue. I do not believe this to be true, but there are a lot of questions which I have not been able to answer in the scientific literature.
I was wondering if you guys would be able/willing do discuss the following questions?
1.) In native bees, what percentage are exposed to neonics? This proportion isn’t very high in honeybees, and I would expect the picture to be more complex for native bees.
2.) What is the pesticide load native bees are exposed to? Honeybees are exposed to a wide variety of pesticides, many of which are closer to their LD50s than neonics. Is the situation in native bees comparable?
3.) If we banned neonics farmers would probably start using older chemistries, particularly organophosphates. Many in agriculture consider OPs to be the worst pesticides for human health, and I would expect them to harm bees as well.
What assurance do we have that banning neonics wouldn’t result in a replacement by insecticides that would make the problem worse?
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