Junk Science - Garbage Policy

Washington Examiner    By T. Becket Adams   July 6, 2015 

This was forwarded to us from Carlen Jupe, CSBA Sec/Treas: "Just received this story from the Washington Examiner passed on by Peter Borst, about how easily media and even scientists can be duped about issues. This may be one of the most critical articles of our time. Read it and consider.
http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/junk-science-garbage-policy/article/2567516

Here's the section pertaining to: "The Death of the Bee"

Though the European Union is considering lifting its ban on neonicotinoids, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is under pressure to restrict the same chemicals for the same reason: to save bees.

After years of headlines about a pending "beemaggedon," the Obama administration announced a strategy in May to stem what it characterized as an unprecedented decline in the number of America's pollinators, particularly the honeybee.

Part of the plan includes speeding up EPA's scheduled review of neonicotinoids.

The press hailed the strategy as a moment of redemption for threatened bee populations.

"After the sting of vanishing bees, White House pollinates protection plan," CNN reported, discussing the "effort to help the declining bee and butterfly populations."

"After years of devastation, the American honey bee finally has the White House's attention," Quartz reported May 19, stating in a separate article that "the world is finally trying to save the bees."

Many other outlets welcomed the decision, including the New York Times, National Public Radio and the Wall Street Journal, which reported that there has been a "surge in honeybee deaths."

As newsrooms reported on the White House's announcement, few — if any — asked whether there has been an actual decline in honeybees.

"The whole 'mass death' thing is off," biologist and beekeeper Randy Oliver told the Examiner, claiming that media is purposely confusing the issue by not giving full context.

"In the United States, the number of colonies is increasing. Simply look at the number of colonies available for almond pollination each year," he said. "The acreage of almonds is increasing each year, so the demand for colonies is increasing each year. And it's all across the world. African countries, Canada, many European countries are increasing their numbers [of colonies]."

Beekeeper and biomedical researcher Peter Borst said the numbers are much better than people are led to believe.

"The number of managed bee hives in the world [have risen] from 50 million in 1960 to more than 80 million today. But this figure only reflects managed colonies, not wild colonies. It is hard to know the real number of 'unkept' honeybee colonies in the world," he wrote in the American Bee Journal, suggesting that Africa has at least 310 million.

Borst told the Examiner, "In most areas where honeybees are kept, the numbers are going up, not down."

He and Oliver cited several reasonable and non-shocking explanations for past fluctuations in bee numbers, including the drop-off a few decades ago in the number of recreational beekeepers.

"It's a cyclical thing. People lost interest in [beekeeping] in the '80s and '90s, especially when it got to be harder to take care of bees," Borst said. "Now there's a huge resurgence in beekeeping as a hobby, because people are reading about it in the papers and now they want to be part of the solution."

This is not exactly new, he said.

A decline of bees and wasps in England, for example, has been going on for at least a century, Smithsonian's Sarah Zielinski reported in December.

"Changes in agricultural practices since the 19th century may be a major culprit in the pollinators' decline," she wrote in an article titled, "Bees and Wasps in Britain Have Been Disappearing For More Than a Century."

The same issue of changing agricultural practices holds true in the United States, an important bit of context that the White House fails to account for in its representation of honeybee populations as massively failing.

By comparing current hive numbers to those of the 1940s, the White House claims that bee populations are in a precipitous decline.

Left out of this picture, however, is the fact that the number of farmers, many of whom kept bees, has also declined since the '40s, as post-war agricultural practices trended toward larger farms, University of Missouri economics professor John Ikerd wrote in Small Farm Today Magazine.

Since the mid-'90s, when the supposedly harmful neonicotinoids hit the market, there has not been a massive drop in the number of honey-producing hives.

Furthermore, recent Department of Agriculture statistics show there were 2.74 million honey-producing hives in the United States in 2014, an increase of 4 percent from 2013.

Honeybee numbers in the United States are at a 20-year high, according to Agriculture statistics.

Separately, the European Academies Science Advisory Council said in a report analyzing Europe's pollinators that drawing any conclusions about trends from honeybee data "requires a differentiation between 'losses' and 'declines.' "

"Losses are the deaths of colonies which may occur in the temperate regions especially over winter," the report reads. "However, declines may occur both in the number of beekeepers or in the numbers of colonies maintained by each beekeeper. The latter are particularly heavily influenced by socioeconomic factors, by the price of honey, the presence or absence of subsidies, or the popularity of beekeeping as a hobby."

From Oliver's point of view, reporters don't appear interested in getting to the bottom of these nuanced and non-sexy details.

Oliver said a cable news correspondent once called him for information on reports that bees were dying off in record numbers.

"I asked him if he wanted the facts or if he just wanted some printable sound bites to makes a sensational story. The reporter pretty much said he wanted the second. The conversation ended after that," he said.

Read entire article at: http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/junk-science-garbage-policy/article/2567516

White House Plan Does Little To Take The Sting Out Of Pollinator Declines

Beyond Pesticides Daily News Blog  May 20, 2015

(Washington, DC, May 20, 2015) Yesterday, the White House released its much awaited plan for protecting American pollinators, which identifies key threats, but falls short of recommendations submitted by Beyond Pesticides, beekeepers, and others who stress that pollinator protection begins with strong regulatory action and suspension of bee-toxic pesticides. The Pollinator Health Task Force, established by President Obama in June 2014, brought together most federal agencies to “reverse pollinator losses and help restore populations to healthy levels,” and involved developing a National Pollinator Health Strategy and a Pollinator Research Action Plan. The Strategy outlines several components, such as a focus on increased pollinator habitat, public education and outreach, and further research into a range of environmental stressors, including systemic neonicotinoid pesticides. Although well-intentioned, the Strategy ultimately works at cross-purposes by encouraging habitat, but continuing to allow pesticides that contaminate landscapes.

“Waiting for additional research before taking action on neonicotinoid pesticides, which current science shows are highly toxic to bees, will not effectively stem pollinator declines, and is unlikely to achieve the National Pollinator Health Strategy’s goal of reducing honey bee losses to no more than 15% within 10 years,” said Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides.

A major component of the federal plan is the creation and stewardship of habitat and forage for pollinators. However, without restrictions on the use of neonicotinoids, these areas are at risk for pesticide contamination and provide no real safe-haven for bees and other pollinators. Beyond Pesticides continues to encourage federal agencies to adopt organic management practices that are inherently protective of pollinators.

Under the plan, EPA will propose...

Read more... http://www.beyondpesticides.org/dailynewsblog/?p=15701

Pollinator Politics: Environmentalists Criticize Obama's Plan To Save Bees

NPR/THE SALT    By Allison Aubrey  May 20, 2015

LISTEN TO THE STORY: http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/05/20/408017267/pollinator-politics-environmentalists-criticize-obama-plan-to-save-bees

The buzz around bees has been bad lately. As we've reported, beekeepers say they lost 42 percent of honeybee colonies last summer.

And it seems that fixing what ails bees is no simple task. Over the past few decades, they've been hit by diseases and habitat loss. There's also increasing evidence that a type of pesticides called neonicotinoids are linked to bees' decline, too.

This could be bad news for all of us, since bees and other pollinators are critical to our food supply.

Honeybees alone, according to an Obama administration estimate, add $15 billion in value to agricultural crops each year by pollinating everything from almonds and apples to blueberries and squash.

And now the administration has put forth a new action plan to reverse the declines in bees.

A key component is a strategy to restore 7 million acres of bee-friendly habitat that have been lost to urbanization, development and farming.

"It's a big step in the right direction," says Nigel Raine, a professor who studies pollinator conservation at the University of Guelph, in Canada.

The idea is to plant many types of wildflowers — in lots of different areas — so that bees have more places to forage and nest. "It's making sure they have sufficient flowers to feed on," says Raine — and places to live.

Many environmentalists say restoring bee habitat is a good place to start, but they're critical that the Obama administration has not taken a harder line in limiting the use of neonicotinoids.

The Natural Resources Defense Council says more urgent action is needed to safeguard our food supply. "To truly save bees and other pollinators, we must drastically cut down on today's pervasive use of neonicotinoids and other pesticides," Peter Lehner, executive director of the NRDC, said in a press release.

And a similar message is coming from Friends of the Earth. The White House Pollinator Strategy won't solve the bee crisis, the group says.

The Environmental Protection Agency announced in April that it is not likely to approve new uses of neonicotinoids, but the plan announced by the administration on Tuesday did not call for restrictions on current uses.

Lisa Archer, who leads the food and technology program at Friends of the Earth, said in a statement: "President Obama's National Pollinator Health Strategy misses the mark by not adequately addressing the pesticides as a key driver of unsustainable losses of bees and other pollinators essential to our food system."

The European Union has already moved to restrict the use of neonicotinoids. And as we've reported, there are proposals in Canada to limit use of the pesticides, too.

But a leading manufacturer of the pesticides says neonic restrictions are not necessary. "Neonicotinoids — when used according to labeled directions — can be used safely with pollinators," Becky Langer of Bayer Crop Science told us.

She says the administration's strategy to restore bee-friendly habitat is a good approach, and points out that Bayer is helping to address this issue with its Bee Care Center and efforts to encourage the expansion of habitat.

Read at & Listen: http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/05/20/408017267/pollinator-politics-environmentalists-criticize-obama-plan-to-save-bees