This is part of the book “Stéphane Foucart et les néonicotinoïdes. The World and disinformation 1“ where I show the journalist misinforms (= false or misleading statements) the reader. Specifically, we show that his presentation of the ban on beet NNIs as obvious is misleading. All quotes are translated (by me), except the ones marked between [ ] in the french version (french quotes are to numerous to be marked in this one).

The journalist defends this consensus thanks to the technique of moving from a pragmatic logic (which is based in principle on scientific data, with a logic of doses), to a logic that I qualify as hygienist, because it is not acts more than defending the absolute purity of nature in the face of contamination (it is no longer a question of a logic of presence). In this case, it slips from “NNIs are dangerous” to “No NNIs should be left in the environment.

a. 12 août 2020 (64) article

The article from August 12, 2020, “With or without flowering, neonicotinoids pose risks to pollinators” (64), perfectly illustrates this mechanism.

The author responds to a statement from the Ministry of Agriculture announcing the reintroduction of NNIs on beets. This success would be based “largely on an apparent common sense argument: since sugar beet is harvested before flowering, it does not constitute an attractive crop for bees and pollinators. The treatment of beet by coating seeds would therefore be without risk for these insects.”

In fact, the ministry’s decision was based on the idea that without pollination, the prejudice caused by NNIs was less important than the prejudice caused by their ban. A pragmatic logic therefore. Nonetheless, the journalist says the decision would be based on the fact that the coating would be “safe” for the bees, which in the common sense means “no negative effects”. We are moving from a pragmatic logic (“We must ban if the negative effects of NNIs are too high”) to a hygienist logic (“We must ban if the NNIs have any negative effects”). Once he sets that focus, he elaborates on it for the rest of the article.

Note that to reinforce this slide, he will refer to the work of EFSA by neutralizing the objections they raise:

“These phenomena are not a fringe science: they were taken into account by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in its 2018 expertise on ‘neonics’. The findings of EFSA – an agency little suspect of environmentalists – had led to the ban of the main neonicotinoids in Europe, in all their uses. Regarding neonically treated sugar beet, EFSA rated the risks of guttation water as “low”, but independent academic work from the industry is lacking on the subject. As for the contamination of the environment around the treated beet plots, the European agency was unable to conclude that there was no risk for bumblebees and solitary bees, due to a lack of data.” (64)

On the effect of guttation, we find the journalist’s conception of “good science”: work with the slightest connection to industry would have no scientific value. Note that he poses his opinion as “worth” more than the opinion of EFSA. It implicitly presents the “low” risks as sufficient to justify the ban when this vocabulary, in fact, in the sense in which EFSA uses it, means the opposite.

The lack of data on contamination outside the treated plot is surprising, given that the author always presents the subject to us as being well known1. Why should we consider the opinion of a journalist (and a few researchers?) To be superior to that of a health agency on the subject? He suggests that the lack of data would justify the most absolute ban possible. This completely ignores the challenges of health regulations that we presented previously (I. of this chapter).

b. “Fish don’t forage in the rice fields.”

Another argument, developed in the article (66), takes up the study by Yamamuro (et al. 2019) observing a very strong correlation between the use of NNI in rice fields and the collapse of the populations of two fish in one. nearby lake.
The journalist draws the parallel between this case and that of beets, concluding:

“Thus, during all this time, if the Shinji fishermen had complained to their caretaker minister about the practices of their rice-growing neighbors, they would no doubt have been answered with assurance that their concerns were unfounded. It’s well known: “Fish, it’s not going to loot in rice paddies. »»

He refers to complaints that beekeepers allegedly addressed to the ministry warning of the effect of NNIs as early as 1994 (54) and the argument that “bees do not pollinate beets” (which are harvested before flowering). Thus, the message of the article is as follows: the effect of the use of NNIs on beets is the same on pollinators (or comparable) as that of the use of NNIs in the Japanese rice fields studied by Yamamuro et al. (2019). You see the power of insinuation: this link is in no way demonstrated, is absurd (we are talking about rice fields overlooking a lake, water is therefore omnipresent), but it still appears credible by the derision and rhetoric. We are moving from a pragmatic logic, the scientific study which seems to be valid (unlike that of Hallman et al. 2017, which is heavily and obviously flawed), to a hygienist logic: since it is possible that NNIs have an effect outside pollination, they must be prohibited.

Page bibliography:

  • Botías, Cristina, Arthur David, Julia Horwood, Alaa Abdul-Sada, Elizabeth Nicholls, Elizabeth Hill, and Dave Goulson. “Neonicotinoid Residues in Wildflowers, a Potential Route of Chronic Exposure for Bees.” Environmental Science & Technology 49, no. 21 (November 3, 2015): 12731–40.
  • Henry, Mickaël, Nicolas Cerrutti, Pierrick Aupinel, Axel Decourtye, Mélanie Gayrard, Jean-François Odoux, Aurélien Pissard, Charlotte Rüger, and Vincent Bretagnolle. “Reconciling Laboratory and Field Assessments of Neonicotinoid Toxicity to Honeybees.” Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 282, no. 1819 (November 22, 2015): 20152110.
  • Yamamuro, M., Komuro, T., Kamiya, H., Kato, T., Hasegawa, H., Kameda, Y., 2019. Neonicotinoids disrupt aquatic food webs and decrease fishery yields. Science 366, 620–623.