May 20th marked the annual World Bee Day of the United Nations, an excellent occasion to debunk the myth that the bees are dying because of modern agriculture. This common misconception has been making the rounds through environmentalist activism and the media for almost two decades.
When California beekeepers in the 2000s experienced losses in their bee colonies, environmentalists first blamed who they're used to blaming: genetic engineering. But unlike an episode of South Park, there is no Dr. Mephesto creating continuous disasters with outlandish experiments — in fact, the idea that GMOs were to blame for what was dubbed "Colony Collapse Disorder" was quickly rejected by the scientific community.
Green groups in the United States then turned their attention to pesticides, who for long have been an enemy of environmentalists who advocate for a return to traditionalist farming methods. Neonicotinoids as well as alternative products such as sulfoxaflor, have been targeted ever since as "bee-killing pesticides," despite their significant importance for modern farming.
The scientific community however also rejected those claims for sulfoxaflor as recently as July last year. Claims that the said compound was also negated by both the European Food Safety Authority EFSA and the EPA, which calls it "better for species across the board."
However, it isn't just that the crop protection products blamed for bee declines aren't responsible, but also that colony losses overall are a temporary phenomenon.
All it takes is a look at the statistics of the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. The data (which can be found here) shows that for 2020 numbers, there is an increase of beehives by 17% since 2010, 35% since the year 2000, and a 90% increase since the data was collected in 1961.
The most common threat that bees are supposedly subjected to by humans are neonicotinoid insecticides, known as neonics.
However, the popularization of neonics and its alternatives in the mid-'90s doesn't trigger a collapse of bee populations. In the United States, the numbers of bee colonies have been stable for 30 years, while in Europe - where farmers also use these insecticides - the number has increased by 20%.
Yet environmentalists are expected to continue painting modern agriculture as a scapegoat, even in times when food inflation and supply shortages show us that we cannot afford a model that reduces productivity (as organic farming or agroecological processes do).
Despite the fact that farmers need crop protection products to assure that food products are affordable, safe and available, green activists call for an agricultural model that would all but outlaw them, thus making consumers worse off.
The European Union is slowly walking back its plans that would have cut pesticide use by 50% in the next few years — a rethink sparked by the war in Ukraine, which has created significant supply chain disruptions.
The United States should be proud of its agricultural success. Over time, with innovative technology, farmers use less and less crop protection products that leave fewer residues.
Meanwhile, consumers can continue to choose to buy alternatives, even though those come at a premium. This system makes up the beauty of an open economy: choices for consumers and stability for farmers.
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