News - March 22, 2012

The Battle of the Beehive

Wageningen bee expert Tjeerd Blacquiere is pulling the wool over our eyes, claims toxicologist Henk Tennekes in a complaint to the executive board.

Tennekes thinks Blacquiere deliberately left certain information out of a review on the role of the insecticide imidacloprid in bee deaths. This information includes articles about Tennekes' research on the toxicity of imidacloprid. The serious accusation marks the lowest point so far in a fierce controversy around imidacloprid.
The skirmish started a year ago, with an item on the Dutch television programme, Zembla. It was implied during this programme that Wageningen played down the damage done by imidacloprid because of its links with the manufacturer of the pesticide. One of the results of the political furore that ensued was an assignment for Wageningen UR from the ministry of EL&I to produce the controversial review.
The two attacks on the Wageningen bee research group come from the same camp. The bee world is currently divided into two camps. Blacquiere and his colleagues believe that the Varroa mite is the main cause of the bee deaths. In the other camp is Utrecht scientist Jeroen van der Sluijs, assistant professor of New Risks. He sees imidacloprid as the chief culprit in the mass bee deaths and wants to see an immediate ban on the substance.
Tennekes and Van der Sluijs are in the same business. They spread their messages on websites, in the media and in parliament. An interesting detail is that Van der Sluijs was on the academic supervisory committee for Blacquiere's review. That does not seem to have led to much understanding or rapprochement. But there does not appear to be much future in the complaint against Blacquiere, either. Blacquiere has plausible arguments for the exclusion of certain research results from his overview article on imidacloprid. He excluded both articles about other insects than bees and articles that had not been peer-reviewed, as instructed by the commissioning organization. So the commission of enquiry set up by rector magnificus Martin Kropff is likely to exonerate Blacquiere. Not that this will produce any real winners. At best, it will provide ammunition for fresh accusations.