Tom's Corner

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.

Posted in Tom's Corner

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.

Posted in Tom's Corner

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.

Posted in Tom's Corner

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.

Posted in Tom's Corner

In very unusual move, EPA reopens public comment period for neonicotinoids

The EPA is required to evaluate and determine if toxic chemicals should be re-registered  on a 15 year cycle and several of the heavily used neonicotinoids have come up for review: clothianidin, thiamethoxam, imidacloprid, dinotefuron and acetamiprid. Typically there is a 30 day comment period as a part of the review process, there was one in 2018 and a 30 day extension, two more in 2020,  which closed on May 4th.

In collaboration with leading scientists who have been intimately connected with the controversy over the neonicotinoid family as outspoken critics and casualties, the Pollinator Stewardship Council and the Ecdysis Foundation filed three excellent letters at the close of the most recent comment period.  These are powerful reflections on the neonics, collectively calling for a ban on all outdoor uses.  Click here to read the Ecdysis Foundation’s Letter to the EPA.  Here’s the Pollinator Stewardship Council’s Letter to the EPA dated April 24th, 2020. And a second letter to the EPA from the Pollinator Stewardship Council dated May 3rd.

“Neonicotinoids hurt farmers and society far more than they help us.” – Ecdysis Foundation

“We urge EPA to use this review process to impose a total ban on the use of neonics for all outdoor applications, including foliar, drench and seed treatments.” – Pollinator Stewardship Council

“In order to protect pollinators and agricultural sectors that rely on pollination services, US EPA must make a comprehensive science- based decision to end the current neonic uses.” – Pollinator Stewardship Council

In a very unusual move, 2 weeks after the close of what was to be the final comment period, the EPA granted another 30 day extension, supposedly at the request of “stakeholders” who wanted more time. As if 60 days in 2018 and another 60 days in 2020 open for comment were not enough.

My guess is that the poison industry was caught flat footed by the quality of the PSC letters and perhaps others like them. They thought re-registration would be a slam dunk by an EPA well under their control, but now they are nervous and want more time to strengthen their arguments. It will be interesting to see what the source is of the letters filed in the next 30 days.

It may already to late for the environment unfortunately. These neonics are toxic poisons with half lives of years. It will take decades for the environment to purge itself of these chemicals even if they are stopped today. The evidence is that as a consequence of their heavy and widespread use that most of the U.S. is poisoned at toxic levels, far above the EPA’s Threshold For Environmental Damage. Their effect is cumulative and irreversible, meaning that even the tiniest doses, over time, can result in death. To approve the re-registration of these poisons knowing what we know pushes the controversy into the realm of criminality – knowingly poisoning the earth and the people for profit.

Take the time to read carefully and absorb what is said in the 3 letters, and if you haven’t already done so you might consider submitting a letter of you own, if for no other reason than to balance what is likely to be an industry lobbying tsunami.

Posted in Tom's Corner