Tom's Corner

Time Line: The Events Behind “Tom’s Corner”

Welcome to “Tom’s Corner,” a blog about bee decline by Tom Theobald, founding member of the Boulder County Beekeepers’ Association. In July 2010 Theobald wrote an article about clothianidin and bees for Bee Culture magazine that ignited a conversation about the connection between systemic pesticides and declining bee populations in the United States. Timeline here:

The story continues to unfold…

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Beekeeping homework: listen to this exceptional lecture

Take the time to listen to this exceptional lecture I received from Graham White in Scotland. It is an hour long but worth every minute if you are trying to understand the role of neonicotinoids in bee losses and wider environmental damages. Many of you have thanked me for my efforts and have asked how they can help. This is one of the ways. This is part of the homework. They count on our ignorance. Deny them that.

Graham White’s background comments:

The second Annual Plymouth Linnean Lecture was held on Wednesday 18th March 2015 at Plymouth University by Professor Dave Goulson and was entitled “Bees, Pesticides and Politics: the impact of neonicotinoids on UK bumblebees “. This video acts as a permanent record of the Linnean Lecture Series and we welcome your comments and feedback. The lecture was presented jointly by Plymouth University and the Linnean Society of London. It was hosted by Dr Malcolm Scoble (Scientific Secretary to the Linnean Society of London) and this video includes his introduction and a Q&A with the audience.

At the time of filming, UK was within a two year moratorium on neonicotinoid use, a measure imposed by the European Union but strongly opposed by the UK government and the National Farmers Union. With a particular focus on bumblebees, Professor Goulson describes the scientific evidence that these pesticides may be impacting on the environment. He’ll also discuss wider issues surrounding ongoing biodiversity loss in farmland and the future of farming.

Professor Dave Goulson received his bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Oxford, followed by a PhD in butterfly ecology at Oxford Brookes University. He has held academic appointments at the University of Southampton and Stirling University and moved to the University of Sussex in 2013. He has published more than 200 scientific articles on the ecology and conservation of bumblebees and other insects.

He is the author of the popular science book and Sunday Times bestseller ‘A Sting in the Tale’ (2013), which has been translated into German, Dutch and Danish, which was followed by ‘A Buzz In the Meadow’ (2014). He also authored the scientific text ‘Bumblebees: Their Behaviour, Ecology & Conservation’ (2010) and founded the Bumblebee Conservation Trust (2006), a charity that has grown to 8,000 members. He was named the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) Social Innovator of the Year (2010) and given the Zoological Society of London’s Marsh Award for Conservation Biology in 2013. He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 2013.

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Revisiting the “Leaked” Memo

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Early this morning while searching for something else I stumbled on this article, Leaked document shows EPA allowed bee-toxic pesticide despite own scientists’ red flags, by Tom Philpott for Grist Magazine. Naturally I couldn’t resist rereading it and I’m glad I did, because it is an excellent overview of what was happening at the time. The leaked memo was really just another public document that the the EPA would have chosen to hide, just as they had tried to hide the Cutler-Dupree Study that is the subject of the article and the leaked memo.

This so-called leaked memo was the seminal event which set off the growing scrutiny we see today. Philpott’s article is an important and informative reference point now, showing us how far we have come, but also how far we have not come.

The EPA has circled the wagons and raised the castle walls. EPA scientists have been effectively muzzled and can no longer speak with anyone unless through the EPA’s Orwellian Communication Department. The EPA has unleashed a barrage of phony gestures to make it look like they are doing something when they are not, and in many cases making things worse.

Clothianidin was granted full registration despite the failure of the core life cycle study, which has now been replicated for a cool million dollars but has yet to be peer reviewed or published, while author Cynthia Scott-Dupree tries to weasel the results into the public discourse nevertheless. For its part, rather than revisit and reassess its flawed decision on clothianidin and the failure of the core study the EPA has chosen instead to use its resources and taxpayer’s money to defend its failures in court.

So how far have we come? In some respects we have made great strides, but in many ways we are further behind now than ever. We’ve gotten no relief, only empty gestures, and things have gotten much worse. Five years later the EPA has effectively dug in it’s heals and has stonewalled the science. Congress is asleep at the wheel and the poisoning gets more massive every year.

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Stung by Dead Bees, California Lawyer reports on bee decline

Stung By Dead Bees is an exceptional article which appeared in California Lawyer in July 2015. It is a good overview of the many elements of the problems, including the recent lawsuits. Lots of detail, lots of reading, but remember, they count on our ignorance.

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Pesticide seed coatings

Here is a very good article by Larissa Walker of The Center For Food Safety and George Naylor, an Iowa corn farmer, Pesticide seed coatings: No good for farmers and bees.

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Open Letter to American Beekeepers

Dear Beekeepers,

Please see the Open Letter to American Beekeepers (below) which we have put together after the debacle of the White House Task Force Report on Bee and Pollinator Health which recommends no substantive action on the causal role which pesticides have played in the mass-deaths of bee colonies and pollinators.

We have taken this initiative very reluctantly, in response to the deafening silence on the part of the major beekeeping organizations, in contrast to widespread condemnation of the report by leading environmental NGOs.

The central criticism is that the White House Task Force has completely ignored the central role which pesticides have played in the death of over 10 million American bee colonies since 2003. Current annual colony losses are running at 40%-plus which is unsustainable. Some beekeepers have lost up to 90% of their colonies and many have gone out of business. Despite millions of dollars being spent by the EPA, the USDA and the U.S. Government, little real progress has been made on this catastrophic extermination of bees and wildlife since 2003 because any focus on pesticides remains officially taboo.

We would be grateful if you would share this with the widest possible readership even if you do not endorse the sentiments. It deserves wide debate whether you are for or against the spirit of the message. If you can place the document on your website, please do so.

There is no need to respond to us personally in respect of this, (unless you wish to), but please make your views forcefully known to the national beekeeping organizations, the EPA, the USDA, your Congressional representatives and the press and media.

Failure to act will be taken as consent by the pesticide lobbyists and the EPA, who have successfully hijacked the White House Task Force to produce this White House Whitewash on bees and pesticides.

Sincerely

Graham White, Beekeeper, Scotland
Tom Theobald, Beekeeper, Niwot, Colorado, United States
Dr. Henk Tennekes, Consultant Toxicologist, Netherlands

Open Letter to American Beekeepers

The Presidential Task Force Report on Bee and Pollinator Health has been widely condemned for failing to address the primary cause of bee-deaths in America: pesticides. Environmental NGOs have strongly criticized the Task Force Report including: PANNA, Beyond Pesticides, Center for Food Safety, Friends of the Earth, National Resources Defense Council and EcoWatch [please read articles in footnote 1].

The central criticism is that this report gives pesticides a free pass in relation to bee colony deaths. It is largely a greenwash to cover up the issue of mass bee deaths and delay action, a nice piece of window dressing designed to give the illusion that something is being done, when in truth, nothing substantial is being done at all.

In contrast to the reaction of the NGOs, there has been a deafening silence from the national beekeeping organizations. This suggests their complete submission to the corporations which set up and dominated the Task Force: Bayer, Syngenta and Monsanto.

Independent scientists overwhelmingly blame just one factor for millions of bee colony deaths, the prophylactic use of neonicotinoid seed-dressings, (along with fungicides, herbicides and growth regulators), on over 200 million acres of American crops. There is no doubt that the primary objective of those who ran this Task Force was to defend the market freedom and profitability of their pesticides at all costs. In order to justify this corporate greed, they rejected a mountain of scientific evidence, (more than 800 peer-reviewed papers), which confirm neonicotinoids as the primary factor in global bee decline. They also dismissed the eyewitness accounts of some of America’s most eminent beekeepers who ascribe the loss of thousands of their colonies to the lethal cocktail of pesticides which saturates the farming landscape.

Everything else on the Task Force Agenda was just smoke and mirrors to divert attention from the pesticide companies’ real objectives, namely to:

• Absolve pesticides of all responsibility for global bee deaths
• Protect neonicotinoids from any threat of regulatory interference
• Preserve the market dominance of neonicotinoids and their 2.4 billion dollar annual profits

The Silence of the Beekeepers

However, if the pesticide interests were to successfully hijack the Pollinator Task Force they had to co-opt, or coerce, American beekeepers into signing off on their pesticide-protection agenda. If the beekeepers refused to sign, the whole pollinator protection illusion would collapse like a house of cards. The pesticide companies could only succeed by gagging the beekeepers with their own report. It is not known how they manipulated the beekeepers into this self-censorship but the fact that it was done is plain to see.

The beekeepers’ representatives agreed to ignore the central role of pesticides in bee colony deaths. Attention was diverted to peripheral issues like varroa mites and lack of wild flowers, but pesticides barely got a mention. The only action the Task Force agreed to take on pesticides was to have “better messaging,” a meaningless phrase from the corporate playbook. Any proposal for stricter regulation of pesticides was taboo. Any idea that the EPA might copy the European restriction on neonicotinoids was simply laughable.

The EPA made vague promises about reassessment of neonics in a couple of years, but any immediate action was simply out of the question. “Business as usual” was the corporate objective. “Carry on poisoning” was the slogan. Diversionary and delaying tactics were adopted: Plant more flowers and fund even more diversionary research into the alleged mystery of millions of dead bee colonies.

Faced with the apparent terminal decline of American beekeeping, with 30-40% losses annually, the Presidential Task Force offered nothing but a band-aid and some flowers for the funeral.

Why would beekeepers cooperate in their own destruction?

Unless the beekeepers who signed this agenda were fast asleep during the discussions, they must have realized they were gifting the EPA and the pesticide companies free license to carpet bomb America with billions of pounds more pesticides for decades to come.

By signing-off on the Task Force Report:

• They ignored the European Union’s 2013 ban of the major neonicotinoids along with hundreds of peer-reviewed science studies on which that ban was based.

• They swallowed the EPA’s big lie that 200 million acres of neonicotinoid treated crops do not even qualify as pesticide use and are not even mentioned in the pesticide statistics.

• They bought the official story of multifactorial causes which ascribes bee deaths to: varroa mites, viruses, fungal and bacterial diseases. These factors all contribute, of course, but the single factor which opens the door to the invasion of these pathogens is the crippling of the bees’ immune system by neonicotinoids. Multifactorial cause of bee deaths is just another industry-generated smokescreen to hide the elephant in the room, pesticides.

• They agreed to unrestricted use of the currently licensed neonicotinoids.

• They agreed to fund USDA scientists to carry out even more diversionary research on the same dead-end topics, which have yielded zero improvement in the last 15 years.

• They opted for Voluntary State Pollinator Plans rather than the mandatory labeling, “do not apply during bloom.”

Questions that demand an answer

1. Why have the American Beekeeping Federation and the American Honey Producers Association agreed to ignore the truth that neonicotinoids and other pesticides are the primary cause of mass bee deaths?

2. Why did they fail to raise any objection when the Task Force declared that any discussion of the link between neonicotinoids and bee-deaths was simply taboo? Did they not understand what was at stake here? Were they too naive or too timid to object?

3. Were they persuaded, or simply coerced, into betraying their own members’ interests?

These questions are largely academic. When they signed-off on this report, they surrendered the future of American Beekeeping into the tender care of the EPA, the Pesticide Corporations and Croplife.

Fight or Surrender?

American beekeeping stands at a crossroads. One road leads to a pesticide-drenched future mapped out in this Task Force Report. If the beekeepers swallow this without a fight, they condemn themselves and their industry to an increasingly toxic decline ruled over by the pesticide companies and the ethically corrupt EPA.

The alternative road is the path of public and political resistance. It is true that this would involve many battles, but this is the only possible route that could lead to a healthy future for American beekeeping. If beekeepers choose to resist they would receive the support of millions of ordinary Americans who understand what is at stake. The choice is simple. Campaign now for bee-friendly farming and a pesticide-free environment, or carry on trying to pollinate crops in a pesticide-drenched landscape that is utterly toxic to bees.

A Toxic Future for Beekeeping?

If American beekeepers accept this report they will suffer:

• The death of millions more bee colonies every year
• The collapse of many more beekeeper businesses
• Rising neonicotinoid pollution of streams, rivers, groundwater and wells
• Accelerating decline of American wildlife: bees, butterflies, soil-organisms and birds

Moreover, the pesticide-driven agenda, at the heart of this Report, will be seen by the public as the agreed agenda of American Beekeeping. As a result, beekeepers will find it even harder to raise objection to any use of new systemic pesticides. They will be forced to accept the dictates of the EPA and the pesticide companies; absorb the financial loss of 30 to 40% of your colonies each year; or leave the business. Furthermore, if beekeepers really adopt this agenda as their own:

• They may be forced to publicly oppose the environmental NGOs who will undoubtedly continue to campaign for a ban on neonicotinoids. Beekeepers will have no choice but to defend this pesticide-driven agenda as their own whenever neonicotinoids are debated in the media.

• They will have betrayed the 20 year struggle of their sister organizations in Germany, France, Italy and other countries who fought many battles to achieve the European ban on neonics.

We framed this letter in the hope of getting beekeepers to reconsider their involvement in this Task Force Report and to foster debate on a new strategy. The current strategy of ABF and AHPA seems to consist of unconditional surrender to the EPA and the pesticide companies.

It is vital that American beekeepers reject this Task Force Report and the pesticide protection agenda which their representatives have inexplicably signed-up to. Please speak out now! Take action yourselves. If beekeepers fail to reject this Report, their silence will be taken as consent to the pesticide-driven agenda at its heart.

Contact the leadership of your beekeeping organizations: local, regional and national.

Contact the EPA and USDA. Let them know how you feel about the greenwash served up in this report.

Contact your Congressional representative regarding this White House Whitewash on bee and pollinator deaths.

This is the last chance to demand real reform of the pesticide based agriculture that the EPA, the USDA, and the pesticide companies have imposed on the American landscape and on American beekeeping.

Sincerely,

Graham White, Beekeeper, Scotland, UK
Tom Theobald, Beekeeper, Niwot, Colorado, United States
Dr. Henk Tennekes, Consultant Toxicologist, Netherlands

Footnote 1
Center for Food Safety
National Resources Defense Council
Beyond Pesticides
Pesticide Action Network
National Public Radio

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