Did I goof up, or what?

I did it again!

Last week’s blog post drew a few interesting responses. Not from Monsanto, whom I expected would be outraged because I wrote that it is perhaps justifiable to vilify “the huge multinational for all manner of environmental ills.” Instead, incredibly, the nasty letters I got were from people who seem to be environmentalists and my sin was pointing out the horrible truth that Monsanto does not manufacture neonicotinoids!

Here is what one of the letters sent to me said: “I read your misinformed post … and would appreciate if you did some fact checking prior to your future posts… Sorry your life seems to revolves [sic] around baseless bullying behind a keyboard, and refusal to correct your errors. Perhaps a post about your own bad journalism attempt is in order.” I googled the author. Turns out the note was sent to me by a school teacher! That’s why you see the picture of me, or someone who looks like I did when I was ten years old, wearing the dunce hat. I have no patience for people who resort to name-calling in any discourse – whether on the internet or in the school yard.

The same person told me to check my facts, adding that Monsanto owns Dekalb and Dekalb manufactures neonicotinoids. Dekalb is a seed company. It buys neonics and treats some (but not all) the 48 varieties of corn seed which farmers may buy from Dekalb. . . So, let us try, once more, to set the facts straight – Bayer makes neonics. Why is that so painful to hear? And why is that a reason to send rude e-mail to a real beekeeper, someone who has produced millions of pounds of honey, grafted thousands of queen cells, provided bees to pollinate billions of flowers, and has actually depended on beekeeping for a living?

But wait a minute. There is more. Another note from someone else. This time respectful, except for a little snipe at the end that said, “An honourable man would append a correction to the original blog post.” If I don’t then I am (at least in one person’s opinion) dishonourable. The correction being sought is that I should write what the correspondent would like me to write. As it turns out, the correspondent has some valid points.

In my original blog (which you can see just below), I state that Monsanto does not make neonicotinoids, Bayer does. Beyond that, I offer almost no actual facts that could be retracted. I wrote: “The March Against Monsanto trekked through the streets of Toronto hoisting the bees’ coffin.” It was Toronto, I fact-checked. I wrote that the protest “was intended as a statement against neonicotinoids, which most of the participants blame for the bee deaths.” Admittedly, I don’t know this, but the news reporter covering the story wrote “The beekeepers called for Monsanto and its subsidiaries and allied companies to stop producing GMOs and neonicotinoids.”

I do ask the question, “Why is the protest being directed against Monsanto?” when Monsanto does not make neonicotinoids. So, really, it seems that since I dare ask a question, I receive interesting fan mail. Regular readers of this post know that I take an off-the-wall approach to almost every subject. I make light of the European fad of the honey massage, I humour Prince Charles’s beekeeping (though I like the man), I question whether beekeepers are environmentalists when we propagate our invasive honey bee which displaces native local bees. To ask me to retract facts is like sending indignant letters to the Onion. As I write in my permanent side-notes on this same blog page, “Opinions expressed herein do not necessarily express anyone’s opinions – not even the author’s” and “If you strongly disagree with things you find here, send Ron a note – or keep reading as you are likely to find he also advocates an opposite point of view elsewhere on the website.” Hate mail is uncalled for.

Why was the Toronto bee protest directed against Monsanto instead of Bayer or against the poor farmers trying to keep their family businesses alive? Another writer (who I think was at the protest) patiently explained to me that Monsanto sells corn seed treated with neonics and the bees sometimes gather pollen from corn (this is rare – corn does not have nectary flowers to attract bees, but if bees are desperate they may collect corn pollen from the dangling tassels).

It should be noted that not all corn seed is treated with neonicotinoids – Dekalb, which is owned by Monsanto, offers 48 varieties of corn seed, about two-thirds have been treated by some form of neonics, the others have not. It is up to the farmer to select the variety they want to grow. Two-thirds is a similar ratio among the 300 growers of Ontario corn seed in the Chatham-Kent area. But I am off on a fact-chase here, I’ll try to control myself and continue with the idea that some of Monsanto’s corn seeds that farmers are planting in southwest Ontario (most of it over 200 kilometres from Toronto) have been treated with neonicotinoids and this insecticide kills honey bees.

But the bigger question remains – is Monsanto the cause of the horrific bee losses in Ontario? Or are these sorts of protests deflecting attention away from the real cause of the total and sudden collapse of bee colonies? Ultimately, the protests may do more damage to the bee industry than good. Now that it is assumed the bee slayer has been found, other research projects will not receive the significant attention they perhaps should.

I expect that neonicotinoids will be banned. Among the dozen e-mails sent to me on this subject, one stated that an Ontario county has already agreed to the ban. That person also told me that 99% of corn grown there has been treated by neonicotinoids. With the ban, I am wondering what those farmers will do. One alternative, of course, is they could quit farming. Or maybe they could grow tobacco, which Stompin’ Tom once told me used to be a big deal around Tillsonburg. Most likely, they will continue growing corn, then they will spray their fields with massive insecticide aerial assaults that drift across hedgerow and bee yard alike, killing everything. That’s the way it was before the neonicotinoids, and that’s the way it will be again. I had seen hundreds of colonies killed at the peak of production in a single afternoon. Unfortunately, those non-beekeepers and those name-calling school teachers with two hives of bees and no long history with beekeeping can’t imagine what this was like. But it won’t matter, they will have already moved along to the next trendy-thingy.

I want to end this blog entry with one of the e-mails I received. Fran Freeman was also at the protest. She presents a well-reasoned argument about why Monsanto was an appropriate target so, having received her permission, I am ending with her thoughts on the matter:

On 03/06/2014 9:44 AM, Fran Freeman wrote:
Hi Ron
Saw your May 25/14 Bad Beekeeping blog and was more than a little surprised that you mocked the Monsanto March/Requiem for Bees. The march is an annual event and the decision was made to make mass bee die-offs the particular focus this year. No one that day was claiming, as you allege in your blog, that Monsanto makes these systemic pesticides, rather they use them. Neonics are applied as a seed coating on approximately 90% of corn seed available in Ontario and it is Monsanto that produces this seed. By buying out other seed suppliers, Monsanto has sown up the market very tightly so that it is extremely difficult to obtain corn seed that has not been treated with clothianadin or other neonics. PMRA analysis of poisoned bee samples provide a clear causal link to both seeding in the spring and tasseling in later summer of the treated corn. Research on sublethal effects of neonicotinoids is amassing and includes impaired fertility, failure to thrive, increased susceptibility to pathogens, and increased winter mortality. Our commercial beekeeping industry in Ontario (honey production, pollination services and bee breeding particularly of hygienic bees) is being decimated. Many third- and fourth- generation beekeepers have reached the point where they feel they cannot continue beyond another year. Consequently the call May 24 was for an immediate ban on the use of neonicotinoids.
– Fran Freeman

About Ron Miksha

Ron Miksha is a bee ecologist working at the University of Calgary. He is also a geophysicist and does a bit of science writing and blogging. Ron has worked as a radio broadcaster, a beekeeper, and Earth scientist. (Ask him about seismic waves.) He's based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
This entry was posted in Culture, or lack thereof, Ecology, Pesticides, Save the Bees and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Did I goof up, or what?

  1. Pingback: A Look Back at 2015 | Bad Beekeeping Blog

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