Bugged about bees

There’s no need for a pesticide ban to do more harm than good

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Beware an environmental activist bearing a solution. Not so long ago, the government ordered Big Oil to pump methyl tert-butyl ether, or MTBE, into gasoline tanks because the stuff would make the air sparkle. Then someone remembered that MTBE seeps into groundwater and causes cancer. Not so good. Now the government is spending billions to clean up the mess and the do-gooders have moved on to save the bees by banning pesticides.

A January report by Europe’s Food Safety Authority identified a certain class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids as the prime suspect in the mysterious death of bees in Europe. Their analysis goes: Pesticides are used on plants such as sunflowers. Bees land on the sunflowers to pollinate. They pick up the pesticide. They die. The predictable response of the European Union to this somewhat imaginative tale is to ban the pesticide, though there’s no good evidence that anything used has anything to do with the death of bees.

Pesticides are a marvel that makes modern life comfortable, boosting agricultural harvests to feed billions of the hungry. Rolling back agricultural progress would be devastating. Seed companies estimate Europe’s ban on pesticides will reduce crop yields by as much as 40 percent and cost the EU economy $22 billion over five years. An estimated 50,000 people will lose their jobs, and a million others will earn a lot less.

Britain’s environment minister opposed the EU ban. “We did not support the proposal because our scientific evidence doesn’t support it,” says Lord de Mauley, a Conservative. “We will now work with farmers to cope with the consequences, as a ban will carry significant costs for them.”

The sad story of the missing bees and the unproven link to pesticides is propped up only by junk science. “Rather than a comprehensive evaluation of all available research, [the European Food Safety Authority] cherry-picked the studies and proceeded to their conclusion in spite of an acknowledged gap in not only the data they analyzed, but their understanding of it,” Henry I. Miller, former director of FDA’s Office of Biotechnology, writes in Forbes magazine.

Challenged, the European Food Safety Authority adjusted its data, but wouldn’t retreat from prescribing a ban, regardless of the impact. “[The food authority] wouldn’t talk to the pesticide companies,” an industry source tells The Washington Times. “They weren’t interested in studies that didn’t back up their claims.”

There’s another explanation for the vanishing bees that has nothing to do with pesticides. The European Commission’s own top veterinarian, Dr. Alberto Laddomada, identifies certain pathogens as the major threat to bees. Field studies in the United Kingdom and Canada found no health difference in bee colonies that fed on pesticide-treated crops as compared with untreated crops. Other studies say the devastating culprit is a parasite known as the varroa mite.

The European Union’s member nations weren’t fully persuaded and declined to join the pesticide ban this week, but the issue is not settled. The final decision will be made by the European Commission, whose members have said they’ll go ahead with the ban.

This is the standard operating procedure of the environmentalists. They act, and consider the consequences later. If their intentions are pure, they can clean the air, cool the planet, control the seas and revive the bees. Our own Environmental Protection Agency shouldn’t join them. Hard-working American bees deserve better.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

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