Neonics & Bees: Why is this issue important, and what should be done?

The potential harm caused to bees and other pollinators by the rampant use of neonicotinoids has the capacity to pose a real and immediate threat to both the environment and humans. The benefits that bees and other pollinators provide, combined with the potential of harm they may face, are important enough to warrant a more comprehensive testing apparatus by which to evaluate threats to their population. Environmentally, bees and other pollinators are an important piece of ecosystemic balance – from pest management to pollination of plants that are a part of many species’ diet. Anthropologically speaking, the way of life humans have been accustomed to and even need in order to survive is also largely dependent on a healthy population of bees and other pollinators; up to 70% of plants and vegetables we eat are directly a result of pollinators, and one-third of every mouthful humans consume is attributed to pollinators’ arduous work. Without a healthy population of pollinators, the agricultural variety and nutritional availability would drastically decrease. Moreover, these agricultural products pollinators are responsible for also affect billions of dollars on both a national and global level.[1] In many ways, the economic stability of the United States is at an equal risk as the pollinators. For example, an inability to produce many of our own agricultural staples would leave local and regional livelihoods disrupted and change the United States’ import/export position. Moreover, this is not just a national problem. Pollinators are responsible for over 150 billion dollars globally in agriculture.[2] Many of the nutrients humans need to be healthy would be in short supply.

The vast array of benefits that bees and other pollinators provide humans and the environment make them a critical aspect of our ecosystem and it’s balance. The potential threat that neonics pose to the well-being of pollinators, health of their population, and this ecosystemic balance all warrant a closer look at the effects of neonics on their existence. While scientists continue to study the possible effects of neonicotinoids on pollinators, how should policy makers respond? In this thesis, I argue that the various and drastic ways in which pollinators impact our environment and every day life, combined with the potential of the harsh threats their collapse would entail, warrant a more stringent approach to the evaluation of potential harms like neonicotinoids. An ethical risk assessment, as I define one, would be an appropriate tool to apply to this situation to guide policy makers in drafting regulations even in the absence of scientific certainty. Ethical risk assessments are a tool by which to evaluate the moral and ethical responsibilities in a whole host of different scenarios, one of which is neonics and pollinators. In other words, this ethical risk assessment will be used as an instrument by which to determine whether or not there is a sufficient risk to the population of pollinators, thus determining whether regulation is appropriate. Through application of this risk assessment, I will show that in this particular case regulation is appropriate due to the risks neonics pose to pollinators in light of the evidence that we do have.

The question that prompted this thesis essentially asks whether the local legislation in cities like Portland and Seattle that has been passed to protect pollinators from neonicotinoids is justified. Moreover, should legislation be passed nationally? By justified, I mean the appropriate and morally defensible action (legislative ban) to solve an identified problem (declining population of pollinators). I argue that when my ethical risk assessment is applied, it is shown that the effects of neonics on bees and other pollinators is real and substantial enough to warrant regulation like legislative action (bans), thereby making the legislative bans justified.











[1] Trumble, John T. “The Dependence of Crops for Pollinators and the Economic Value of Pollination in Brazil.” Journal of Economic Entomology, May 4, 2015.

[2]Gallai, Nicola, Jean-Michel Salles, Josef Settele, and Bernard E. Vaissiere. “Economic Valuation of the Vulnerability of World Agriculture Confronted with Pollinator Decline.” Ecological Economics 68, no. 3 (January 15, 2009): 810-21.


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