Bad Science Science Rules

On Bees and Compromise

Subject: Bee Safe

Bees are dying off worldwide and our entire food chain is in peril. Scientists blame toxic pesticides and four European governments have already banned them. If we get the US and the EU to join the ban, other governments across the world could follow, and save bees from extinction. Sign the petition and forward this urgent appeal :

From: RT

Scientific research does NOT fault one group of toxic pesticides as the primary cause of colony collapse. Most recently published research into the demise of US bumblebee species, for example, suggests that the varroa mite may be the primary cause – species that harbour the mite are declining and those which don’t are not. The introduction of the varroa mite has certainly aided the spread of viral disease and, whilst insecticide use further weakens bee colonies, the major voice suggesting insecticides as the primary cause is not science nor beekeepers but environmental groups. The Bumble Bee Conservation Trust (BBCT) has asked Avaaz to change their campaign but Avaaz declines to respond. I commented to Avaaz that many of us agree that reducing agricultural insecticide use, generally, would be of great benefit to biodiversity but falsely blaming insecticide use [for] colony collapse will damage our hopes of identifying the real causes and, perhaps, focus action in the wrong direction. BBCT are concerned that another primary cause is habitat loss. Avaaz have done themselves a great disservice, not so much in backing the wrong campaign, but by not bothering to check what research has indicated and by not answering critics.

From: jo abbess

In reply to RT’s helpful and well-informed message from a few days ago, I must add that it is becoming clear to me that opinions differ about pesticide safety in relation to bees – and that’s scientific opinion, not just “campaigning” opinion. For example :-

“Leaked document: EPA knowingly approved bee-killing pesticide : Wednesday, January 05, 2011 by: Ethan A. Huff, staff writer : A Colorado beekeeper recently obtained a leaked document revealing that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) knows a popular crop pesticide is killing off honey bees, but has allowed its continued approval anyway. Despite opposition from its own scientists, EPA officials first gave the a-okay to Bayer CropScience’s toxic pesticide clothianidin in 1993 based on the company’s own flawed safety studies. But now it has been revealed that the EPA knew all along about the dangers of clothianidin and decided to just ignore them…”

So, is there a hidden depth to this issue ? Are the various pathogens and parasites in bee populations the only reason for Colony Collapse Disorder ? Or are there other factors ? Is it that the industrial farming of hives – transporting them around the country (in the USA) is damaging their immune response, or is the combination of monoculture agriculture, pesticides and GM crops compromising bee survival ?

From: BM

Buglife is asking you to please write to your local MP to raise awareness of neonicotinoid pesticides, their effects on pollinators and to ask him/her to encourage Lord Henley to act on the Buglife Asks. Please feel free to use the draft letter below. You can find your MP’s address using the following link

Dear ……,

RE: UK pollinator declines and neonicotinoid pesticides

I would like to draw to your attention a recently leaked memo from a US government agency the Environment Protection Agency, whose scientists warn that bees and other non-target invertebrates are at risk from a new neonicotinoid pesticide and that tests in the approval process are unable to detect environmental damage.

Neonicotinoids are highly toxic to bees and other non-target insects, the biggest concerns are that, being systemic they end up in the pollen and nectar in the flowers of treated crops, and hence could poison pollinators, and that being persistent they could wash into streams, ponds and rivers and destroy aquatic life…

From: RT

Thanks, Jo, but of all the potential causes that you indicated, currently there is little evidence to indicate GM crops as a primary causal agent. Certainly there is evidence that there have been bee population collapses in the past but none, of which we are aware, that matches the current problem in the scale of it’s extent and damage.

My complaint against the Avaaz campaign is that there is a widespread agreement within the scientific community that is studying CCD that there is probably not a single cause, but many that appear to act together.

As I commented, earlier, reducing the use of pesticides is entirely to be recommended – but we should note the evidence suggesting that banning DDT has lead to a resurgence of malaria [SEE NOTE AT BOTTOM OF PAGE]. However, blaming one cause could lead to the others being ignored and we urgently need to stop CCD. Research has suggested that insecticide residue patterns do not suggest that any one pesticide or group is the primary cause. Some very interesting research that was published last year indicate the Israel acute paralysis virus as commonly found in hives that have experienced CCD. Research into the causes of CCD are taking place in the USA and the UK: in the USA, go to the Mid Atlantic Apiculture Research and Extension Consortium at:
In the UK, go the Insect Pollinators Initiative at:
Also keep an eye on the work of Prof Francis Ratnieks at Sussex University:

From: jo abbess

In response to one of RT’s links to the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) […], I’d like to point out a few links to the page he mentions :-

Peer review panel membership :-

Professor John Coggins – University of Glasgow (Chair)
Dr David Aston – BBKA
Professor Tim Benton – University of Leeds
Dr Peter Campbell – Syngenta
Professor Angela Douglas – Cornell University
Dr Jeff Pettis – USDA
Professor Ingemar Fries – Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
Dr Jane Hill – The University of York
Professor Graham Medley – The University of Warwick
Professor Stuart Reynolds – University of Bath
Dr Susanna Sansone – EBI
Professor Robert Smith – University of Huddersfield (Retired)
Professor Mark Tatchell – Independent

So what are these organisations known only by acronyms ?

The BBKA – British Beekeeping Association is sponsored by pesticide manufacturers
“…The British Beekeepers’ Association has been selling its logo to four European pesticide producers and is believed to have received about £175,000 in return. The active ingredient chemicals in the four pesticides the beekeepers endorsed are synthetic pyrethroids, which are among the most powerful of modern insect-killers…”

Syngenta – a manufacturer of pesticides and GM crops.

The EBI – who do they work for ? The companies include Bayer and Syngenta – both manufacturers of pesticides and GM crops :-

Interestingly, the USDA bee projects are fairly clear about the role that a certain group of pesticides plays in damaging bees :-
“Bee Research…Objective: To investigate the effects of several insecticides, primarily but not exclusively neonicotinoids, on honey bee mortality, foraging behavior, and overwintering success…to study the effects of neonicotinoids, a class of pesticides which disrupts foraging behavior and increases mortality of honey bees.”

So, do we believe that the BBSRC work on bee research is entirely neutral ?

When it’s being funded by companies who make pesticides and the companies that work for companies that make pesticides, I would say we could well be dubious.

From: TH

Hi Jo,

I don’t think the Independent article is very fair to the BBKA, I guess that’s journalism for you! The BBKAs official position is reasonably clear:

Certainly the BBKAs working with industry (which started a quarter of a century ago) does appear to have been effective in reducing colony losses from the applications of the older classes of insecticide. The four products which were endorsed are, Decis (Bayer, deltamethrin), Contest [Fastac] (BASF, alpha-cypermethrin), Hallmark (Syngenta, lambda-cyhalothrin) and Fury (Belchim, zeta-cypermethrin) which are all synthetic pyrethroids, not the neonics currently under suspicion.

Consequently I don’t think your listing of the BBKA among the bad guys is fair. No organisation is perfect, but broadly speaking the BBKA has been in the business of protecting & defending bees for a very long time. Its also a reasonably democratic organisation, which debates issues like this as they evolve.

From PDK

Someone from church has got excited about ‘Climate Week’.
Does anyone know anything about this? It feels a bit greenwashy to me.

From: RT

I was at the [Climate Week] launch and faith groups were well represented. It attempts to be an act of refocussing attention and of bringing together those engaged in positive action. I wonder why you feel that it is “a bit greenwashy”?

From: RJ

[The] steering committee had a long discussion about this and decided to purposefully not support [Climate Week]. We felt we couldn’t join up with the likes of RBS and EDF to do anything with any integrity.

On the other hand, where awareness is raised, we should make the most of it and have something to say! I’m thinking of writing my march parish magazine article about climate week and haven’t yet decided what to say!….anyone out there want to have a go?!

From: PDK

I worried about the messages on their website – it seemed like patting people on the back for doing very small actions that don’t really make a difference (on the homepage it actually talks about ‘doing your bit’). And I was suspicious about the corporate involvement. There is a huge Tesco logo on the homepage – these are the people promoting the message that if you cut down on plastic bags you can save the planet (the poster outside my local branch actually says this). I’m also inclined to agree with the steering committee about RBS and EDF. Still, they’ve got a good range of organisations backing it. (Eat your heart out, Climate Alliance!). If they can mobilise people good luck to them – maybe it needs that kind of mainstream approach. But I probably won’t be getting involved.

From: EP

“Exclusive: Bees facing a poisoned spring : New kind of pesticide, widely used in UK, may be helping to kill off the world’s honeybees : By Michael McCarthy, Environment Editor : Thursday, 20 January 2011 : A new generation of pesticides is making honeybees far more susceptible to disease, even at tiny doses, and may be a clue to the mysterious colony collapse disorder that has devastated bees across the world, the US government’s leading bee researcher has found. Yet the discovery has remained unpublished for nearly two years since it was made by the US Department of Agriculture’s Bee Research Laboratory. The release of such a finding from the American government’s own bee lab would put a major question mark over the use of neonicotinoid insecticides – relatively new compounds which mimic the insect-killing properties of nicotine, and which are increasingly used on crops in the US, Britain and around the world. Bayer, the German chemicals giant which developed the insecticides and makes most of them, insists that they are safe for bees if used properly, but they have already been widely linked to bee mortality. The US findings raise questions about the substance used in the bee lab’s experiment, imidacloprid, which was Bayer’s top-selling insecticide in 2009, earning the company £510m. The worry is that neonicotinoids, which are neurotoxins – that is, they attack the central nervous system – are also “systemic”, meaning they are taken up into every part of the plant which is treated with them, including the pollen and nectar. This means that bees and other pollinating insects can absorb them and carry them back to their hives or nests – even if they are not the insecticide’s target species. In Britain, more than 1.4 million acres were treated with the chemical in 2008, as part of total neonicotinoid use of more than 2.5 million acres – about a quarter of Britain’s arable cropland…”

My letter from MAFF 17.1.1989 “All insecticides by their very nature are active against living organisms and therefore pose a risk to both human health and the environment”


From: RT

Earlier this week I was present at the first directors meeting of a new trust that was established to preserve access to the River Thames and to protect its ecology. One of the other founders expressed the hope that we could keep our integrity by avoiding companies and organisations that perform acts that are antithetical to the new trust’s aims. I observed that we can only make change by establishing dialogue with those whom we would seek to change and a majority of those present agreed.

This has been a major problem within the environmental movement, perhaps even more generally within the voluntary sector. I have heard people talk of purity but not of change and that, I believe, is fruitless.

The recent comments on bees and on Climate Week both refer to companies which should be avoided, but how then do we change them? Breaking the windows of RBS offices in Scotland may make some people feel good but it hasn’t changed their policies.

I’m sure that I have mentioned on this list before that I am a member of the Aldersgate Group. This came about, in Aldersgate’s early days, because I was able to introduce a think tank to the group and to provide a small link with the Church of England. I remained one of a small number of individual members and have seen the group grow very considerably in membership and influence.

I should explain that Aldersgate is a company and NGO led environmental lobbying organisation which seeks more and more effective environmental legislation. It’s a slow process: about nine months ago I first raised the issue of biodiversity, in two weeks we will have our first roundtable and a working group will begin to consider what we should say both to companies and to government.

Last week we had one of our receptions, in the House of Commons, and listened to Chris Huhne talking about where the Government hopes to go, following Cancun. He didn’t get an easy ride, neither did some of his colleagues, late last year, at another reception at Bank of America to discuss the Green Investment Bank.

There are two points that I think derive from this, the first is that Governments tend to listen to major companies, the second is that many companies are beginning to take a strong stance on environmental protection.

I have the good fortune of regularly meeting with senior representatives of major companies and I generally, but not always, find a depth of understanding and concern on environmental matters. I also find people who are active Christians and many others who retain respect for the Church.

Over the past four or five years I have got some respect, probably unwarranted, for being a little acerbic when it comes to getting the science right! Aldersgate is now being flooded by requests for membership and we are being careful to impose limits so that no sector is over represented. We require that members sign up to our five principles which commence with: “Our long-term economic success depends on a healthy environment and the sustainable use of natural resources.”

It’s not perfect but it’s a good start and the way in which the group supported my request for taking up biodiversity is, I believe, evidence of good intent. I asked the Natural History Museum team which headed the UK International Year of Biodiversity to advise us and that has been welcomed by Aldersgate and by the NHM. Greenwash still exists but real changes are being made.

Surely, though, there is another point that is wholly relevant to us, Jesus engaged with sinners, even with members of the Roman army of occupation and the hated tax gatherers. Much of his ire is recorded as being directed at the ‘righteous’, at those who had regard for their visible place in society.

I do not have any great regard for Tesco, EDF or RBS – or, indeed, for pesticide manufacturers – but I will talk to them, if I’m given the opportunity. The next Aldersgate event will be hosted by RBS, they are not members and I will take every opportunity to sign them up. I’m still working on HSBC; their head of climate change is an active Anglican.

I do not point to this involvement with any sense of pride: according to Richard Dawkin it is simply down to coincidence, having made a friend in the Compass think tank executive shortly before discovering Aldersgate. I like to think that it is yet another of the wonderful opportunities that God has given me. The most significant point is that other Aldersgate members have proven to be good, concerned people who also want to make change.

From: RS

Perhaps different people need to pursue what is good in different ways. I would not feel able to participate in an environmental initiative which included, for instance, RBS, while RBS is a major funder not only of coal developments but of the mining company Vedanta, which is guilty of criminal and abusive behaviour in India (see ).

If your involvement in such initiatives enables you to put pressure on them to change, then by all means use the opportunity. It’s not something I could do myself.

The extent to which people enter into discussion with companies is a matter of discussion within London Mining Network, for which I work, and different groups take different stances. When the matter involves the rights of communities in the face of large corporations, I think it is essential that their views be taken into account and that we do not attempt to speak on their behalf without their permission, or pronounce as acceptable projects against which communities are fighting.

Jesus engaged with all sorts of individual people as individual people, and always with respect. He did not necessarily therefore accept as legitimate what the institutions for which they worked were doing.

From: RJ

RT, I think it’s fantastic what you’ve done with aldersgate. It did take a while for [us] to come to the [Climate Week] decision we did – personally I flip-flopped from one to the other! But I came to the conclusion that although I totally agree we need to engage with these “sinners”, we shouldn’t do so at the expense of helping their PR unless we think it is worth it. And it is a matter of keeping ourselves from evil. Jesus ate with sinners, but he didn’t get involved in their tax collecting. It’s a hard one though,

From: BM

I am not sure you can change people, unless they want to change. I remember when trade with China started we were all told it would change the Chinese way of doing things and help human rights. I think the jury is still out on this one.

I do think people pressure is having an effect on big companies, and if this in turn has an effect on politicisations, all the better. (maybe science is having an effect on big companies as well).

Jesus was killed for all those things he did, and, although he has put light in many hearts to change their ways, there are still plenty of people out there who would do the same again.

good luck [to] RT

From: jo abbess

I think that cooperation is vital across all sectors.

However, I do not like having my involvement co-opted for somebody’s profit-making agenda.

If I discuss a matter with somebody from the Government or business, I try to ensure that the dialogue is genuine, and that I am talking to the person rather than the organisation. It is only with true and careful human contact that any progress in understanding and commitment can take place.

My pointing out the corporate involvement of the members of the BBSRC research establishment is to highlight the unfortunate possibility of conflict of interest.

We all know that compromise is possible and ubiquitous. The question is, should we welcome people being in a position where they may be coerced into a compromise position ?

I would rather that the bee research is not conducted by scientists who are employed by the pesticide companies. It could put them in a corner at some point.

Plus, I was unhappy about the police mismanagement of the 1st April 2009 Climate Camp in the financial district in London. Kettling people put pressure on the volatile minority. I left the Climate Camp on that day when I saw that the police people had been beating up protestors, and found out that some rather excited persons had broken windows – their passions probably having been roused by the caging of protesters – called “kettling”.

I am very unhappy about the advertising rewards that companies will get from sponsoring Climate Week – such a cheap way to sharpen their brand image ! They don’t have to actually cut corporate emissions, they can just attach their name to the event.

I’m not denigrating real efforts on behalf of companies who are making real changes – for example the Carbon Disclosure Project, the supply chain PAS2050 initiative, and the work of the Carbon Trust has had and will continue to have a major impact on carbon control.

The central problem is compromise. Not all corporate initiatives have value, and we need to keep companies accountable by a variety of means.

For this reason, I applaud the work of organisations such as the Ecumenical Council on Corporate Responsiblity – a grown up approach to asking for responsible behaviour. This is leagues beyond Climate Week in looking towards genuine, lasting, significant outcomes.



“…WHO’s anti-malaria campaign of the 1950s and 1960s relied heavily on DDT and the results were promising, though temporary. Experts tie the resurgence of malaria to multiple factors, including poor leadership, management and funding of malaria control programs; poverty; civil unrest; and increased irrigation. The evolution of resistance to first-generation drugs (e.g. chloroquine) and to insecticides exacerbated the situation. Resistance was largely fueled by often unrestricted agricultural use. Resistance and the harm both to humans and the environment led many governments to restrict or curtail the use of DDT in vector control as well as agriculture…”