‘Bee’ smart

To the Editor:

We Islander readers need some clear facts. Cynthia Palmer of the American Bird Conservancy in Washington, D.C., wrote in last week’s op-ed (Nov. 27) that a class of insecticides called neonicotinoids (“neonics” for short) are devastating the bees, birds, butterflies and more. We are supposed to buy only sustainable, pesticide-free agriculture and “shrink the market for intensive, neonic-contaminated products.”

Well, the bees in some areas may be having problems, but there is a question as to whether neonics are at all responsible.

In fact, Henry Miller, physician and molecular biologist, fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and the founding director of the FDA’s Office of Biotechnology, wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal on July 23 which claims that “Populations of the pollinators (Bees) are not declining, and a ban on neonic pesticides would devastate U.S. Agriculture.”

The article also claims that “Bee populations in the U.S. and Europe remain at healthy levels for reproduction and the critical pollination of food crops and trees.”

Miller did acknowledge that “during the last decade, we have seen higher-than-average overwinter bee-colony losses in the Northern Hemisphere, as well as cases of bees abruptly abandoning their hives, a phenomenon known as ‘colony collapse disorder.’”

According to Miller, “A ban on neonics would not benefit bees, because they are not the chief source of bee health problems today. Verroa mites are, along with the lethal viruses they vector into bee colonies.”

However, “anti-pesticide activists and some voluble beekeepers want to ban the most widely used pesticides in modern agriculture, neonics, which account for 20 percent of pesticide sales worldwide. This would have disastrous effects on modern farming and food prices.”

Miller said that according to U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization statistics, the world’s honeybee population rose to 80 million colonies in 2011 from 50 million in 1960. In the U.S. and Europe, honeybee populations have been stable – or slightly rising the last couple of years – during the two decades since neonics were introduced, U.N. and USDA data show.

There is similar data for Canada. In fact, Miller used an example of Saskatchewan’s $19 billion canola industry depending on neonics to prevent predation by the flea beetle. Those neonic-treated fields support such thriving honeybee populations that they have been dubbed “pastures for pollinators.”

He went on to give examples of crops that require neonics as the last line of defense against insects that would devastate the citrus industry in Florida, Texas and California, tomato growers in Florida, and vegetable growers in Arizona, California and the Pacific Northwest. The same goes for grape growers in California and the Pacific Northwest.

So, while some like Palmer are very concerned about bee problems, we shouldn’t use banning of neonics as the way to solve the problem, or a way to promote sustainability. I cannot believe, as Palmer said, that there is really “scant evidence that neonics are actually increasing agricultural productivity.”

Farmers seem like smart people. If it didn’t work, they wouldn’t buy it.

Tom Rolfes


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