Frank loves bees.
Neonicotinoids are a small subsection of the pesticide story. Pesticides are a very small part of the CCD story, and are a small part of the overall honeybee health story. Landscape changes due to agricultural intensification and urbanization can change the diversity of the available food, which can change the physiological status of the bees. Bees are kept in crowded, stressed conditions and are driven cross-country where they will come into contact with other bees. This creates an opportunity for rapid disease transmission to new populations, and creates conditions which favors strains of existing diseases evolving to become more virulent. Pesticides act as a stressor on top of all these. Because there are so many interacting factors, it is generally believed that there is no ‘One True Cause’ of CCD.
The story of CCD is a serious one, and it should be discussed in the public sphere. What disturbs me about this discussion is that the Lu paper discussed above has managed to go viral among the media outlets not because it’s quality science but because it fits an anti-pesticide narrative that the media has become increasingly comfortable with. The standard neonicotinoid narrative is convenient because it makes the situation simpler…a single problem, and a single solution which involves banning a single substance. However the real pesticide story involves dozens of compounds with wildly different uses, which interact with biological and environmental factors which are still poorly understood at best. The neonicotinoid story is just as complex because they likely don’t cause problems in all crops, but issues with proper use and application rates still need to be sorted out. There’s also a human component in some systems which is never discussed, where neonicotinoids frequently replace pesticides more toxic to people like organophosphates. Unfortunately, Lu’s research does nothing to highlight legitimate issues with these pesticides in particular. The thing that perhaps makes people the most uncomfortable, is that unlike climate change or evolution, the issues discussed here are not a case of settled science and continue to evolve as we better understand these factors.