Washington Ag Department Rejects Asserted Pesticide Link to Bee Decline

Published August 16, 2013

The Washington State Department of Agriculture rejected a request to ban a garden pesticide that environmental activist groups have unsuccessfully attempted to link to declines in the honeybee population.

Bee Decline Factors
Responding to environmental activists’ assertions, Thurston County commissioners asked the Washington Department of Agriculture to ban homeowners from purchasing neonicotinoid pesticides. Neonicotinoid pesticides are commonly used to kill aphids and other insects that attack home garden plants.

Department of Agriculture director Bud Hover in a June 6 letter pointed out to the county commissioners there is no scientific evidence linking neonicotinoid pesticides to recent declines in honeybee populations. Instead, scientists link honeybee population declines to a number of factors, including parasites that are in fact controlled by pesticides, plus disease, lack of genetic diversity, and poor nutrition.

“The proposed use restrictions are not appropriate at this time,” Hover wrote.

Ban May Worsen Decline
Todd Myers, environmental director at the Washington Policy Center, says the Department of Agriculture made a wise decision.

“First, if neonics are banned, farmers may return to other pesticides that have much higher risk for bees. A ban may, ironically, have been bad for bees,” said Myers.

“Neonicotinoids are pesticides, so they can kill insects—it is what they are designed to do. Neonics, however, are probably less harmful than other types of pesticides and have a smaller impact on bees,” Myers explained.

Multiple Factors in Bee Health
Myers, a certified apprentice beekeeper in Washington, said he watches for many things that may impact his bees, including pesticides, mites, and quality of forage.

“My bees are on an organic farm where no chemicals are being used, but that doesn’t mean I stop checking for the other things that can kill bees. Nor does having them on an organic farm mean they are going to thrive. Bees can survive a reasonable amount of pressure, but a combination of factors can have an impact. Focusing blame on one thing is misleading and takes our attention away from the real threat,” he said.

“Making policy based on bad science leads to bad policy,” Myers added.

Alyssa Carducci ([email protected]) writes from Tampa, Florida.