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Is the "Bee-pocalypse" a Hoax?


Almost 30 years ago, in grade school, I remember being made to watch a documentary in school called "The Plight of the Honeybee." Since then, articles and documentaries about how bees are disappearing have become routine. One can now scarcely escape the popular narrative that pollinators are in decline and we'll all soon be forced to live off gruel and other (presumably suboptimal) foods that don't require pollination by bees. At the heart of it all, we are told, is humanity's recklessness in causing pollution and/or in using pesticides that are killing off the bees. 

Not surprisingly, the government's response has been to propose banning pesticides. 

At Forbes last week, Henry Miller suggested that the science behind the allegedly disappearing bees is mostly junk science. Governments have been happy to keep the narrative going because it fits well into a larger environmentalist agenda. However, Miller provides several examples indicating the bees are not being killed off by pesticides, or killed off at all:

Always alert for ways to emulate bad policy, the White House wasn’t far behind. Within months, the president set up a Pollinator Task Force mandated with stemming the “continued loss of commercial honey bee colonies…which could have profound implications for agriculture and food.” Meanwhile, the U.S. EPA took steps to severely restrict neonic [pesticide] use, and the provincial government of Ontario, Canada, announced plans for an 80 percent reduction in neonics by 2016.


But then the regulatory juggernaut hit a pothole. A few independent journalists decided to find out just how bad the “bee-pocalypse” was. Turns out it wasn’t the usual environmentalists’ exaggeration. It was a complete fabrication.


Hidden in plain sight on the websites of USDA and other regulatory organizations, official honeybee counts showed rising numbers of hives. In the United States, Canada, Europe and indeed the world as whole, honeybee counts have been rising–sometimes dramatically–since neonics first came on the market 20 years ago.  

As with global warming, the "science" is used to jump immediately from identifying a problem to calling on the government to solve the problem. The side effects of such policies and the known costs to human quality of life are dismissed without consideration. 

As far as the science goes, I'll leave it up to Miller and others because I don't plan to read dozens of scientific articles on the matter. What concerns us here is the legitimacy of government regulation and the realities of the marketplace. As with global warming, if pro-regulation lobbyists and advocates wish to solve some asserted problem, the burden of proof is on those who want to use government violence to achieve their ends. But even if they prove a problem exists, this does not entitle them to begin violating individual persons and property, just as a crime epidemic does not entitle the government to impose a police state. 

Nevertheless, the purveyors of science, unfortunately, have a bad habit of totally ignoring the real human costs of their proposed solutions, relying on government power to silence dissent and mandate compliance under pain of fines and even imprisonment.

Miller points out some of the costs of banning pesticides:

Finally, where is the crisis in food production for that one third of all crops pollinated by bees? The amount and quality of our food is improving all the time. A neonic ban, however, would be a $4.6 billion hit to the economy, deprive farmers of their only effective tool against many pests, and force the use of older pesticides that are less safe for farm workers–and significantly worse for bees.

Miller asks a good question here, but the larger economic and political issue is the fact that such a ban would be massively disruptive to the economy of the producers, and impose a series of prohibitions, which naturally then require a bureaucracy to enforce. 

But never mind the producers. What about the consumers of food who would see the price of food increase significantly with a ban of these pesticides? Ironically, it is no doubt true that many of the same people who now argue for the banning of pesticides also argue against GMO's, many of which are being developed to reduce the reliance on pesticides. Those who wish to ban pesticides also no doubt fancy themselves as friends of the common man and low income communities. Yet, they have an odd way of showing such concern by seeking to hike food prices. 

Now, I'll admit I avoid some so-called "frankenfoods" such as RoundUp Ready soybeans because I prefer to not eat soybeans drenched in RoundUp herbicide. I also tend to avoid pesticides in other cases as well.  But, I also know that, in a financial pinch, I'd rather at least have the option of buying a conventionally grown, non-organic apple than no apple at all. 

"But we shouldn't have to trade health for affordability," some will no doubt cry. Well, I "shouldn't have to" trade time with my family for a salary, but here we are. And given the choice between a job and no job, I'll take the less-bad option. The fact that the government wishes to eliminate the less-bad option for many people, is one of the great injustices of our time. 

So, should we all rush to outlaw pesticides because the bees are dying off? The proposed solution via government edict is questionable at best, but it now seems that it's just a matter of time before we encounter the phrase "bee-pocalypse denial."


Contact Ryan McMaken

Ryan McMaken (@ryanmcmaken) is a senior editor at the Mises Institute. Send him your article submissions for the Mises Wire and Power and Market, but read article guidelines first. Ryan has a bachelor's degree in economics and a master's degree in public policy and international relations from the University of Colorado. He was a housing economist for the State of Colorado. He is the author of Breaking Away: The Case of Secession, Radical Decentralization, and Smaller Polities and Commie Cowboys: The Bourgeoisie and the Nation-State in the Western Genre.