By Luke Hendry
Beekeepers are applauding the new Ontario government’s plan to restrict the use of pesticides linked to bee deaths.
But they say Monday’s announcement by agriculture minister Jeff Leal is only a first step and much more needs to be done to protect bees and the crops they pollinate.
Pesticides known as neonicotinoids have long been suspected by beekeepers and many scientists as a factor in the collapse of bee colonies globally, slashing populations of the insects dramatically.
The Ontario Beekeepers’ Association reported more than 4.2 million acres of cropland in the province were treated with the pesticides last year.
A Harvard University study published in last month’s Bulletin of Insectology reported neonicotinoids used to treat corn, potato and soybean crops cause colony collapse disorder. It confirmed what had long been suspected by beekeepers and some scientists.
“Our intention is to move away from the widespread, indiscriminate use of neonicotinoid-based pesticides,” Ontario agriculture minister Jeff Leal said Monday in a statement. It was the first such announcement by any province.
That, said Prince Edward County beekeeper Julie White, is “terrific political leadership.
“The direction the government is moving in is just great,” said White, who chairs communications for the Ontario Beekeepers’ Association. Her hives are in the Long Point area.
She hasn’t been affected by pesticides, since her organic certification requires her hives to be far from other farming. But she said the government’s announcement represents progress.
“They’ve been paying attention to the science.
“We’re really feeling optimistic,” White said.
Members of the association said they’re relying on data from crop experts who say only 10 to 20 per cent of corn acreage needs the pesticides. They say neonicotinoids are used so widely that they’re unable to keep their bees away from treated crops.
Association president Dan Davidson took a more moderate approach Tuesday than that of last year, saying the chemicals do have their uses.
“We’ve learned that there is some need for these kinds of things. If it was only used where it was needed, I think everyone would be fine,” he said.
“Like any pesticide, if it’s overused it’s going to be bad for something.
“Genetic modifications will guard against most of the insects,” Davidson said. He acknowledged some consumers will still be troubled by the use of genetic modification of crops.
Davidson said it’s unclear just how Ontario will restrict the chemicals’ use.
But he said farmers should have to prove their crops need neonicotinoids and should pay a related cost.
Davidson, who said his family owns several farms, said seeds should not be treated with the chemicals.
“The farmer will have to really think about whether he needs that pesticide or not,” he said.
But Steve Denys, past-president of the Canadian Seed Trade Association, said restricting use of the pesticides could have unintended environmental consequences.
He added that neonicotinoid pesticides are safer than chemicals used before they came along.
“If we restrict the use of these things, it’s actually worse for the environment,” he said.
The province’s proposal could result in an increase in the spraying of other pesticides on crops, leading to greater risk to bees and other non-targeted insects, he said.
The Grain Farmers of Ontario recently estimated revenue from corn and soybean production could fall by $600 million without access to neonicotinoid seed treatments.
Beekeepers said they still want a ban on such pesticides.
But White added the association will now work with the government in an attempt to ensure new limits on neonicotinoids are in place by this fall.
“It’s certainly doable and the political will seems to be there, so we’re going to support them any way we can.”
With files from QMI Agency