Caught in the middle

Are they staying or are they going? The Globe and Mail, “Canada’s newspaper,” has an editorial written by Margaret Wente. She calls her piece “Caught in the Middle of the Bee War” and it is about the vanishing honey bees. This is not the first time Ms Wente has written about bees. The first such story that I can remember described her husband’s beekeeping adventures and it appeared around 2004. It was an unusual piece because it was quite funny – Margaret Wente usually shares more serious opinions about politics and economics. Yesterday’s column was fittingly Wente, commenting on the politics of disappearing honey bees.

The Globe and Mail piece surprised me. It begins with the usual “bees are going extinct” and “neonicotinoids are to blame,” but then Ms Wente seems to indicate that she believes neither. Which is refreshing, because managed colonies of bees are certainly not going extinct. Worldwide, the number of kept hives is 45% higher than it was 50 years ago. Since Colony Collapse Disorder was first noticed (around 2006), and since neonics became widespread (also around 2006), the number of bees in North America increased from 2.2 million colonies to 2.4 million today. Not exactly extinction. Nor is it likely that neonicotinoids are playing the leading role where sudden colony collapse is noticed. I say this because I live in Alberta, a place where neonics are used extensively, and Albertans have not suffered colony collapse. Not yet, anyway.

The column by Ms Wente mentions the Ontario lawsuit. The suit pits two Ontario bee outfits against Bayer, a manufacturer of neonicotinoids. But it was set up as an “opt-out” class action suit. Beekeepers are automatically part of the suit, unless they expressly ask to be left out. Here is what the Globe and Mail piece says about Alberta:

“Alberta’s beekeepers, which produce nearly half of Canada’s honey, aren’t joining the lawsuit. They say the new seed treatments actually reduce the bees exposure to harmful pesticides.”

A bit more from the Globe‘s piece:

“There’s no doubt that something is ailing the bees, or at least some of them. Ontario has been hit particularly hard by bee die-offs lately. But a lot of experts say the problem isn’t neonics. In Australia, the bee population is stable even though neonics have been in use there for years. The Australian regulator recently reported that neonics are better for crops and the environment than the products they replaced.”


About Ron Miksha

Ron Miksha is a geophysicist who also does a bit of science writing and blogging. Ron has worked as a radio broadcaster, a beekeeper, and is based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He has written two books, dozens of magazine and journal articles, and complements his first book, Bad Beekeeping, with a popular blog at www.badbeekeeping.com. Ron wrote his most recent book, The Mountain Mystery, for everyone who has looked at a mountain and wondered what miracles of nature set it upon the landscape. For more about Ron, including some cool pictures taken when he was a teenager, please check Ron's site: miksha.com.
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