Honey bee die offs have happened before - should we be concerned this time?

Yes, we should always be concerned about honey bees. 

For a start, environmental factors affecting honey bees are likely to affect wild species, and with more devastating effects. 

Yesteryear's epidemic

I was dismayed, having sent a letter to a political representative regarding my concerns about systemic insecticides (neonicotinoids) and the reported impacts on honey bee colonies, to receive an erroneous counter response. 

The strange suggestion seemed to imply that because there have been previous honey bee die offs in the past 200 years (referencing specifically the Isle of Wight disease in 1904, which decimated honey bee colonies), that somehow this must indicate that neonicotinoids are no cause for concern.

The stand point was:

'it's happened before and it wasn't systemic insecticides last time, so it can't be neonicotinoids this time'.

This argument is erroneous.  Why?

Here are some reasons:

  • Just because systemic insecticides were not around to cause disease in 1904, does not mean they are not posing a serious threat today.  

  • Large numbers of colonies have been lost – this should, in any century, cause grave concern and merit thorough investigation, not a blasé disregard for independent scientific evidence combined with the widespread experience and testimonies of beekeepers across Europe.

  • Let’s apply the same logic to humans.

    The human populations across Europe have suffered plagues and epidemics over centuries, but if a significant number of the population died today, we’d want to know the truth of what had happened. 

    If there was a hint that exposure to a new poison was to blame, we’d be looking to resolve the matter immediately. 

    We would not automatically rule out poisoning based on previous epidemics.

  • There is, within the response from the political representative, also a complete disregard for potential dangers to wild pollinators and non-target invertebrates. 

    At the very least, the possibility that external, environmental factors could be implicated should be considered rather than simply cast aside (after all, even in human diseases, external factors are often implicated in some way).

    If external factors are found, the potential impacts on wild pollinators and invertebrates needs must not be overlooked.  

  • Independent scientific evidence needs to be weighed in the balance of the arguments, even if it appears inconvenient to do so.


In short, vested interests are already leading regulators down a garden path with flawed theories and standpoints – it’s important our political representatives are challenged not to follow the same route.