by Marion Nestle
Mar 15 2013

Drug corporations 1, Bees 0

Everybody is, or should be, worried about the health of bees.  Without them, we don’t have pollinated agriculture.

Bees, the New York Times tells us in an astonishing statistic, “pollinate 71 of the 100 crops that provide 90 percent of the world’s food.”

Bees are not doing well, and nobody really knows why.  Could colonies be collapsing because of a virus?  Mites?  Stress?  Or, as in the case of a leading hypothesis, insecticides used on crops?

Europeans worried about a particular class of highly effective insecticides widely used in production agriculture—neonicotinoids—proposed to restrict their use in flowering crops for two years.

But the European Union voted today to allow use of neonicotinoids to continue, even though the European Food Safety Authority recommended against this.

Also as discussed in the New York Times,

Companies that produce neonicotinoid-based pesticides, including the German giant Bayer CropScience and Syngenta, the big Swiss biochemical company, have lobbied strenuously against the moratorium. Monsanto incorporates the chemical into some of the seeds it produces; in the United States, neonicotinoids are heavily used on the country’s huge corn crop.

Some nations in Europe already restrict use of these insecticides, but not all.

The Times quotes officials of companies that make neonicotinoid insecticides, Bayer and Syngenta.  The officials say:

  • The science is uncertain.
  • Banning them would jeopardize agricultural competitiveness.
  • Prices of food, feed, fiber and renewable raw materials would rise.
  • 50,000 jobs would be lost.

This comes right out of the standard industry playbook.  Anything that harms bees in the short term has long term consequences.  Shouldn’t officials be looking at long-term strategies for protecting bees.  Bees need help!  And so will we, if we don”t help them now.

  • Wonderful post — but isn’t the headline a little unfair to drug companies? Of the companies mentioned, only Bayer makes drugs, and it’s mostly a agri-chem giant at this point. Monsanto and Syngenta no longer have drug divisions.

  • There are thousands of species of bees besides the honeybee that are susceptible to CCD. Further those crops may be pollinated by bees, but not by bees exclusively.

    Interestingly CCD is eradicated in honeybee colonies by sterilization of the hive, suggesting an infection or pest before pesticides. The pesticides may of course be contributing if they weaken the bees resistance to parasites or viruses, but given it’s a neurotoxin the mechanism is not clear.

    In the end this is more a symptom of monoculture practices than anything, we are using a monoculture of a non-native species (Western honey bee) to pollinate crops grown on a scale that overwhelms local and native polinators.

  • Interesting post. I had no idea that bees were struggling that much. Definitely a problem that can’t be ignored for much longer.

  • Uggh, my comment should read “aren’t susceptible”. Only honeybees are susceptible, there are some 20,000 bee species and only the one appears affected was the point.

  • “Researchers in Mexico say the use of genetically modified crops has fueled an historic decline in the population of migrating monarch butterflies. While monarchs once occupied 50 acres of of Mexican forest, this winter they occupied less than three acres. That’s in part because herbicide-tolerant crops have allowed U.S. farmers to decimate the monarchs’ food supply of milkweed. Researchers said drought and record-shattering heat last spring also played a key role in the decline”
    Source: Democracy Now March 15, 2013

  • Reduction in honey bee colonies before 2007 from various reports: 17%-20% per year

    Reduction in number of honey bee colonies after 2007: 30% to 90% per year

    What was introduced in their environment in a period of one year that has caused such a dramatic difference? Genetic mutation or an illusive virus suddenly targeting honey bees in 2007 seems unlikely. An alteration in the pesticides seems more believable and likely.

    “simpler explanations are, other things being equal, generally better than more complex ones”-Occam’s razor.

  • Another case of corporate lobbyists deflecting the real issue at hand. It’s hard to comprehend how big business still wins when the European Food Safety Authority, which has no financial interest or ulterior motive in this particular case, has clearly stated its position against neonicotinoids.

  • Wrong. The European Food Safety Authority did not recommend a ban. You should read the report and understand that – EFSA was asked to answer a question about whether there was any risk at all that neonics might be involved in the equation. They answered this question – that there was some risk of this. They also accept that the risk can be reduced and even removed, but the question of whether the risk was so great that a ban was necessary was not asked. This has become entirely political and is no longer about the science. That is the real tragedy of this whole story.

  • Kate M.

    Marion proves she is not much an apiarist. Lately one must wonder what sort of nutritionist she really is, running around spreading myths and pushing agendas. Where is the science Marion? Did you ever really understand and respect the science?

  • Tim

    Wow, that lobbyist prostitute is bold enough to identify himself as such. I wish lobbyist propaganda were always that “transparent”.

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