Is “idiopathic brood disease” another false syndrome?

Comments by Graham White on the most recent research by vanEngelsdorp, Pettis, et al: Idiopathic brood disease syndrome and queen events as precursors of colony mortality in migratory beekeeping operations in the eastern United States.


Using standard epidemiological methods, this study set out to quantify the risk associated with exposure to easily diagnosed factors on colony mortality and morbidity in three migratory beekeeping operations. Fifty-six percent of all colonies monitored during the 10-month period died. The relative risk (RR) that a colony would die over the short term (〜50 days) was appreciably increased in colonies diagnosed with Idiopathic Brood Disease Syndrome (IBDS), a condition where brood of different ages appear molten on the bottom of cells (RR = 3.2), or with a “queen event” (e.g., evidence of queen replacement or failure; RR = 3.1). We also found that several risk factors—including the incidence of a poor brood pattern, chalkbood (CB), deformed wing virus (DWV), sacbrood virus (SBV), and exceeding the threshold of 5 Varroa mites per 100 bees—were differentially expressed in different beekeeping operations. Further, we found that a diagnosis of several factors were significantly more or less likely to be associated with a simultaneous diagnosis of another risk factor. These finding support the growing consensus that the causes of colony mortality are multiple and interrelated.

Graham’s comments:

“IDIOPATHIC” = Disease of unknown origin.

“IDIOPATHIC BROOD DISEASE” = Brood dies and we don’t know why.

This appears to be a great way to spend a lot of money on a lot of research and give the impression/illusion that, “We’re all in this together folks, really trying to get to the bottom of why 10 million bee colonies have died in the USA since 2003!”

This paper says it has tried to correlate different “risk factors” such as varroa mites, deformed wing virus, sac brood, foul brood etc with the apppearance of “Ideopathic Brood Disease.” But although they correlate the study hives with the crops they have fed upon, there seems to have been no attempt to correlate pesticide exposure with the appearance of dead and dying brood. Unless I am missing something profoundly obvious?

They go on to make the most wonderful TAUTOLOGY:

“Colonies diagnosed with IBDS were nearly four times more likely to die by the next inspection period compared to colonies without this condition. “

Colonies which were found to be dying were four times more like to die, than colonies which did not appear to be dying. Now there’s an amazing scientific discovery for you. I’m evidently in the wrong business here, because nobody offers me money for insights like this.

Two of the key authors in this, Jeffrey Pettis and Denis vanEngelsdorp previously discovered, back in 2011, that colonies exposed to almost undetectable levels of neonicotinoids suffered a general collapse of the immune system and were much more vulnerable to infections by a whole range of pathogens including virus, bacterial and fungal infections. An obvious hypothesis therefore, in this study, would have been to correlate this “Idiopathic Larval Disease Syndrome” with exposure to neonicotinoids.

But I can find not a single mention of any neonicotinoid pesticide. They did not test pollen, nectar or honey of the affected hives for neonics. They did not test (as far as I can see) the tissue of the dead larvae for neonics. They did not test the pathology of the dead nurse bees or queens for neonics.

Instead they concude with a catch-all paragraph that seems to come straight from the Public Relations desks of Bayer, Monsanto and Syngenta, namely:

“These results add to the growing body of work that suggests that the causes of colony mortality and morbidity are multiple and complex. While further epidemiological studies are needed to help verify these findings, hypothesis-driven research specifically aimed at trying to understand the causes of queen failure and IBDS should be prioritized.”

In other words: “We didn’t look for a pesticide connection and we didn’t find one; so there must not be one.”

What we need now is lots of money to go into this new “Syndrome de Jour” called Idiopathic Brood Disease, which has now replaced the former “plat de jour,” “Colony Collapse Disorder.”

Many of us believe that there never WAS anything called “Colony Collapse Disorder,” that was a false syndrome dreamed up to direct the eyes away from the most obvious cause of bee deaths: the continent-wide application of hyper-lethal, hyper persistent, systemic, neurotoxic insecticides to over 200 million acres of crops in the USA. That rabbit has now run its course and the funding well is running dry, so we need another new well, preferably with a name that those dumb beekeepers won’t even be able to pronouce. I’m surprised they didn’t call it, “Idiopathic Bee Larval Paradigm Shift Syndrome.”

Colony Collapse Disorder was an imaginary mirage, conjured out of the desert to lure desperate beekeepers towards a distant objective otherwise known as, “the water is over here guys”. Well, we’ve all been walking towards that mirage for ten years or more, eighteen years in the case of French beekeepers. And guess what? When we arrived at the Scientific Mirage Spot, the ground was dry and cracked and scattered with dead beehives.

So the Prophets of Science then shouted, “No, its not here after all, but just there, beyond that burning desert, over those mountains, lies the golden, shining lake of healing water, the TRUTH. it is called Idiopathic Brood Disease. Come on guys, don’t give up now, not after losing your bees, your businesses, your homes, your lives … It’s just there, hovering in the distance, just follow us, towards the LIGHT!”

Please get your scalpels out and help me dissect this load of interesting but useless observations.

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