Is the bee population in a freefall? The White House is getting involved in the issue of the alleged bee decline—it just directed the Environmental Protection Agency to “assess the effect of pesticides, including neonicotinoids, on bee and other pollinator health and take action, as appropriate.” It also created an organization known as the Pollinator Health Task Force to monitor the bee issue.
Yet opinion on the bee recession is far from unanimous. As often happens in science—e.g., global warming—different experts have different views. The Wall Street Journal recently ran a piece by Henry Miller, who’s a molecular biologist, physician, the founder of the FDA Office of Biotechnology, and a fellow at Stanford University. He has expert credentials, in other words. And he says bee populations aren’t declining.
According to Miller, “bee populations in the U.S. and Europe remain at healthy levels for reproduction and the critical pollination of food crops and trees.” Although Miller admits that there have been more winter colony losses than usual, he says that the bee population has actually been “stable—or slightly rising in the last couple of years” in Europe and North America.
He says the problem is being exaggerated by environmental activists who are distorting the science—specifically, misrepresenting the extent of the bee collapse and blaming it on the use of a pesticide (called neonicotinoids) that’s widely used in agriculture. This pesticide is considered very safe for humans compared to other pesticides, but Miller asserts that the studies indicating its harm to bees are flawed. Neonicotinoids were banned in the EU in December of last year, and regulators are pressuring the White House to follow suit. But Miller warns that this could have disastrous consequences—raising food prices, exposing crops to new pests, and devastating American farming communities.
It can be difficult to know whom to believe. The findings of scientific studies are seldom clear-cut in one direction or another, and they’re often misconstrued by special interest groups who have a stake in a certain interpretation of the results.
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