As regular tracker readers surely all know, something is killing off honey bees across large stretches of the world including North America and Europe. Nobody has shown overwhelming evidence of a specific reason for this die-back, aka colony collapse disorder. But agricultural commissioners in the European Union moved this week against one of the prime suspects: a class of pesticides used widely on crops. Farmers soon, if this sticks, will have a hard time getting permits to use these "neonicotinoid" formulations on crops that attract the world's most common pollinating livestock.
The expected ban is not as sweeping as some agri-environmentalists hoped and lacked a strong enough vote to be open-ended in time, therefore is to be in force for two years. It fits generally under the precautionary principle – a tenet of low-risk living. It has more adherents in European governing circles than in those of the US. It means better safe than sorry. The reponsibility is on the would-be users of a new and unproven product to demonstrate persuasively that it has a high chance of doing no great harm, rather than on regulators or other parties to provide data-backed reason to restrict or stop its use. (People who want suspect things proven safe as in hurts nobody ever or at least asymptotically close to it, are engaging in rhetoric and not the kind of science that reasonable regulators easily accomodate. That's why fluoridation and vaccination are, as they should be, legal.)
OK then. One wonders how European press, which means mainly Brits for us English-only trackers, covers the news compared to who ever wrote it up in the US mainstream media. If time allows, I'll gather separately stuff from dedicated environmental news outlets, many of which tend toward green activism and would, with precautionary principle flags flying, support the ban.
UK and other coverage outside US and Canada:
- BBC – Bee deaths: EU to ban neonicotinoid pesticides ; Right off, I learn there is a problem in using UK press as proxy for Europe. The UK, says here, is among eight member states that opposed the ban, arguing data may be suggestive but arenothing to hang your derby on. After a bit of unattributed generalizations the story's first quote is from a Greenpeace EU statement. There is also a useful box explaining "What exactly are Neonicotinoids?" BBC enviro reporter Matt McGrath filed an excellent wrap up on the state of research – Scientific opinions differ on bee pesticide ban.
- Guardian – Damian Carrington: Bee-harming pesticides banned in Europe / EU members states vote ushers in continent-wide suspension of neonicotinoid pesticides ; Good ol' Brit press. The hed is emphatic: "bee-harming pesticides." The very first graf takes it back with "..pesticides alleged to cause serious harm to bees…". There must be a copy editing class over there that drums into would-be desk toilers they must never use qualifiers in headlines. First non-bureaucrat quotee: from Friends of the Earth. Writer Carmington also wrote a take-down of the pesticide makers, on Sunday for the sister-pub Observer: "Insecticide firms in secret bid to stop ban that could save bees / Last ditch lobbying to halt use of killer nerve agents." Reporters have FOIA there too, Carrington used it. He reports that one company's agents even threatened to sue EU officials who wrote a report condemning the pesticides. Further commentary by George Monbiot: Beware the rise of the government scientists turned lobbyists.
- New Scientist – Dave Goulson: Bees need Europe's pesticide ban, whatever the UK says ; Goulson's a biologist, the piece's stated category is "comment and analysis." It has good insights into CCD history and the subtle effects of the suspect pesticides on several bee species. One unsubtle effect of the word is that every time I write it, it comes out spelled differently unless I triple check it. Damned neonicontinioids. Some writers call'em neonics. Better word for sure.
- Express – Julie Carpenter: Why We Need a Plan Bee ; A FAQ-style explainer.
- Telegraph – Madeline Hall: EU to ban pesticides linked to bee deaths ; Tell me this: does mere ambiguity suffice when describing something that is uncertain? Does "linked to" have enough fuzz in it to permit one to presume that causation is unsure? How about the lede's assertion: "… believed to harm bees…"? Does this mean by expert consensus, by one person on the sidewalk, or what? To be sure, 'harm' is far short of wreck. Nonetheless methinks both phrases are soft, but clear, assertions of demonstrable blame.
- Independent – Charlotte McDonald Gibson: 'Victory for bees' as European Union ban neonicotinoid pesticides blamed for destroying bee population." Now, this has been a huge, long-running story over there with wide public involvement. Still, one must wonder at such a sentence as this: "Britain was among eight nations which voted against the motion, despite a petition signed by 300,000 people presented to Downing Street last week by fashion designers Vivienne Westwood and Katharine Hamnett. The Independent has also campaigned to save Britain's bee population." First, how learned and impactful can a petition be when its representatives are two glam-biz celebrities of no mentioned expertise? Second, it seems peculiar in a news story to make note of one's employer's editorial page opinion. Usually, it's the other way around. The papers editorial board provides this huzzah: Ban on nerve-agent pesticides is another reason to be grateful for Europe ;
- NatureNews – Daniel Cressey: Europe debates risk to bees / Proposed pesticide ban gathers scientific support as some experts call for more field studies ; Useful and long, with multiple links to reports and earliers news accounts. One to check out is this from February, by Lynn Dicks" Bees, lies, and evidence-based policy. She is partial to the ban, but regards some of the frantic claims from the enviro wing to be absurd.
- Deutsche Welle – EU Commission okays moratorium on bee-killing pesticides ; Story is credited to the German news service dpa plus Reuters and AFP. So it's a rewrite mash up. It lost any qualifiers or other maybes that may have been in the working material.
There are plenty more. But onward to…
Sampled US coverage:
- NYTimes – David Jolly (datelined Paris): Europe Bans Pesticides Thought Harmful to Bees: After a rundown of news and what the immediately-involved regulator has to say, first quotes comes from the pesticide manufacturers lambasting the regulation and asserting that the scienntific support for it is woeful. But the closing quotes, important as a wrap-up to readers who get that far, is from a Friends of the Earth man. The story, for a readership that hasn't already been bombarded with news on this issue over the last year or more, provides context and explanations as it goes.
- AP (Brussels) Raf Casert: European bees find pesticide relief ; A short, punchy wire story. Essentials, not much more.
- *AP (UPDATE) Seth Borenstein: FEDS: MANY CAUSES FOR DRAMATIC BEE DISAPPEARANCE ; I was grumbling that few of the pieces had much new science in them. Oh well, thought I, breaking news. There IS new science news, however. At a time that is not a good fit for the EU's one-boot-fits-all strategy, the US EPA and Food and Drug Administration released a report that has a regular rogues' lineup of reasons, perhaps working in concert, for the bee collapses. And, as Borenstein pointedly notes, it puts the nionic drugs near the bottom of the pile of possible perps.
- Voice of America – Rosanne Skirble: EU Hopes Pesticide Ban will Halt Bee Decline; Uh oh, pic with the VOA story looks like no bee to me. More likely a hoverfly. I looked around, found near-proof , page 7. Further checking reveals Skirble's source Vanbergen took the photo. I then Goggled up another copy of it, but labeled hoverfly. And it is on the VOA server! Perhaps somebody cropped out the i.d. and hoped nobody would notice? Or else the label just got lost along the chain of custody? Anyway.. … story is fine, illustrates via Vanbergen that evidence is suggestive, hardly conclusive, and many factors may be conspiring to cause CCD.
- Washington Times – Editorial: Bugged about bees . There's no need for a pesticide ban to do more harm than good ; Hmm, lousy syntax in that hed. The copy reads as though a pesticide industry lobbyist wrote it.
- Forbes – Jon Entine: The Politics of Bees Turns Science on its Head — Europe Bans Nionics While Local Beekepers, Scientists Say Action is Precipitous ; Entine is a known stickler for not letting emotion and politics seep into science. It's supposed to work the other way around. Good idea in anybody's book. But his piece prominently cites one study's estimate of how many billions of euros this ban could cost European farmers per year. He links to the study, thank you very much Jon. A look at it shows it to be financed by Bayer CropScience and Syngenta. They make the substances in the crosshairs. There is a presumably good chance politics or some other non-objective skew seeped into the study's execution. All Entine needed to do is say in his story that it was an industry-sponsored study.
- BloombergBusinessweek – Bernhard Warner: In a bid to Save Bees, Europe Bans Some Pesticides ;
Yikes, gotta stop, this is about to get way too long. The stories have variety with no enormous difference in slant in US v. UK-Europe. It is interesting to note that a few more outlets east of the Atlantic spelled out the pesticides' class name in headlines. That shows how many times they have already seen the formal terms in the news. If anybody were to wade through all this stuff, he or she would have a good handle on the news and its background. Collectively, then, the story got told.