Almost ten years ago, when there were indications of stresses on honeybee populations (known as colony collapse disorder – CCD), different activists were jockeying for the right to claim this crisis for their campaigns. Climate activists wanted to show bees were suffering because of warmer weather; biodiversity campaigners saw land-use issues as the source for the crisis; anti-GMO stalwarts wanted us to know there was something unknown in the pollen; anti-EMF fear-mongers wanted to highlight the confusion bees suffered due to our love of mobile technology. Nobody mentioned the main causes (cold winters and Varroa mite) … seriously, who would donate to that???
In an early blog, the Risk-Monger had predicted that the anti-pesticides lobby would win this issue as their own … and how right he was! It doesn’t matter that there was no science behind the bees and pesticides campaigns; it doesn’t matter that the campaigners lied and fear-mongered their way to the top; it doesn’t matter that farmers, the environment and bees suffered from the consequences of their self-serving dogmatic bias. The organic food lobby, that funded these cosmopolitan zealots, focused the campaign on the most advanced, least detrimental line of crop protection products: neonicotinoids (neonics)
Watching this crisis unfold, the Risk-Monger saw an enormous amount of unethical, unscientific and unacceptable behaviour from the save-the-bees groups. This is the story of BeeGate – how activist scientists and seasoned campaigners used Age of Stupid tactics to trick policymakers, seduce the media and terrify the public – litigious liars and lamentable fear-mongers have caused incomprehensible damage to the public trust in dialogue, science and policy. Winning might be everything to these activists, but destroying food security and trust in policy and science hardly merits such hypocrisy!
The BeeGate Trilogy
In 2014, I leaked a confidential activist strategy document that showed how a group of anti-pesticide scientists aligned with the IUCN conspired to ban neonics – putting policy first and looking for evidence later. That was only the first part of the scandal. I then showed in Part 2 how the scientists were conflicted and funded by interest groups that would benefit from an increase in organic food sales. After that I revealed how activists worked their way onto the EFSA Bee Risk Assessment Working Group to game the RA process to ensure that the available field trial data would not comply, leading to EFSA’s limited advice that would result in a precautionary ban on neonicotinoids.
This blog exposed the misleading activist science, opportunism and campaign-driven malpractices of some of the anti-pesticide campaigners. They had met in 2010 to strategise what they needed to do to get neonicotinoids banned. One little problem: they put the campaign results first before they produced the evidence. One other little problem: they published the details of their campaign strategy online. I thought it was worth sharing. Within six months of my releasing this document in 2014, the taskforce seemed to have disappeared.
It was interesting to see who was behind the anti-neonic pesticide taskforce. These activist scientists were funded by a cabal of anti-industry, pro-organic foundations that had found a non-transparent way to fund their activists. They never published the amounts that were funded, for what, or even the full list of scientists belonging to the IUCN taskforce. A quick review of some of the main actors showed they did not include many of the leading bee researchers.
The third part of the BeeGate exposé showed how certain activist scientists had worked their way onto the EFSA Bee Risk Assessment Working Group to create the Bee Guidance Document. This document was never accepted into law since its guidelines for field trials were impossible to comply with. But that did not matter. It allowed EFSA to reject bee field trial data that did not comply with their proposed draft guidance, leaving the authority to advise that there was insufficient data (hence the need for the European Commission to conclude the need for a precautionary ban of neonicotinoids). One little point. This blog also shows that the European Commission had clear evidence that neonics were not the cause of an decline in pollinator health. But due to the bias of one DG Sanco director, the European Commission was able to ignore that evidence.
A year after BeeGate, the draft Bee Guidance Document remains invalid – rejected by the European Council on several occasions. Still, EFSA decided to use it to systematically reject all field trial data that showed how neonicotinoids (in foliar or sprayed applications) had no significant impact on bee health. This blog got into more detail over just how ridiculously impossible the conditions set out in the Bee Guidance Document were. For tests to be valid, EFSA demanded a bee mortality rate of no more than 7% (natural mortality rates are around 15%) and a field trial test area of 168km² (or 31,500 football pitches). The Bee Guidance Document was created by activists who deceived their way onto the EFSA panel to create the means to reject all relevant research data.
Following the BeeGate exposé, I sent a question to EFSA over the undeclared conflicts of interest of the key influencers of the rejected Bee Guidance Document that was the source of EFSA’s advice that there was insufficient data to preclude neonicotinoids. I showed how two scientists in particular were involved in anti-pesticide activist groups and had brought that bias into the EFSA working group. EFSA agreed that one of the scientists had broken the rules and confronted him with this information. At which point, the scientist said he was not involved with the NGO during the time of the EFSA Bee Risk Assessment Working Group. This blog shows not only that the scientist was involved with the NGO at the time (that he lied to EFSA), but that there was a complex effort to try to hide the evidence and remove documents from the Internet.
An Ask the EU access to information request was made for my correspondence with the European Commission on bees and neonicotinoids. I decided it would be better to release the exchange for everyone to see. The letter showed how the European Commission knew that the ban on neonics would do nothing to improve bee health, but was simply the easy way for the Commission to pretend to look busy. The problem is that the consequences of such a stupid policy decision have been so serious. Not only has it deeply affected farmers livelihoods (only for oilseed rape, the ban has cost EU farmers around €900 million per year), but the rural anti-EU vote in the UK likely swung the Brexit vote to the Leave camp. If Sanco/Santé civil servants had not behaved so irresponsibly, this bigger crisis might have been averted!
As the case against the European Commission for their illegal precautionary ban of three neonicotinoids was coming before the European justice system, I thought I would write DG Santé Commissioner Andriukaitis to appeal to reason and a plea for leadership. The ban was based on the rejected Bee Guidance Document which was created by activists who had deceived EFSA and hidden their conflicts of interest. With nine reasons why only an idiot would continue to stand behind the past mistakes and face inevitable humiliation in front of the courts, I showed how the Commission could get out of the situation simply by retracting the invalid Bee Guidance Document. It would only need a signature (and courage). I then added a tenth reason: the Joint Research Centre ex-post assessment report on the neonicotinoid ban (which DG Santé had commissioned) concluded that the neonic ban was a failure – older, less effective pesticide use increased, pest infestations got worse and there was no visible improvement in pollinator populations (which were not suffering in any case). To this day, the Commission has not retracted the doomed Bee Guidance Document and they have refused to release the JRC report.
So much for appealing to reason!