Germany, France, and Slovenia have banned use of the pesticide or limited it pending further study, and the U.K. is considering such a move. This key difference between U.S. policy and the policies of many other countries was a pressing issue for those at the lunch. Why isn’t the EPA, with which Pettis says he is in an ongoing dialogue, more cautious when it comes to using chemicals? Why isn’t it standard to wait until a chemical is proven to be safe to approve it, rather than wait until a chemical is proven to do harm to remove it? Harriet Crosby, a Friends of the Earth member who helped organize the talk, asked why the the European “precautionary principle” wasn’t in place here. Pettis sighed and shook his head. “There are higher demands for testing,” he said, with the muted conviction of a man who works for the slow-moving bureaucracy that is the federal government — which doesn’t mean he wasn’t sympathetic to their concerns. “I’m on the pollinators’ side” he said.
Scientists have noticed that, in some cases, honeybees will cap off nectar in a process called “entombment,” which will prevent other bees from eating it. The bees know something foreign is in the pollen, and that it’s hurting them. It’s a good predictor that the colony will die in two or three months. Pettis was asked by a beekeeper whether scientists can intervene after entombment to try to save the doomed bees. Pettis replied that researchers don’t know exactly what entombment means. The bees may be far too poisoned by that point to save, or they could be so nutritionally stressed that they need to eat the bad nectar anyway. But he walked through mitigation measures under way to keep bees from dying off in the winter: feeding them a high-fructose corn syrup mixture which itself may not be free of pesticides and feeding them a manmade protein supplement. None of these is as nutritionally rich as what the bees would ideally find in nature.