Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Pollinators Pesticides Politics and Science

President Obama has established a task force to save the honeybees. A White House Blog entry on May 19th announced, "New Steps to Promote Pollinator Health", and this was quickly picked up by the National Media - with varying interpretations of the issues affecting bee health. It is accepted that honeybee decline is a complex issue that involves factors such as varroa mites, pathogens, stress on bees due to movement of hives, neonicotinoid insecticides and other things. So I was surprised to read the first sentence in the Wall Street Journal article today, "The White House is backing efforts to scrutinize the link between pesticides and a dramatic increase in honeybee deaths." (Full article, subscription required.)

Within two hours of the White House blog post, EPA sent an e-mail providing much more detail. Given that there will be widespread press coverage of the pollinator health issue I thought it might be a good idea to provide links to factual information. The following links were provided in the EPA e-mail this morning:

1. Link to the White House blog
2. The National Strategy to Promote Pollinator Health
3. EPA's role in the national strategy (many other links behind this one)
4. EPA actions to protect pollinators (many other links behind this one)

I am not a honeybee expert and am not qualified to render an opinion on the factors involved in honeybee decline. Research studies are showing both harmful and benign effects of neonicotinoid seed treatments on honeybees. I have entomologist friends whom I respect as excellent and sincere scientists who have published papers with conclusions that come down on opposite sides of the issue. And then there is the middle: A recent paper published by Dr. Galen Dively at the University of Maryland found little to no effect of imidacloprid at realistic field doses. The pull quote from the article is, "Everyone is pointing the finger at these insecticides. If you pull up a search on the Internet, that’s practically all anyone is talking about,” said Galen Dively, emeritus professor of entomology at UMD and lead author of the study. “This paper says no, it’s not the sole cause. It contributes, but there is a bigger picture.” Here is a link to the University of Maryland webpage, and the scientific article can be accessed from this page.

I have worked with (and against) EPA for many years, and one thing I know is that their scientists pay attention to scientific research and forward proposals based on science. What happens at the administrative levels of EPA is another matter, and that is where the pressures from interests groups come in to play. EPA tries to make decisions based on science and often succeeds in that effort, but obviously not always.

Honeybee decline is acknowledged to be a multi-faceted problem. In spite of the temptation to jump in and blame or exonerate neonicotinoids, it is really time to wait for more research results to accumulate; complicated problems often take a while to sort out.