In an effort to protect honeybees, the Seattle City Council recently passed a resolution banning the use of a class of pesticides called neonicitinoids. The resolution claimed,
“An independent review of more than 800 scientific studies concluded that neonicotinoids are causing significant damage to a wide range of beneficial invertebrate species and are a key factor in the decline of bees.”
That study, however, draws no conclusions on the impact on honeybees, admitting:
“Limited field studies with free-living bee colonies have largely been inconsistent and proved difficult to perform, often because control colonies invariably become contaminated with neonicotinoids, or there is a lack of replication in the study design, all of which demonstrates the challenges of conducting such a study in the natural environment.”
Put simply, no scientific conclusions can be drawn about the impact of neonics to honeybees in the real world.
When I pointed this out to Councilman O’Brien’s office, they apologized and sent a different study. Early on, that study notes:
“No single cause for high losses has been identified, and high losses are associated with multiple factors including pesticides, habitat loss, pathogens, parasites and environmental factors.”
Far from supporting the claim that neonics are a “key” factor in decline, the study recognizes a wide range of risks, with no single cause being highlighted. This is consistent with findings by the EPA and others who have examined honeybee colony loss.
The problem with government chasing shadows—as is the case with this resolution in Seattle—is that it doesn’t actually solve, well, the problem. The sad reality is that honeybees are on the decline. Another reality? Evidence—both scientific and real world—indicate that the fault is not in neonicitinoids.
Seattle politicians’ “solution” to the problem isn’t really a solution… its ignorance posing as proactive policy. Moreover, the policy sets a bad precedent. As the Washington Policy Center points out, “politicians who want a certain, unscientific policy can simply say “since we don’t know, I get to determine what is safe.” The less knowledge there is, the more latitude politicians have to make emotionally satisfying decisions.”
The Seattle’s ban on neonicotinoids won’t help honeybees—we know this from science. But, it will help Seattle politicians feel better.