Neonics ban tied to corrupted bee research by scientists at EU’s ethically-challenged IUCN?

David Zaruk is an environmental-health risk policy analyst based in Brussels, the hub of Europe-wide government, specializing in the role of science in policy and societal issues. He blogs under the pseudonym: The Risk-Monger. He recently released an internal document from the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which challenged the assumed view by many politicians in Brussels that neonicotinoids are responsible for the assumed decline in bee populations. It showed how, in 2010, certain activist scientists launched a strategy to run a campaign built around a series of planned “independent” research publications that they hoped would result in the ban of neonics.

Within a day of publishing the internal document and the first part of his investigation, one of the scientists behind the IUCN Taskforce on Systemic Pesticides threatened and then started legal proceedings against him. The blog host in Brussels, EurActiv, took his article down. Then, as the GLP reported on Thursday, the Times of London reported the key findings of Zaruk’s story, calling it one of the biggest scientist scandals since ClimateGate. EurActiv agreed to restore the blog, conditioned on an “apology”, which he amended to this report. When I asked Zaruk how he felt about the circus, he said: “Welcome to Brussels”.

Here is Zaruk’s article, the first article in a multi-part series scheduled to appear on EurActiv, and reproduced in full for the Genetic Literacy Project:

The Risk-Monger recently came across a strategy document carelessly left on-line by activist scientists that lies at the heart of the founding of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (ICUN) Taskforce on Systemic Pesticides. The Addendum to this document (see page 3) spells out a rather distasteful anti-neonicotinoid campaign strategy lacking in scientific integrity. The process has been tried and tested before by activists, but their behaviour has never been so clearly articulated in writing. I thought this document should be shared so we know the type of people are standing behind the “science” defending the bees.

[Note: The Genetic Literacy Project’s Jon Entine uncovered a similar case of possible research corruption in the United States in an investigation of the disputed studies on neonics and bees by Harvard nutritionist and organic activist Chensheng Lu.]

How did this story unfold?

  • Under the auspices of the IUCN, a group of activists map out a four-year campaign strategy to attack the pesticide industry and seek the banning of neonicotinoids.
  • The idea is to collect like-minded researchers, get funding to set up a task-force to attack neonics using the IUCN as a base with WWF (or some other NGO) doing the lobbying.
  • Once funding is in place for the campaign organisation, start the research, write a main high-impact report and get a few other articles published (find some big names to use).
  • On that basis, organise a broader campaign (with the support of several high-impact PR specialists) to promote their anti-neonic publication.
  • Brace for reactions and blowback from other scientists and industry.

One little issue to note: no credible scientist starts with a campaign strategy and then conjures up some evidence as an afterthought to fit his or her activist agenda. That is not science! It is lacking in integrity and detrimental to the reputation of researchers the world over, which this band of activists were quite happy to decimate for a chance to play politics.

They were also more successful than they would have ever have imagined, getting neonics banned in the EU 16 months ahead of their strategic plan. The Risk-Monger would like to examine their document and consider why these activists not only lack scientific best practices, but also why policymakers should run clear of using their contrived research as evidence.

The story starts in 2010 during a meeting at the IUCN offices in Switzerland.

On the 14th June 2010 Prof. Goeldlin and Dr. Bijleveld met in Switzerland with Dr. Simon Stuart, Chairman of the IUCN Species Survival Commission and Ir. Piet Wit, Chairman of the IUCN Ecosystems Management Commission.

Based on the results of the meeting in Paris the following was agreed that the four key research papers will be published in peer-reviewed journals. Building on these papers a research paper will be submitted to Science (first choice) or Nature (second choice) which would introduce new analyses and findings across the scientific disciplines to demonstrate as convincingly as possible the impact of neonicotionoides (sic)on insects, birds, other species, ecosystem functions, and human livelihoods.

So scientists who cannot even spell “neonicotinoids” are planning to get new research and findings that will “demonstrate, as convincingly as possible” that neonics are a risk. A risk to what? To anything and everything they can find. The goal is not science here, but to conjure up some evidence to fit the objective of banning neonicotinoids. A credible scientist would do research, gather evidence and draw conclusions. An activist scientist would start with a dogmatic conclusion and look for the evidence to prove his or her political point.

The IUCN activist strategy document continues:

This high-impact paper would have a carefully selected first author, a core author team of 7 people or fewer (including the authors of the initial four papers), and a broader set of authors to give global and interdisciplinary coverage. A significant amount of the supporting evidence will be in the official Supporting Online Material accompanying the paper. Aparallel « sister » paper (this would be a shorter Policy Forum paper) could be submitted to Science simultaneously drawing attention to the policy implications of the other paper, and calling for a moratorium in the use and sale of neonicotinoid pestcides (sic). We would try to pull together some major names in the scientific world to be authors of this paper.

So after conjuring up some evidence, this activist group of researchers would then select a few big names to pose as authors. For those readers who had assumed that scientists worked on the material that they published in peer review journals, well, they actually do. These are not real scientists, but what the Risk-Monger, in a previous blog, has dubbed “activist scientists” whose antics, whether it is on endocrine disruption, GMOs, chemicals or this subject, neonicotinoids, is not at all credible or scientific. Their plans to pull together some major names for a Policy Forum paper (which their friends at Science will also apparently gladly publish) are not intended to advance the body of research in the field of neonicotinoids; are not intended to further scientific discovery; are not intended to enhance knowledge and human understanding – those would all be noble scientific objectives. Rather, the goal is to call “for a moratorium in the use and sale of neonicotinoid pesticides”. That is not science at all! That is politics (and activist scientists somehow do not understand that such behaviour is deceptive, unethical and damaging to the reputation of science). By the way, the journal Science didn’t fall for this nonsense and did not publish it, nor did Nature.how_to_create_a_neonics_controversy

I really wish  that someone made this text up as a joke, but this document came off of the website of one of the activist scientists, Henk Tennekes. As I suspect they will quickly take the document off line, here is a PDF of the text (see page 3): Resumé INTERNATIONAL WORKSHOP ON NEONICOTINOIDS Comments Henk Tennekes– or see the screenshot image above with link stamp . There is no “For internal use only” label anywhere on the document, so the Risk-Monger recognised it as a public document. Why Tennekes felt it practical to leave such evidence on the Internet quite simply baffles me. Do they think that their noble quest to save the bees makes them impervious to judgement or needing to behave acceptably? Do they get, at all, what scientific integrity means?

The generals in the war-room continue their strategy:

If we are successful in getting these two papers published, there will be enormous impact, and a campaign led by WWF etc could be launched right away. It will be much harder for politicians to ignore a research paper and a Policy Forum paper in Science.

So once the carefully chosen data is published, we bring in the attack dogs to hit those bastards hard. Since this was a meeting at the IUCN, the weapon of choice was obvious – their daughter NGO lobbying group, WWF. One of the two authors of this strategy document, Maarten Bijleveld, also happened to be a founding member of WWF in the Netherlands. It must have disappointed him to no end that WWF decided to pass on such a salacious bone, but I suppose after the IPCC Himalaya-gate, WWF also have to vet whom they refer to as scientists.

The IUCN, however, did not give this activism a pass and it should be noted that while they pretend to be the credible voice of international conservation, the IUCN’s support of such a mercenary band of anti-scientific activists shows they are as much a pig in the mud as Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth.

It all comes down to winning the lobbying campaign, as the next part of the strategy document demonstrates:

The most urgent thing is to obtain the necessary policy change to have these pesticides banned, not to start a campaign. A stronger scientific basis for the campaign will hopefully mean a shorter campaign. In any case, this is going to take time, because the chemical industry will throw millions into a lobbying exercise.

This is the tried and tested activist technique (think Séralini on GMOs). If you want to win a campaign, first go out and create some science. If you can get a few big names to support your science, it makes the campaign shorter and more successful.

What infuriates the Risk-Monger is how naïve their view of industry is. This is not a game and their ideas on how they can win are irresponsible and offensive. That industry will just throw millions into a lobbying exercise (like it is nothing and there is no point to it all) is truly ridiculous. If the chemical industry has a product or substance with weak science or a poor sustainability record, they will not throw millions at it – they will abandon it. Industry is forced to lobby when activist scientists like these conjure up evidence in an attempt to damage the reputation or sales of their products, technologies or business. When companies believe their products are safe, beneficial and irreplaceable, they will do what they can to defend it. At Solvay, we “threw millions” at defending chlorine because we knew it was safe, has saved billions of lives (look at how it has been used to stop the spread of Ebola today) and has done an enormous amount of good for society.

Related article:  Insects provide valuable look into genetics of how societies are built

That activists think they can just keep attacking these products or substances (think also GMOs) until companies like Solvay just give up and let them win is narrow-minded and disgusting. Syngenta and Bayer Crop Science are doing what they can to defend neonics, not because it is a game, but because they know the value of the products and understand how safe they are (as farmers will always need to protect their crops, these companies could just as easily make profits selling older, more toxic products). Just ask the farmers in the UK, who have lost a considerable amount of their oilseed rape crop in the first year of the neonic ban, if they think this is simply a lobbying exercise! It is not a game nor an exercise (except, perhaps, to these activist scientists).

The activist scientist strategy document concludes:

In order to prepare for the paper to be submitted to Science it is necessary to plan it simultaneously with the first four more detailed papers (to be sure that the first four papers do not unintentionally undermine the proposed high-impact one). A small meeting is therefore needed to do the necessary planning including the authors of the first four papers, David Gibbons/Mark Avery, Maarten Bijleveld, Pierre Goeldlin, the IUCN SSC and CEM Chairs (or their designates) and one or two people experienced in high-impact publishing (such as Ana Rodriguez).

Pierre Goeldlin / Maarten Bijleveld

Notre Dame de Londres/ Clarens, 15th July 2010

Unlike traditional research processes, where evidence is gathered and then published, read in journals by scientists, cited in other works to help advance the scientific body of knowledge, activist scientists directly employ people experienced in “high-impact publishing” – in other words, PR hacks. Ana Rodriguez was apparently not available or interested, so perhaps she referred them to one of her colleagues, communications specialist, Laura Maxim. Although not a bee scientist, she seems to have been prolifically publishing papers on bees with activist scientists since 2010. One of her unique achievements has been serving as co-author with Jeroen Van der Sluijs (head of the scientific committee of the IUCN Task Force on Systemic Pesticides, although himself, also, not a bee scientist) on the chapter on the threat to bees in the European Environment Agency’s second volume of Late Lessons from Early Warnings. Mystifying!

The second “high-impact” PR hack to serve the bee-activists is none other than Mirella von Lindenfels, one-time media head for Greenpeace who now runs a communications PR firm out of the UK. She was the one employed to set up thecommunications platform and the launch of the IUCN Task Force on Systemic Pesticides back in June of this year.  If the name Mirella von Lindenfels sounds familiar to the readers of this blog, it might be worth going back a few years when she was responsible for setting up another activist science front group known as IPSO – The International Programme on the State of the Oceans. In 2011, she was supporting a renegade activist scientist who wanted to build up an international sounding scientific body, but when she published the names of the 26 international scientists, the Risk-Monger and other bloggers discovered that very few of them were actually scientists (although several of them were affiliated with IUCN). This time around, Mirella learnt her lesson and is not publishing the list of scientists belonging to the IUCN Task Force on Systemic Pesticides. I have written to her office and to the IUCN to get a copy of the member list. Neither has replied to my request. Canny? Yes. Transparent? No.

And this is how, in 2010, the IUCN Task Force on Systemic Pesticides began.

Restore Credibility for Science

The Risk-Monger is quite alarmed to see scientists behaving in such a manner and is calling for the following:

  • These activist scientists should be ostracised from the scientific community. Journals should refuse to accept papers for peer review submitted with the names of these campaigners.
  • Scientific bodies and academies need to be more diligent in policing non-scientific activities of their members. Their campaigning only hurts the credibility of such scientific bodies and journals who publish them and must be sanctioned.
  • We have to be aware that activist science (research that prioritises politics rather than evidence) is not reliable for risk assessments, policymaking or media attention. Once brandished as activist science, the data and information should be recategorised as politics and not science. If industry scientists are excluded for lacking objective neutrality, then excluding such activists is a no-brainer.
  • There is, now more than ever, the need to restore the post of Chief Scientific Adviser in the European Commission. The role of Anne Glover was to sort out the policy activists from the credible scientists before they can influence policymakers. That she did not give in to the activist scientists malicious personal campaign tactics had no doubt caused her a lot of personal grief.
  • Policymakers need to go back and assess where their decisions may have been contaminated by activist science and rectify it, whether it is at the IPCC (eg, Himalaya-gate), GMOs or the ban on neonicotinoids. In the US, many activists and several congressmen are citing this IUCN taskforce as the basis for a similar ban on neonics. They cannot be serious!

Ethical challenge

Unlike credible researchers who follow guidelines based on Good Laboratory Practice (GLP) or industry scientists, who, on top of GLP, follow industry-wide codes of ethical conduct, these activist scientists do not feel compelled to behave in an ethical manner. The Risk-Monger has been calling long and hard on NGOs to join the civilised world and impose ethical rules on the behaviour of their campaigners and scientists (do not lie, do not falsify evidence, accept facts, behave responsibility …). They absolutely will not, as they feel that their beliefs in saving the planet override any need to respect basic principles of humanity. But in the questionable behaviour of the founding members of the IUCN Taskforce on Systemic Pesticides, humanity should ask whether they, in turn, deserve respect.

NOTE: After the publication of the original post on the popular Belgian blog EurActiv, the blog temporarily pulled down the post, and asked David Zaruk to amend an “apology” after which they would repost his investigation:

Addendum (added 3 December 2014)

A public apology to Jean-Marc Bonmatin

Dear Dr Bonmatin

EurActiv has forwarded your charges of criminal proceedings against me for the above blog which you have deemed personally insulting and also insulting to your employers. I have forwarded them to my lawyer and he was rather confused, given that, as a blog covering the history of the formation of the IUCN taskforce, you were not involved, nor were you mentioned in the exposé I have written, nor have I insulted your employer (although to your request, I removed the name of your organisation as an act of good faith) – I have no idea what the other organisation is, but as you say you are an expert tied to them, apparently my actions have also insulted them and they are also joining in said criminal proceedings. My lawyer feels that I do not need to remove the blog (BlogActiv asked me to soften the language a bit, which I had done), but that I should, in any case, make a public apology for any insult you may have suffered from my analysis of a 2010 document. I am sorry, and in my next blog, I promise not to assess your scientific qualifications as part of the analysis of the IUCN taskforce, you have demonstrated in your letter (which out of respect to you, I will not publish) that you are clearly a credible scientist. I regret that you had inferred from my analysis of a document you were not involved in, that I was questioning your research.

As a point of mutual respect, I hope you agree with me that debates should never be behind closed doors (whether it is from activists or industry lobbyists). Having the debate about whether the IUCN taskforce has gathered the best scientists in the field should not be done in a courtroom nor in a backroom political situation. I would therefore like to invite you to come to Brussels to debate me or others about your science, in the Parliament or my university or at an NGO office. You can also express your views about the above strategy document – I welcome your views on other points as well (like a Chief Scientific Adviser or an activist code of ethics) – the Risk-Monger concept is based on the idea that debate sometimes needs to be provoked, and if you disagree with me, that is wonderful – if I can strengthen your arguments against me by being a focal point, then the chief goal of dialogue has been attained. Going to a lawyer to try to shut me up is, I hope you can agree, Dr Bonmatin, not a very efficient form of dialogue. A little while ago, you had declared neonicotinoids to be the new DDT. I am sure you would not want the lawyers from Syngenta and BayerCropScience to engage in a similar form of dialogue with you.

Looking forward to meeting you in public for a robust debate.

NOTE: A version of this article appeared first on EurActiv here.



66 thoughts on “Neonics ban tied to corrupted bee research by scientists at EU’s ethically-challenged IUCN?”

  1. The facts on neonics are highly disturbing. There was cause for grave concern that environmental pollution with these chemicals would lead to a disaster of unprecedented proportions. The IUCN and the scientists who acted deserve praise for their timely effort to prevent this from happening even if criticisized by gutter press

    • Perhaps you can explain the lack of evidence of bee harm in Western Canada where the vast majority of neonics are used in this country? We all care very much for bee health and await you expertise and response to this question.

      • The largest amount of bee deaths in 2012-2013 year was Manitoba where corn and canola are major commodity crops and treated seed is used. Also, increases is Sask and Alberta.

        Honey bee winter

        Winter 2011-2012
        Winter 2012-2013











        Source: Canadian Association
        of Professional Apiculturists

          • There you go again. There is zero evidence from this laboratory or the field. You just make this stuff up Sign of an ideologue—the very antithesis of a scientist.

          • But even so you would expect a correlation between the level of colony loss and the level of neonic usage in an area, if the hypothesis is correct. If Vancouver Island uses less neonics than others, but has seen higher colony collapse rates, then it is hard to sustain the argument that neonics are to blame, at least in that case. I have no prior attachment to either camp, but this seems rather desperate logic.

        • Mr. Tennekes, I don’t know if you are interested, but you might wish to become aware that honeybees are not part of the natural fauna of Vancouver Island, or anywhere else in North America, or the Americas in general. The honeybee was imported to the Americas by Europeans after they invaded these continents and began to plant crops that require pollination by insects. The fact that honeybees survive anywhere in North America, even with human assistance, is a testament to their tenacity as an exotic species. You might wish to keep in mind several other facts about stability in the prevalence of honeybee colonies, even in the face of increasing Varroa mite infestations, not only in N. America but in Europe, which facts have been fully documented by others taking part in these discussions. The Varroa mite certainly could be a more important threat to the honeybee that you may wish to focus your efforts upon. Perhaps we need to engineer a transgenic honeybee that would be able to resist Varroa more effectively.

    • Henk, what field evidence is “highly disturbing” that points to neonics. None that I know of, and as you know, the most highly touted neonic research, that by Chensheng Lu in which he paid his way for his research, rejected by Nature and other mainstream journals, to be published in an obscure publication, has been dismissed by the entire entomological establishment as bogus and ideological? Basically, your entire case hangs on statements by you and other activist scientists with an open and acknowledged bias. That’s not science; that’s corruption.

      • Jon, there is little point in debating the issue, if you remain impervious to compelling scientific evidence that the dose-response characteristics of neonics are identical to those of genotoxic carcinogens for which no safe exposure levels exist. If you are unwilling to consider this evidence, and unwilling to reflect on it, we can find no common ground. You may call me corrupt, but you couldn’t be further from the truth. I made a groundbreaking discovery in 2009, and immediately realized that we had seriously underestimated the immense risks of a category of insecticides that are now widely used around the globe. I felt compelled as a scientist to raise the alarm, and have done so with scientific publications in respected journals, but I also decided to inform the general public of an impending environmental catastrophy with my book “Disaster in the Making”. I am a grandfather and I care about tomorrow’s world in which my grandchildren will have to live. I hope you do, too.

        • Please elaborate on your compelling scientific evidence. I have been looking at the current research in PubMed and have found much of the research in field trials shows little or no effects from neonics used as intended in agriculture.

          • Although I am sure that we all share your concern over the health of essential invertebrates that we tend to take for granted, your links are more speculative than I would term compelling. Controlled experiments under actual field conditions were what I wanted to see.

          • Since I am an interested non-expert I was curious to find out where Tennekes comes from and found those links. I posted them to see what you’d think. Maybe he’s got some more data up his sleeve but I am afraid that’s as compelling as it gets.

          • I was reading some reviews in the literature, and stumbled across an article in two parts that might interest you. It is written by a biologist turned beekeeper that has immersed himself in the literature, talked with researchers, and presents a nicely balanced read with good references for further reading. They might be of interest to you. I’m more interested now in keeping track of the research on the effects of neonics on aquatic invertebrates.

          • I’d note that both of those blogs make reference to Dr. Tennekes’ work and am interested in getting more details on Randy Oliver’s objections. From the first link:

            Chronic toxicity: Tennekes (2010a, b)—I discussed the paper and his alarming book at length with Dr. Tennekes. He points out legitimate concerns about high levels of residues in surface waters; however, the applicability of the Druckrey–Küpfmüller equation does not stand up to scrutiny, nor does his bird data.

            And from the second:

            This is the main problem with the hypothesis of Dr. Henk Tennekes, whose widely-cited publications attempt to make a case for the application the Druckrey–Küpfmüller equation for chronic toxicity to the neonics. I’ve corresponded at length with Dr. Tennekes, and asked him to explain why the neonics, which are also rapidly degraded by the bee, would have any more chronic toxicity than nicotine would to a human smoker. There is enough nicotine in a pack of cigarettes to easily kill a human, yet no one dies from nicotine toxicity (I watched in perverse horror as my high school biology teacher injected a rat with nicotine—its death was not a pretty sight). The point is, that nicotine and neonics appear to be so rapidly metabolized, that there is no buildup in the body (as there is in the case of DDT), the binding to the nerve receptors is reversible and insects recover fully, and there is generally no increased mortality due to low-level chronic exposure.

          • Randy Oliver did include citations to much of what he argues in his articles. I read the papers on the metabolism of neonics before I found his thoughts on the subject. I was puzzled myself over how chronic toxicity was possible when radiolabeled neonics were followed and found to be metabolized and excreted quickly.

          • Randy Oliver doesn’t know the difference between TOXICOKINETICS and TOXICODYNAMICS. Yes, neonics are metabolized very quickly. So are genotoxic nitrosamines (some have a half-life of a couple of minutes). But the interactions of the ultimate carcinogen with the target receptor (DNA) initiate carcinogenesis and ultimately leads to malignant tumors. That’s because receptor binding is IRREVERSIBLE, and so are the effects of receptor binding (mutations in critical genes). Francisco Sánchez-Bayo and I have validated the Druckrey-Küpfmüller equation with a number of case studies not involving neonics or carcinogens (Toxicology 309 (2013) 39– 51) and in each and every case there was convincing evidence of irreversible receptor binding. Bayer scientist Abbink certified in 1991 that neonicotinoid compounds have irreversible binding to their nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) in arthropods (Pflanzen.-Nachr. Bayer 42, 183–195), Apparent full recovery of insects from low-level exposure to neonics does not contradict Abbink’s statement. You may fully recover from a stroke, but that does not mean that there has been no irreversible damage in the nervous system. It simply suggests that surviving nerve cells are able to compensate the damage.

          • I appreciate you for replying to this and elsewhere here to explain your research. I don’t understand the difference between toxicokinetics and toxicodynamics myself (beyond a quick Wiki overview just now).

            I’m curious if this receptor binding problem exists with regular old nicotine. I have a childhood memory of my great aunt crushing some cigarettes in water and making a spray for her roses (for aphids, I think). This was my first experience with pesticides. I recall her applying it on a warm summer morning, and so probably not an ideal time for the pollinators her flowers attracted. Is it likely that her application of nicotine water had the same effect then, or is there something about the structure of the neonics that is different in this regard?

          • There are similarities between nicotine and neonics in that they interact with the same receptor in the nervous system. Nicotine has been used as a pesticide in the past but it is toxic to mammalian species as well. We know that smoking during pregnancy increases the risk of neurological abnormalities in the unborn child. There’s been a tremendous rise in ADHD and autism since the 1990s when neonics were introduced. That is of great concern because neonics residues in food may behave like nicotine.

          • Randy oliver is a neonics Advocate and a long-time defender of the neonics against all charges. he has boasted about how ‘closely’ he works with Bayer, Syngenta and the EPA.

          • When I wrote ‘where Tennekes comes from ‘ I actually meant to know why you have such grave concerns over neonics, I was not so much interested in your (impressive) CV. Thanks anyway.

          • Most risk assessments are based on laboratory studies, and so they should be, because an impact of potentially confounding factors can be controlled. That’s not the case for field studies, which were often invalidated by exposure of control groups to neonics.

        • Hi Dr. Tennekes,

          I reviewed your 2010 Toxicology article and have a few questions. The BD rats used in the referenced ’43 and ’63 studies certainly showed that at some dosages tumors were seen. But isn’t this strain of rat essentially bred to be especially susceptible to tumors? This wouldn’t explain tumor development in a month or two, but at the low doses, those rats seemed to certainly be nearing their expect lifespan of around ~33 months. Can we really say the questioned carcinogen in those studies had an affect if a rat which is predisposed to tumors gets a tumor in extreme old age?

          I think the 2009 study may have that issue as well. The 50% death rate for Daphnia at the lowest dose lived for 384 days. Their lifespan in ideal conditions with no predators is 12-13 months.

          Also, the arthropods studied in the 2009 paper are not bees of any kind, so I think that’s why I personally am skeptical that these data show that the low doses experienced in nectar and pollen would have a significant effect on the expected lifespan of a honey bee.

          • The BD (Berlin-Druckrey) inbred strain of rat was developed in the 1930s by my mentor in my time at the German Cancer Research Centre In Heidelberg (1980-1985), the great cancer researcher Hermann Druckrey (1904-1994). Druckrey was very concerned that genetic predisposition to cancer might interfere with his quantitative studies with genotoxic carcinogens, and, like Gregor Mendel in his groundbreaking studies on the laws of heredity in the 1850s, started inbreeding the test model until they were genetically homogeneous. I asked him about their genetic predisposition to cancer, and he said they definitely weren’t. He had never seen spontaneous liver tumors in control rats in lifetime studies. That’s why he never used a control group in his quantitative studies with genotoxic carcinogens. So the tumors he saw in his studies were definitely caused by the genotoxic carcinogen. He established that the effects of genotoxic carcinogens were REINFORCED by exposure time, so that minute amounts could still induce cancer after protracted exposure periods. The neonics act likewise, and that’s why the very low concentrations in nectar and pollen are an unacceptable risk to bees and other pollinating insects. The environmental pollution with neonics is going to exterminate non-target invertebrates and will lead to a broken food chain, and wipe insectivorous species from the face of the Earth. All this was known in 2010, and prompted the IUCN to develop a strategy to achieve a total ban on neonics. That’s the story,

          • Thank you for your response. I would like to ask about the protracted exposure time though. In the arthropod study, an exposure time approaching the total lifespan of the organism in the absolute best of environments before seeing a response doesn’t really seem to be a protracted time. Will the chemicals studied eventually have effect at those low doses. Yes, the data do show that. The question then becomes if the effect is only seen at the extreme end of an incredibly long life (and unrealistic in all but the absolute best situations), does this risk outweigh the benefits of the chemical.

            This is certainly a risk assessment operation. Neonics after all an insecticide, so of course they kill insects, that’s the point. The question then is do they significantly shorten the lifespan of bees at field-realistic levels, do field-realistic levels in non-target areas significantly reduce the life of insects there, and if so, do these risks outweigh the benefits of neonics. So I believe you’re saying that the arthropod research is good evidence that we can assume that low doses of a neonic would, in fact, shorten the lifespan of a bee. I think that’s plausible. I think we then need to think about how much shorter the lifespan would actually be and would this be observable and significant in a field setting.

            I’m a backyard beekeeper, have been for quite a number of years, and I can definitely say that mites are my most potent enemy. If I don’t monitor and control varroa mites, my bees have very little chance.

            I don’t need to tell you (but I’ll write this for the benefits of anyone that may believe otherwise) there are a lot of pesticides out there that are far, far worse for the environment/non-target animal life than neonics, and those are not banned. Banning neonics means those pesticides will be brought out and used. Most of them must be sprayed onto crops and are much more dangerous to humans. So again, it’s a risk assessment. Sure it’d be great if we could get rid of pesticides altogether, but banning neonics means using more toxic alternatives that will kill bees.


          • J

            Jon Entine
            • Exec Director, Genetic Literacy Project
            • Sr Fellow, World Food Center, University of California-Davis
            • Sr Fellow, Center for Health & Risk Communication, George Mason University
            (513) 319-8388

          • The dose-response relationship of imidacloprid in honey bees predicts that the concentrations of imidacloprid found in nectar and pollen (1-3 ppb) will have a lethal effect on exposed honey bees within a couple of weeks. That’s an unacceptable risk for the no. 1 pollinator on the planet by any standard. It would shorten the lifespan of honey bees by more than half. Even a concentration one order of magnitude lower than currently detected would kill bees within their lifetime. You infer that a lot of alternative pesticides are far worse for non-target organisms than neonics. I don’t know any.

          • How do we interpret the arthropod data to predict that the 1-3ppb would have that effect, or has that study been done on honey bees and we have the data?

            Also, has this study been done on the pyrethroids and organophosphates that would replace neonics to show that they do not follow the same rule?

            Thanks again.

          • Please read Lu’s first paper. It contradicts everything that you are saying. When Lu used field realistic doses of neonics over the first 3-4 weeks, the health of the bees improved because the nosema was being controlled. It was not lethal or even harmful…the net effects were positive to bee health. You just speculate. To you, there is a conspiracy behind every bush, and all the world’s top entomologists are beneath you. The fact is your work reveals a long track record of being willing to corrupt the open process of non-advocacy science.

          • You are using a whole string of false arguments that suggest you are determined to defend the use of neonics to the last ditch – which in turn suggests you are a professional pesticides advocate. Mites rate definitely NOT the major factor killing bees – either in Europe or America. Varroa appeared in France in 1968 but there were no major bee losses and no crash in honey production until 1996, when a million hives died in a single year after Bayer’s Imidacloprid was used on sunflowers for the first time. The French had lived with varroa for almost THIRTY years without substantial losses; then Imidacloprid was introduced and they lost a million hives and 50% of the honey crop. They banned Neonics in 2000 and the bees and honey crop rebounded. Banning neonics does NOT mean using more toxic crop alternatives; most of the organophosphates are now banned under international conventions, as are the organochlorines. Many recent studies, notably by Dr Christian Krupke at Purdue have confirmed NO YIELD BENEFIT from using seed treatments on corn and the EPA just released a major study confirming that there was NO ECONOMIC BENEFIT from using neonics on soybeans.

            Of course, non of this means anything to someone who is determined to keep the multi $billion neonics bandwagon rolling,

          • If I’m a professional pesticide advocate, I’m still waiting for my paycheck. :)

            Far from it, I’m just a beekeeper science geek. I want to see the data. Can you point me to your reference as to when mites arrived in France. I didn’t know it was that long ago. Also, is there data on the number of total beehives in France? I’d just like to see the data for myself.

            There are a lot of studies showing mites are a huge problem. Mite load in the fall is the main predictor of winter colony mortality. Unfortunately you have to pay to read this one but here’s a study in Apidologie:

            I think Australia is a real wildcard. Australia plants a lot of neonic treated row crops. I’m looking for data on total hectares now. Their bees are doing quite well to the extent that the US was (not sure if they still are) importing them to make up for losses. They are the last mite-free bee population on the planet.

          • Can you point me to your reference as to when mites arrived in France. I didn’t know it was that long ago

            It was in 1982 the first Varroa mites showed up in France.

            Australia plants a lot of neonic treated row crops. I’m looking for data on total hectares now

            Same here in Western Canada, lots of treated crops and a thriving beekeeping industry, with no CCD.

          • “which in turn suggests you are a professional pesticides advocate”

            Really? “You have an opinion other than mine; the only explanation is that you must be an enemy saboteur.” The inevitability of shill accusations is the Godwin’s Law of ag/biotech forums… and like the Reductio ad Hitlerum, it’s a great way to wave bye-bye to your credibility.

          • which in turn suggests you are a professional pesticides advocate.

            I think you are the professional pesticide advocate, you do know that Europeans use far more herbicides and insecticides than North Americans. For example the Dutch use 8x more than the Canadians, Way to go Europe….

            Varroa appeared in France in 1968 but there were no major bee losses and no crash in honey production until 1996,

            The varroa mite appeared in France in the early 80s, 83 I think. The mite itself is not that bad, it is the disease that it spreads that can and will wipe out colonies in as little as 3 days after infection.

            They banned Neonics in 2000 and the bees and honey crop rebounded.

            Nope, France just had its worst honey harvest ever last year.

      • Mr Entine, the ‘field evidence’ is that the French lost ONE MILLION bee colonies from 1994-1996 when Bayer introduced imidacloprid. The other ‘field evidence’ is that America has lost over 10 million bee colonies since 2003 – all in relation to neonic treated corn, canola and soya – whereas hives placed in natural areas, where there are no neonic treated crops – produce bumper crops of honey. The so-called ‘Science’ is merely a public relations war paid for and manipulated by Bayer, Syngenta, Dow and Croplife. Over 98% of all INDEPENDENT Scientific studies confirm that neonics are the NUMBER ONE FACTOR in the global death of bee colonies and the associated collapse of insectivorous bird populations. You sir are just a hired gun for the Poison Industry. Hope you enjoy your money while America is being slowly poisoned.

  2. I skimmed through the IUCN report on systemic pesticides a month ago. I was struck by the fact that the authors suggest organic farming as an alternative to neonics. That raised a big red flag. Organic farming isn’t a method of pest control. You wouldn’t think to suggest that as an alternative to neonics, unless you had an agenda to promote organic from the start.

    It was in those recommendations for organic agriculture that I suspected a conspiracy. It sure seemed to me like the report reached conclusions that it was designed to reach.

    You can see organic agriculture mentioned as an alternative to neonics twice in the conclusion:

    • Organic agriculture, centred on Crop Rotation, IS an alternative method of pest control. There were no synthetic pesticides in existence before DDT was created in 1945 and farmers had been growing wheat, barley and oats in Britain successfully since long before the Romans arrived around AD 64. When crops are rotated, insect pests never build up numbers enough to be a major problem. Also, there is an ecological balance of predators and prey in every field of crops. Ladybirds, lacewings, hoverflies, wasps, many species of birds etc ALL consume insects in vast numbers. Neonics KILL almost all the beneficial insects – taking the natural brake off the insect-pest juggernaut. Add year after year monoculture of the same crop and you ring the dinner bell for every pest in the county. Moreover, since insects evolve resistance at a very effective rate, within a few years you have a massive population of pests which are totally resistant to your pesticides. In an Arms Race with insect evolution, farmers can NEVER win. But in the attempt they are exterminating every living thing from the countryside and filling our children’s food with NEUROTOXIC (nerve gas derived) poisons. Great strategy eh???

      • The authors explicitly mention crop rotation which can be used independently of the other restrictions of organic agriculture that don’t provide pest-control benefits (i.e. prohibition of GMOs, restriction of synthetic fertilizer, etc).

        Quoting from the conclusion:

        The preferred options include organic farming, diversifying and altering crops and their rotations, inter-row planting, planting timing, tillage and irrigation, using less sensitive crop species in infested areas, using trap crops, applying biological control agents, and selective use of alternative reduced-risk insecticides.

        It is notable that Bt crops aren’t mentioned. Again, it reflect an obvious ideological bias held by the authors.

        I don’t have a problem with organic production. We have an organic garden and have attended workshops by MOFGA to learn organic practices. While organic includes a variety of pest-control strategies, it is not a pest-control strategy and is certainly not a drop-in replacement for neonics.

        In many cases to accomplish what the authors recommend, the farmer has to grow entirely different crops. For most commodity farmers this isn’t practical. Their equipment is specialized to harvest grains. Within the realm of what the market wants and what their equipment is designed to produce, they do rotate.

        Probably the biggest thing we can do is encourage people who lease their land to renegotiate with farmers who rent it to ensure they’re following all the best practices which include rotation (which yes, is more limited than is ideal where it’s corn or soy).

      • The facts show organic alternatives would be a disaster. Britian’s pre-1945 agriculture was about 60% less efficient than today’s. If we had stuck to those methods, there would be mass hunger across Europe and the world with today’s population. One of the main advantages of neonics is that it does not seriously impact beneficial insects. Please educate yourself. There are no signs of serious resistance developing to neonics. All insectidies are neurotoxins…oragnic farmers extenisvely use neurotoxin based chemicals, including those more toxic and less targeted than neonics. Please educate yourself.

      • There were no synthetic pesticides in existence before DDT was created in 1945

        Wow, that is totally and completely wrong. before DDT there was lead arsenate, copper arsenate, copper sulphate and dozens of other pesticides mostly based on arsenic, mercury, lead, and copper. There was also Bt, tar, noxious fire, and massive amounts of tillage and summerfallow.

        Britain successfully since long before the Romans arrived around AD 64.

        And there were getting a yield of less than 1 tonne per Ha, we get 6-8x more grain per acre today. Do you really want to plow under 6-8x more nature to grow a crop? (in the 1200s in England wheat yield was about .25-.5 tonnes per ha)

        When crops are rotated, insect pests never build up numbers enough to be a major problem. Also, there is an ecological balance of predators and prey in every field of crops.

        Really? You better look up yield variability in Ancient times, it was 10-20 times higher than today. Four course crop rotation only started in England in the 1850s or so.

        Neonics KILL almost all the beneficial insects – taking the natural brake off the insect-pest juggernaut.

        Seed treated with neonics only kill the insects that consume the seed or the young plants, leaving all the beneficial insects alone. That is why farmers have gone down this route. Foliar neonics sprays will kill all the insects, that is why they go with the seed treatment.

        Add year after year monoculture of the same crop and you ring the dinner bell for every pest in the county.

        You really don’t know any farmers do you? The VAST majority of farmers do rotate their crops, and have been doing that for about 200 years now.

        In an Arms Race with insect evolution, farmers can NEVER win.

        Farmers have been winning for over 15,000 years now, what to say it will not continue.

  3. How can environmental activists with a straight face criticize everybody else’s work as corrupted and skewed by commercial interests. I am sure that those who participated in this believe they are justified, that the stakes are sufficient that they don’t feel constrained by normal ethical practice, in fact they may see following ethical norms to be unethical.

    There was a case in my state about twenty years ago where a high school girl accused a custodian at her school of rape. The custodian was sentenced to prison but was released 7 years later when the girl confessed she had made it up because she was afraid to confess to her parents that she had been having sex. The custodian was a convenient scapegoat because well, all the kids thought he was kinda creepy anyway so even if wrongly convicted, no big deal right? While I can understand teenagers under duress making poor decisions, I was appalled by her attitude when she finally came clean. She basically said, “oops, my bad. Sorry” as if she were completely oblivious to the implications of her lie. The harm goes beyond the injustice the custodian suffered. It takes terrible courage for young women to come forward when actually sexually assaulted and that girl’s actions will make it easier for lawyers defending accused perpetrators to raise doubt in jurers minds that accuser is making it up. That girls actions will be a legacy that makes it harder for girls to get legal protections when they need it and for prosecutors to get convictions.

    Do the participants in this realize what they have done? They have just made it that much harder for honest environmental science to be taken seriously. I have no issue with environmental, health advocates providing solid research as a check on research that may have commercial applications. But I am no more interested in being manipulated by Greenpeace, IUCN, etc than I am being manipulated by Monsanto. Are we just trading one tyrant for another if these groups feel it is in their right to decide for all of us what we should know and believe, even to the point of manufacturing evidence. I can’t help but believe that even good intentions based on lies is ultimately destructive.

    • “How can environmental activists with a straight face criticize everybody else’s work as corrupted and skewed by commercial interests.”
      When you’re driven by ideology as opposed to facts, the ends justify the means. So rigging the game is business as usual.

    David Zaruk is Assistant Professor Adjunct in Communications at Vesalius College in Brussels, a Senior Research Associate at the Institute for European Studies, VUB, specialised in Environmental Health Policy, and a Risk Lobbying Analyst at Risk Perception Management,

  5. My recommendation is that studies with intended consequences, such as the subject of this article, should be required to be conducted in compliance with Good Laboratory Practice (GLP). For those who do not know what that means, GLP is a codified set of criteria under which studies that are to be used for regulatory purposes must be conducted. The criteria for GLP were established by toxicology professionals in the 1970s, and since then all countries that have credible regulatory frameworks have adopted those criteria, beginning with the European Union and the United States of America. The governmental agencies which regulate the use of pesticides, and of transgenic crop plants which are intended for mitigation of pests, rely preferentially upon GLP compliant studies to form their regulatory decisions. Most GLP compliant studies are conducted by laboratories that are independent of any particular registrant, i.e. most of them are NOT done by the “corporations” that intend to develop and deploy the pesticidal substance. Literally hundreds of such GLP compliant studies are conducted and supplied to the regulatory agencies on every pesticide (or transgenic crop), ranging from mammalian toxicology to environmental effects, and all of the studies are reviewed by the agencies before any deployment of the pesticide (or crop) is made.

    The reason for GLP in the first place was to negate the reporting of “dry lab” results, meaning fraudulent reports coming from people who didn’t actually conduct any research; they just made up the “data” and reported it to an unsuspecting audience. In short, anyone can set up a bogus “study” with a bunch of animals (real or imaginary animals), and come up with meaningless or fraudulent results. With a GLP compliant study, that’s not possible because all of the testing system and records coming from the study are subject to external audit. Moreover, any testing facility that conducts GLP compliant studies is itself subject to audit on ALL studies that it ever has conducted. There are criminal and civil penalties for anyone who purports to conduct a GLP compliant study which it turns out was fraudulent. I believe that the hucksters of the world would be shut down quite easily if they were forced to do their experimentation under GLP compliance criteria. I’m not saying any particular commenter on this article is a huckster, but there certainly are a lot of them on the anti-technology “side” of the agricultural dilemmas these days.

  6. “Neonics ban tied to corrupted bee research by scientists at EU’s ethically-challenged IUCN?” I suppose the question mark is supposed to somehow soften the scare-mongering of the “Genetics Literacy Project”. Nice slogan: “where science trumps ideology”. But invalidated by actual behaviour. Notice the words “corrupted”, “ethically-challenged”. Add in “EU” to get people really worked up. I see ideology trumping science.

  7. You’re absolutely right. The acaricides that beekeepers have been pouring into hives, and the illegally-imported royal jelly and bees have NOTHING to do with bee deaths. Yep. I’m also a “hired gun for the Poison Industry.” Just waiting for my big fat check.

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