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Bee Industry Stung by Fake News

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Fake news is a hot topic these days. Most of the time the label gets used on political or cultural news stories.  Fake news is not really new; it used to be called propaganda, but I guess fake news is more politically correct.  There is real danger to fake news and a reason it is a bigger issue today than it has been in the past. If enough news organizations repeat and report the fake news, it becomes real in the minds of readers and viewers. The lemming mentality of news organizations today leads them to think that if enough people are talking about something, it must be news. Likewise, if enough people report the same false fact, that fact becomes true.  What has happened to the honey bee industry is a classic example.

It is a fact that bee populations have been declining in recent years, although the apocalyptic tone of most of the coverage of this has been overdone. For example, according to the National Ag Statistic Service (NASS), the Indiana bee population as of January 1, 2017 was down 8% from a year earlier. Nationally, the number of colonies at the beginning of 2017 totaled 2.6 million, virtually unchanged from the beginning of 2016.

The fake news kicks in when you begin to discuss the reason for the decline in the pollinator population. A quick scan of media coverage would lead you to believe that Neonicotinoids are the cause. This class of chemicals used in crop protection products causes queen bees to lay fewer eggs.  You can also find lots of other stories on Colony Collapse Disorder and on the Varroa mite. Yet, according to Dale McMahan, an Indiana beekeeper, most of this is fake news.

McMahan testified before a Farm Bill listening session last week representing Indiana beekeepers.  He said most of what you read and hear regarding bees is wrong and stated, “Most of the research on systemic pesticides is simply an attempt to bash and make money off of chemical companies.” He said Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) should really be called Cash Cow Disease because most of the research is just trying to make money and not really trying to get to the heart of what the real problem is.

McMahan says the heart of the problem is lack of forage. “The problem is bees do not have enough of what they really need to eat,” he testified.  He said corn pollen has a low level of nutritional value for bees, “They wouldn’t go on it at all if they had a field of sweet clover nearby.” Unfortunately, our current intensive method of monocropping and lack of fence rows, does not leave room for that kind of forage.  McMahan’s request from the Farm Bill was not more research, not regulations, but “A realistic way to provide more forage for bees.”

Since this approach does not generate million dollar grants for university researchers or produce big donations to environmental groups, it is not likely to get much attention. Yet, it seems like a simple and practical way to address the current decline in pollinators. While more credible research is needed on CCD, the viewpoint of the beekeeper needs to be given more credence and less credence needs to be given to the fake news on bees.

If you really want to help pollinators, boycotting certain products at the garden center is not the answer.  Rather, buy a big bag of wildflower seeds and plant them. The bees will thank you.

By Gary Truitt