Yestereve, impending doom was upon us due to the anticipated extinction of bees. 

But as of today, insects face a new threat – an excess of bees, or so they say. 

It appears that neither claim holds true. 

The beepocalypse was merely a contrived hysteria, albeit a profitable one for a select few who “advised” on bee preservation methods. Environmentalists embraced the narrative as it served as an additional angle to criticize large-scale farming. And naturally, the media, renowned for propelling erroneous accounts to maintain our interest, found the story quite appealing. 

The Washington Post unveils an intriguing insight: never before in American history have bee colonies been more abundant. This remarkable phenomenon, like several others, results from economic triggers. 

A decade ago, the beepocalypse narrative inundated the public sphere, persisting in some circles even to this day. Environmentalists present alarming stories in legislative assemblies regarding the scarcity of pollinators and the imminent agricultural collapse. Incentives for planting flowers in solar farms emerged. The demise of bees fueled employment opportunities and lobbying material. 

Yet, these claims hold no merit. Although colony collapse syndrome was prevalent during the Bush administration, historical records indicate its cyclic nature dating back to the inception of bee colonies. The exact cause remains unknown. 

Following nearly twenty years of extensive coverage on colony collapses and years lamenting mysteriously clear windshields, we were astounded by the revelations from the new Census of Agriculture (commonly recognized as the period every five years when the government tallies all the llamas): The honeybee population in America has surged to unprecedented levels.

Here at the Data Department, we are devoted to unraveling the enigmatic influence of data shaping our world. 

Within the last five years, we’ve witnessed a surge of nearly a million bee colonies. The census reports a total of 3.8 million colonies presently. Since 2007, following the initial census subsequent to alarming bee depopulation in 2006, the honeybee has emerged as the fastest-growing livestock segment in the nation! This figure excludes feral honeybees, which potentially outnumber their captive counterparts multiple times.

Feral honeybees. Quite fascinating. 

Bees constitute a crucial sector for evident reasons, with individuals often earning their livelihood not only by honey production but also by nurturing bees for crop pollination. Unsurprisingly, almonds currently dominate due to this reason. Almonds, being seeds, owe their existence to bees pollinating almond flowers. 

It’s a point that had eluded my consideration until now, yet appears undeniably clear in hindsight. However, my thoughts seldom drift to bees unless in their close proximity, owing to my allergy to their stings. Despite that, bees, unlike hornets, possess a mild nature, thus sparking only marginal interest from me. 

Interestingly, the surge in bee colonies is less correlated with honey production or professional pollination. 

The underlying reason lies within tax policies in Texas. 

Dennis Herbert may not emanate the aura of a political influencer. A retired wildlife biologist aged 75, Herbert boasts of no notable connections or associations. Yet, in 2011, having tended bees for a few years, he approached the Texas legislature with a straightforward hypothetical scenario.

“Imagine you own 200 acres adjacent to my property, where you cultivate cotton to sustain yourself. Acquiring an agricultural valuation, you benefit from reduced property taxes. On my end, I own 10 acres neighboring yours, maintaining bees that facilitate crop pollination for you,” Herbert articulated. “I couldn’t help but question the fairness in this scenario.”

Consequently, in 2012, the Herbert Hypothetical instigated a new regulation: Any parcel between five to twenty acres is now eligible for agricultural tax benefits upon hosting bees for five consecutive years.

Over the ensuing years, all 254 counties in Texas adopted bee regulations mandating, for instance, six beehives on a five-acre tract, with an additional hive for every 2.5 acres thereafter to qualify for the tax exemption. Herbert maintains a record of these regulations and endeavors to educate landowners curious about bee-keeping across the state.

Beekeepers may soon form a novel community segment on the expanding Pride flag, I presume. 

All of this holds significance owing to the fictitious beepocalypse which prompted restrictions on neonicotinoid insecticides. For instance, within the EU, regulations were implemented to safeguard bees

In 2013, five neonicotinoid insecticides obtained approval as active compounds in the EU for utilization in plant protection products, namely clothianidin, imidacloprid, thiamethoxam, acetamiprid and thiacloprid.

Constant vigilance over potential relationships between bee health and pesticides is maintained by the Commission with a steadfast commitment to adopting the most cautious approach possible for bee protection.

Subsequently, in 2013, the Commission significantly restricted the application of plant protection products and treated seeds containing three of these neonicotinoids (clothianidin, imidacloprid, and thiamethoxam) to safeguard honeybees (refer to Regulation (EU) No 485/2013).

This measure stemmed from a risk evaluation conducted by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in 2012. It prohibits the use of these three neonicotinoids in bee-attractive crops (including maize, oilseed rape, and sunflower) except for specific employments in greenhouses, post-flowering crop treatments, and winter cereals.

Simultaneously, the applicants of these three substances were mandated to conform to certain requirements without which their applications could be rejected, thereby ensuring compliance with stringent bee protection measures.

to provide additional information (referred to as “confirmatory data“) for each of their substances to reaffirm the safety of the permitted uses.

After reviewing this confirmatory data by EFSA on clothianidin imidacloprid and thiamethoxam, it was concluded that the remaining outdoor uses could no longer be deemed safe due to the risks posed to bees. Consequently, in 2017, the Commission services drafted three proposals to prohibit completely the outdoor uses of the three active substances.

A simple Google search reveals a never-ending stream of criticisms against these pesticides, mainly focused on their impact on bee populations. Interestingly, it is worth noting that honeybees play a crucial role in pollinating crops treated with these insecticides, and there is actually an increase in the number of hives and bees.

It logically follows that both assertions cannot be accurate. While neonics may have a negative effect on bee well-being, the more significant issue appears to be parasites. Clearly, bees are managing quite well despite the challenges.

Generally, most alarms are akin to deceptions. An inconsequential, everyday concern is excessively sensationalized, resulting in unwarranted anxiety. Opportunists seize on this to profit or raise their visibility. It garners attention and viewership. Ultimately, someone is scapegoated for a nonexistent or minor issue.

The moral here is to be skeptical of narratives about killer bees, murder hornets, or any other supposed cause for alarm. Occasionally, there may be genuine concerns, but seldom a genuine crisis.

For some, however, the crisis serves as a means to an end, as no crisis should be wasted.