The EPA, Neonics, and Bee Stings

The Environmental Protection Agency came out with a pronouncement about one neonicotinoid insecticide, saying it poses a risk to bee hives. Some groups claim that research shows neonics are not harmful. Once again I feel like the 21st century schizoid ag man—what to believe?
When I was a kid running around a Midwest farm, all sorts of stinging insects kept us company–yellow jackets, hornets, wasps, honey bees, and other insects we couldn’t name. We’d hear a warning buzz when running through pastures, climbing apple trees, or crawling on top of the hay stack in the barn. Cousins, siblings, and I were all stung at one time or another.
Bees So Thick We Were Wipin’ ‘Em Off Our Brows
We were working for a local farmer one day, and he described a more drastic close encounter with bees. “We were shellin’ corn in an old crib, and somebody raked into a big nest. Bees were comin’ at us so thick we were wipin’ ‘em off our brows.”
Clare liked to exaggerate at times, but we loved his stories. My worst stinger episode came when I was eleven years old while riding in the yellow school bus. A wasp went down my shirt collar and stung me four or five times before I crushed it. That gave me some good material for show-and-tell time in school. I probably turned it into a near-death experience. Like Clare, I didn’t mind exaggerating.
So—do we have more bees now or fewer? Do pesticides—especially neonics—contribute to their demise? European countries ban neonics. The EPA seems mixed about the issue. Some corporations and farmers contend that pesticides are necessary for food production and safe if used properly.
It seems certain that bees are needed for pollination, and various studies warn about the health of the honey bee population. Many things could be affecting pollinators, so I’ll keep an open mind about the topic. I guess the key is to search for science-based information—and to hope the various stakeholders focus their time, money, and effort on working together and finding solutions. We obviously need bees, and we need high crop yields. I’d like to continue hearing bees buzz as I walk the pastures of the family farm—as long as I’m not wipin’ ‘em off my brow.
NOTE: A CAST commentary about the honey bee issue will be published sometime in mid 2016:  Why Does Bee Health Matter? The Science Surrounding Honey Bee Health Concerns and What We Can Do About It.   
This paper will provide a summary of the scientific issues related to declines in bee health and the methods used to document colony losses. The authors will provide an overview of the latest science; a look at research and recommendations on improving bee health; recommendations for research needed to better quantify changes in bee health; and suggestions for beekeepers, land managers, crop producers, homeowners, and policymakers to engage in helping address the problems to ultimately restore healthy populations of honey bees and other pollinators. 
Check the CAST website for more science-based agriculture information.
by dan gogerty (pic from

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