Some myths have the tendency of never going away. Lightning does, in fact, strike at the same place twice, your zodiac sign doesn’t mean anything, and a penny dropped from the Empire State Building wouldn’t kill a person. More elaborate myths have benefited from popular supporters and even made their way into parliaments and governments, one of which being the infamous “Beepocalypse.”
The idea that bee populations are on the decline has been debunked for more than half a decade, most notably through reporting in the Washington Post, which pointed out that contrary to popular belief, bee populations are at record highs. In fact, only 2% of wild species provide 80% of crop pollination, and those 2% are thriving. However, legislators and activist organizations are still using “bee decline” as a common reference to support or enact legislation to ban neonicotinoid insecticides in the European Union.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, a March 2018 Department of Agriculture report, and reports from Canada and Australia, there has been no proven link between neonicotinoids and harm to bee populations. Conversely, neonicotinoids are essential to maintain a productive farming system, which equals food security and price stability for consumers.
The situation is similar for sulfoxaflor, a systemic insecticide used in certain areas as an alternative to neonicotinoids. Still blamed for a nonexistent decline in honeybee populations, the substance has since been found to have no effect on those same honeybees in a realistic exposure scenario. This did not stop Marine Le Pen’s far-right party from arguing for a ban back in 2015. Unsuccessful with the proposal at the time, the French government banned the substance early last year.
In fact, France has severely suffered from its ban on supposedly “bee-harming pesticides,” not least last year, when beet farmers were at the brink of collapse over the absence of any effective crop protection. To support farmers, the government enacted a three-year moratorium on the neonicotinoid ban — a decision deemed justified by the European Food Safety Authority.
When referring to actual problems facing bee populations, we can address the effects of habitat loss — a common issue facing all sorts of insects. Agriculture has an important role to play in habitat destruction. Thus, the challenge of modern farming ought to be to produce maximum yield with minimal use of resources.
However, as politicians in the developed world call for an increase in organic farming (the European Union has even set a target of 25% in organic food production), they ignore the effect this has on overall land use. This includes the fact that USDA data have shown that organic agriculture produces yields 10-35% lower than conventional farming methods, meaning that in order to achieve the same outcome as existing farming techniques, organic farmers need considerably more resources, including land. This, in turn, drives out pollinators.
The factors above only add to the overall problems related to organic food, including its higher carbon dioxide emissions rate. A shift to an all-organic food system could ramp up carbon dioxide emissions between 21% and 70%, which also reveals organic food to be a not-so-sustainable alternative to conventional food products.
Ultimately, the choice of food products needs to be up to consumers, whether they go for organic food or conventional products. That said, politicians need to deal with facts. Consumers should be able to make choices in their supermarkets or with online retailers based on an informed conversation, not talking points that haven’t been updated in years.
Originally published here