Thursday, March 21, 2013

Neo-nicotinoid pesticides and a beekeeping Tory MP

I wrote to my MP about bees and neonicotinoid pesticides. The Tories are trying to delay a European ban on the neonics. He replied, and this is my reply to him:

Dear John

Thank you for your reply. I know that you do care about this subject, but I feel that you have been misled about the science of the impact of neo-nicotinoids on bees.

You say that "research is not conclusive".
There is a widely held misconception that science does "conclusive proof". It does not.

Proof is restricted to geometry and mathematics. The best status that a scientific hypothesis can ever achieve is "not yet disproven". This was laid down by Popper, and has survived several reviews by later philosophers - apart from Feyerabend, who was in the opinion of most scientist who bother to look at philosophy, off the wall.

Therefore, scientific research is never "conclusive". Research produces evidence, and the balance of evidence has to be weighed up by decision makers. Judgement is required.
In the opinion of envirnmentalists, there is sufficient evidence already for a ban.
In the opinion of the CEO of Bayer and other companies who are profiting from the sales of neo-nicotinoids, there will never be sufficient evidence for a ban.
The BBKA have been receiving money from Bayer, but have now stopped doing so, and therefore their judgement will have moved towards a ban.
The Conservative Party may well still be receiving money from Bayer (you will correct me if I am wrong) and if it is, its judgment will tend to be against a ban.

You stand somewhere in the middle.

You accept that low doses of neonicotinoids might have a "damaging (but not deadly) effect" on bees. This is a dubious distinction. If a bee cannot find its way back to the colony because the neonics have disrupted its exquisitely complex  internal maps, it will die. If a colony's finely tuned immune system is degraded by neonics, that colony will die. The post mortem may then reveal varroa mite, and the implication of the neonic in the death will be overlooked.

Please take on board the fact  that a ban - especially if it is total - can play a major part in scientific research. If bee health, having been trending downwards prior to a ban, starts to show recovery after a ban, this in itself is strong evidence (not proof - see above) that the neonics were causing the problem. As you know, partial bans in a two or three countries on mainland Europe have had this effect.

As for the question of alternative pesticides, I would remind you that organic farmers manage without pesticides at all, and have done so for many years.
You will immediately respond that they are not as productive.
In fact, there is evidence that if long term factors such as soil erosion are taken into account, organic productivity is on a par with or better than conventional agriculture.

John, you are in a strong position both as a beekeeper and as a Conservative with a heart, to make a difference here.
If you summon up your courage to stand out from the herd and say that as a beekeeper you can no longer accept the Government's delaying tactics, if you declare that the precautionary principle and the clear eventual inevitability of a ban compels you to speak out against delay, you can have the honour of being the MP who saves the bee population of the UK.
In doing so, you will also be playing a part in saving the economy of the UK from losing £1.8 billion a year.

Thank  you


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