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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Neonicotinoids are also killing birds

Horrifyingly but perhaps unsurprisingly, scientists now believe that bees aren’t the only animals that are adversely affected by neonicotinoids. Many bird species, too, appear to be in decline.” The pesticide that caused bee colonies to collapse is killing birds now,” Salon, August 18, 2020

Colorado hummingbird

Hummingbird by Carlos Espinosa


A new research paper suggests that those same chemicals that are so toxic to bee populations are also killing off birds at an alarming rate. “Insecticides are killing bees, birds, and who knows what else,” BGR, August 19, 2020

What have I been saying for the past several years? Neonics are going into the environment annually at a toxic equivalent to 400 billion pounds of DDT, on top of billions remaining from previous years. Despite the chemical industry’s best efforts, it is becoming harder and harder to hide the environmental devastation they have wrought.

If anything the findings in this study in Nature Sustainability are lower than what is actually occurring. The honey bee losses, for example, are reported to be about 43% annually, statistics coming from the Bee Informed Partnership, but if you talk to commercial beekeepers those figures are more like 80% or more, and for many of them there may be a complete turnover of their colony population in the course of a year.

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The problem with neonicotinoids: important info for new beekeepers

Click to listen to Tom Theobald’s interview on Bee Culture’s “Beekeeping Today” podcast

I’m resurrecting another interview I did, The Problem with Neonicotinoids, previously posted on Tom’s Corner in 2018. I did this one with old friend Kim Flottum along with moderator and new friend Jeff Ott. 

I’m bringing these interviews to the fore for a number of reasons. First, I think they are important and they represent what some of my concerns are. Second, we have had a lot of new beekeepers enter the craft in the last few years and I think these postings are important for them to listen to. And finally, while I do not dismiss any of the other challenges that beekeepers face today, I believe that ultimately it is the neonicotinoids and the massive environmental poisoning they represent that are leading to the bee deaths we are experiencing, and we must address these and the knowledge of these hazards must be passed on to a younger generation of beekeepers. If you scroll down you will see that we have lost some important voices just with the past few months.

Take the time to listen to this podcast, and when you finish scroll down and listen to the others as well.

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Remembering Henk Tennekes

Late author and toxicologist, Henk Tennekes

Another sad message to share. Dutch toxicologist Henk Tennekes died  July 7, 2020. Henk had been in increasingly poor health for some time. His passing is the loss of another leading voice in the war against pesticides in general, and neonicotinoids in particular.

Henk entered the scene in 2011 with his book, A Disaster in the Making. He applied his years as a toxicologist in cancer research to actions we were seeing with the neonicotinoids, introducing us to the Haber’s rule, the Druckrey-Kupfmuller equation and the dose-time relationship. In short, he demonstrated that the action of neonics is cumulative and irreversible, that there is no safe dose, and given sufficient time, even the smallest exposure can lead to death.

Henk was excoriated mightily by the chemical industry and even within his own profession, ironically a measure of the validity of the concerns he raised, which made them all very uncomfortable. Even today the “Plant More Flowers For the Bees” movement ignores the message Henk brought to us and few researchers appear willing to grasp the enormity of the environmental poisoning he warned of.

Henk’s last words were reported to have been “be careful with the earth.”  Are we? Will we?

Rest in peace, Henk. You did your best, your battle is over now, and the rest falls to those of us who remain.

-Tom Theobald

I include two links which expand on Henk’s work.

The first is a powerpoint published by the Hampshire Beekeepers Association which talks a little about Rachel Carson, and then Henk’s work and his book, A Disaster in the Making.

Click the image above to view a powerpoint about Henk Tennekes’ book, “A Disaster in the Making.”

The second is an interview June Stoyer and I did with Henk in 2013.

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Pesticide battles: who will pick up the torch?

The loss of my friend Graham White (scroll down for a remembrance of Graham) brought home to me very clearly that those of us who have been fighting the pesticide battles for decades need to pass the torch to a younger generation while we are still here to answer questions and offer guidance.

While my focus for the past 15 years has been the neonicotinoid family of pesticides and the toll they have taken on honey bees, the challenge goes far beyond the honey bees and far beyond the neonicotinoids.

I stumbled on these two videos a day or two ago and listened to refresh my own memory.


They were done about 10 years ago. I was struck by how little has changed in the intervening years. Ten years of poisoning have continued at massive levels while the regulators drag their feet.

So for those of you who share our concerns over what is being done to the earth and it’s inhabitants, including us, I bring these 2 interviews back to the surface to provide a context to the issues we face today.

I also encourage those of you who are interested to scroll back through earlier postings. While far from complete, they provide much of the history of the battles we have waged. It is the homework, the stuff you need to understand if there is any hope of confronting the issues with knowledge and intelligence. The more you know the better you will be able to confront the challenges.

Here’s the torch. My hope is that some of you will pick it up.

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Pollinators and Power: Jeff Anderson interviewed by Terry Oxford

Click to listen to Jeff Anderson interviewed by Terry Oxford at Pollinators and Power podcast.

When I post something like this Jeff Anderson interview on Tom’s Corner it is usually with a preface from me, but I could hardly do better than the words of Terry Oxford. This is another powerful interview by Terry, who in addition to her podcasts, has her 15 minutes of fame as the San Francisco Rooftop Beekeeper.

“Jeff Anderson, owner of California Minnesota Honey Farms is a long time migratory beekeeper with thousands of hives and a front line activist fighting the powerful pesticide interests in our regulatory agencies, the EPA, USDA, BIP and powerful Ag Public Universities.  All are entrusted to care for bees and beekeepers, but they don’t. They protect the chemical industries interests or as Jeff calls them, The Bayer Boys.  For years Jeff has done everything he could to protect his bees from agro-chemicals.  This interview was hard for me.  Its long because I just couldn’t cut his words.  What he has to say is so telling, so critically important and the impact on me has been lasting. I didn’t sleep for two nights after this interview.  Jeff never wanted to be an activist but the system was set against bees and nature ever surviving our crops.  An impressive man, I really honor his work and depth of knowledge and experience.  Please listen…it heats up as it goes.” -Terry Oxford

This is an excellent interview by Terry, well worth your time if you want to understand the history and perhaps the future of some of the monumental challenges we face in the world of agriculture and pesticides. Jeff Anderson and I have been fellow travelers on these issues for more than 20 years, but even I found this conversation enlightening, bringing clarity to things I had been involved in, but that had blurred a little with time. Jeff is an invaluable keeper of many of the details and he is an invaluable resource to all of us.

These are extremely important issues we face, which go far beyond bees and beekeepers. Interviews like this don’t just fall off the shelf, they take many hours of effort. Please take the time to honor the work of Terry and Jeff.

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