Pesticide Unfairly Blamed for Bee Die-Offs

March 11, 2013

Around the United States and Europe, whole beehives have been disappeared and "dying-off." Environmental groups, such as Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the Center for Food Safety have claimed that a relatively new pesticide is the cause of all the die-offs. The evidence suggests it is not the pesticide at all, says Richard Tren, director of Africa Fighting Malaria, a nonprofit.

  • The new class of pesticide, neonicotinoids, is applied directly to the seeds so that the chemical is contained within the growing plant.
  • The European Commission has advised the European Union not to use the treatment, which allows for lower doses of insecticide than spraying.
  • Environmentalists, concerned about honeybees because of their important role as crop pollinators, claim that use of the new pesticide is leading to all the bee deaths.

However, bee die-offs are not a new phenomenon and were also reported in the early part of the 20th century. If the new pesticide is the cause of the die-offs, there would be more die-offs.

  • Australia has not reported any massive bee losses despite widespread neonicotinoids use.
  • This is largely attributable to the fact that Australia does not have the varroa mite, one of many parasites that can attack bees.
  • Canada relies heavily on both bees and neonicotinoids and has not reported any significant bee losses.

Conversely, bee die-offs have been reported in Switzerland, which does not allow neonicotinoid use. If neonicotinoids were banned, as the European Union is considering, farmers would be forced to use older insecticides that are more harmful to the environment. This would also lower crop yields, driving up the demand for agricultural land, which would affect wildlife habitat as well.

  • There is limited evidence that new insecticides are the cause of the bee die-offs.
  • The most likely reasons are the various viruses and parasites that plague bees, but these factors are more difficult to vilify than the large multinational corporations that are creating the genetically-modified seeds and chemicals to support the world's growing population.
  • A value judgment must be made on whether we use these new chemicals and fight malnutrition or ban them and risk lower food production.

Source: Richard Tren, "Environmentalists Try to Squash a Bug Killer," Wall Street Journal, March 4, 2013.

 

Browse more articles on Environment Issues