Neonics and Bees: setting facts straight

By | May 26, 2014

I already have a wild beehive in my garden (the bees live in an old tree stump), but I'm thinking of starting a second beehive for the kids to watch the bees at work.  There's a sale this week for insect hives, which is perfect timing… and I can assert that my bee population is still fairly healthy.

We do not know with certainty if neonics killed the bumble bees – and assuming neonics are responsible for their death, we do not know how or why it killed the bees.

It's also a great chance to draw attention to the facts surrounding neonic use and its effect on insects:

1) Neonic usage above a particular concentration is lethal to insects.
2) It has been shown that certain neonics have harsher consequences than others. Some of the 'milder' neonics break down into the 'harsher' neonics over time within the insect's body.
3) There is a statistical linkage, but no conclusive evidence or scientific consensus on whether chronic sublethal neonic concentrations have a lethal effect on insect populations.
4) To make the claim that neonics kill bumblebees, we need to first see repeatable research demonstrating what the medical reason behind a lethal effect of sublethal neonic concentration penetration is, as well as how much the required concentration to induce the lethal effect is.

Disclaimer: I am no expert on insectology or on toxicology. In my opinion, it is irresponsible to use a chemical that has a potentially disasterous effect on the ecological system – in particular pollinators – as long as the safety of that chemical is not scientifically proven.

For the scientifically inclined, this report presents what, in my opinion, is a rather unbiased overview of the current opinions and studies available:

/via +Adam Black 

Reshared post from +Pamela Zuppo

The Case of the Vanishing Bees

That's what happened one June morning at a Target parking lot in Portland Oregon in 2013. A pest-control company (unbeknownst to Target) had sprayed neonictinoids on surrounding Linden trees to protect them from aphids; but nobody warned the bees to stay away. In the end, an estimated 50,000 bumblebees perished.

The tragedy wiped out as many as 300 bumblebee colonies, robbing the area's trees and flowers of a key pollinator species. And it shows why stomping out the use of neonics is paramount to the survival of bees. You can read more about this case here >>

9 thoughts on “Neonics and Bees: setting facts straight

  1. Sophie Wrobel

    +Phil Haigh GM crops are also an quite an interesting topic. I agree, there are farming practices (e.g. SRI) which result in high-yield organic farming and which are, in my opinion, significantly underutilized in modern industrial agriculture.

    As +drjack ong points out, genetically modified practices in agriculture and pesticide regulation for agriculture are two very different beasts. Genetic modification can speed up the changes that cross-breeding would otherwise have taken generations to accomplish: this is a very benign and acceptable form of technology applied to agriculture. Other forms of genetic modification – for example the infamous 'terminator seed' patent – are considerably less ethical and pose a larger risk to our ecosystem. The regulation system does help to control the ecological damage inflicted by technology-induced introductions to the ecosystem, by not approving the latter, and by rescinding approval should it realize that a mistake has been made (whether this is because of public pressure, lobbying, or another motivation is another topic of discussion).

    Further, GM trial requirements are more rigorous than pesticide trial requirements, which may have the consequence that the 'worst' approved GM crops in general tend to be safer than the 'worst' approved pesticides: a significantly higher number of GM crops which cause crops to produce pesticides within their stamen not been approved specifically because of their effects on pollinator insects, whereas some pesticides achieving similar results – as demonstrated by neonics – have been approved, at least in the USA. Europe in general takes a more conservative stance.

  2. drjack ong

    +Phil Haigh You've just related two disparate entities (genetic modification and chemicals) with the fallacious pseudoscience that persists for anti GM.factions.

    Here are a few things that happened without GM. Potato famine. Blights wiping out crops. Those prime stocks of beef folks enjoy? Interbreeding to keep pure genetic selection.

    Lots of things have killed off populations of flora and fauna. GM practice doesn't rank much on that long list.

  3. Phil Haigh

    +Tiago Silveira remind me of that again once North America has lost most of its bees rather than just one third.

    It's the same reason I am anti GM foods. We can feed the population of the earth without GM, it's just that politics gets in the way. In the meantime what better way to find out the long term effects of GM crops than by growing millions of acres… and then finding out the hard way that pests become resistant, we are back at square one, and the only answer is more GM or stronger chemicals. Just dumb.

  4. Sophie Wrobel

    +Tiago Silveira The lethal levels have already been established. They are also published in the linked article.

    However, the whole discussion is about sublethal levels of neonicotinide use. There are indications that sublethal levels have a chronic impact on the neurological system of bees, which is linked to colony collapse. That, in my opinion, should merit that the chemical is not approved. The main problem is that a mere linkage is not proof that neonics are responsible for colony collapse. Maybe it was some other cause which had nothing to do with neonics, but only the cans in which neonics were distributed in (not saying this is likely, but it could be anything).

    And as +Phil Haigh points out: what stance do you take when evidence isn't conclusive?

  5. Phil Haigh

    Neonics are already banned in Europe where we've been suffering similar problems. Neonicotinides have been shown to play havoc with bees and cause colony collapses. The pesticides companies didn't want the European Parliament to ban them, neither did the UK government, fortunately this is one of those occasions where our politicians (in mainland Europe) have earned their pay.

  6. Tiago Silveira

    It's fully possible to demonstrate that something kills a species or group of wildlife without explaining the mechanism. You just have to show the lethal levels.

  7. Stuart Cook

    Somewhat depressing. I'm no expert either, but I'd say any chemical can potentially have a disastrous  effect on the ecological system. It need not be immediate or even visible. 


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