On World Bee Day, let's set the record straight. It has been seven years since the Washington Post famously dispelled the myth of a catastrophic bee decline in an article titled "Call off the bee-pocalypse: honeybee colonies just hit a 20-year high." The piece was one of many attempts to underline that pollinators are not under threat, contrary to popular belief.
In fact, looking at the statistics of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, beehives are on the rise worldwide. The data show that as of 2020, there has been an increase of beehives by 17% since 2010, 35% since 2000, and 90% since 1961. The most common threats that bees are supposedly subjected to by humans are neonicotinoid insecticides, known as neonics. However, the popularization of neonics in the mid-90s didn't trigger a collapse of bee populations. In the United States, the number of bee colonies has been stable for 30 years, while in Europe, where farmers also use these insecticides, the number has increased by 20%.
When radical conservationists turned their attention instead to wild bees — because, unlike managed bees, you don't have to deal with those pesky statistics — they attempted the same doom-and-gloom strategy. Researchers claimed to have found that wild bees in the U.S. declined 23% between 2008 and 2013, yet the model they produced to identify these numbers was dubious at best. So dubious that Science 2.0 took apart the methodology and described it as follows: "They created an academic model that would get them fired from every single company in existence for being wildly suspect and based on too many assumptions. The authors then claim the decline they don't know is happening must be due to pesticides, global warming and farmers. This passes for a study in Vermont; it just does not pass for a study in science." Ouch!
In fact, declines of both managed and wild bees occur naturally through weather changes and the decisions of beekeepers about how many bees they currently need. As honey prices are now on a steep increase, it is likely that beekeepers will upgrade their colony numbers to increase sales over the next few years.
Then, why do serious journalists still write news stories about neonics with the phrase "bee-killing pesticide"? One would think that in the age of fighting misinformation, news on the environment, in particular, would be meticulously fact-checked. It is most likely a mix of ideological possession of those in the press and a healthy amount of lazy journalism. To be fair, "save the bees" is catchier than "bee colony collapses are statistically temporary and unrelated to modern crop protection tools."
Bill Wirtz is the senior policy analyst at the Consumer Choice Center, focusing on new technology, agriculture, trade, and lifestyle regulations.