Class of pesticides killing Ontario’s honeybees
National Farmers Union - Ontario Grey County Local 344 - Media Release
Neustadt, ON - Evidence is mounting that a specific class of pesticides is killing Ontario’s honeybees and other pollinating insects in massive numbers. The Ontario Beekeepers Association (OBA), Sierra Club of Canada, The United Church of Canada, and other groups have expressed serious concern about the chemicals and are advocating discontinuing their usage.
Pollinators, including honeybees, are a central element of Canada’s food system and a critical pillar of its ecology. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that, of the over 100 most common crops which provide 90% of food for 146 countries, 71 are pollinated by bees. But the bees are at risk.
In the past decade, extreme declines in bee populations have been measured across North America and Europe, prompting widespread concern from citizens, scientists, and many governments. There are about 80,000 bee hives in Ontario operated by some 250 professional beekeepers and 4,000 hobbyists.
The pesticides at issue, called neonicotinoids and manufactured by agribusiness giant Bayer CropScience, have been in use in North America for about a decade. They are typically applied to field corn seed which is widely planted. From the seed the chemicals are taken up by the plant and transported to all its tissues (leaves, flowers, roots and stems, as well as pollen and nectar). The toxin remains active in the plant for many weeks, protecting the crop from aphids, root worms and other insect pests. It attacks insects’ central nervous systems causing paralysis and death.
“The problem is, bees and other pollenating insects critically important to Ontario’s economy and food supply are also among the victims,” says Nathan Carey, a member of the Board of Directors of the National Farmers Union-Ontario Grey County Local 344 and a Grey County farmer. While the impact of honeybees extends far beyond the pollination of commercial agricultural crops, the monetary value of this service alone is estimated to be in the hundreds of billions of dollars globally each year.
“These dangerous chemicals must be removed from the market now,” said John Bennett, executive director of Sierra Club Canada, quoted in a recent article in the Toronto Star. “We need to protect bees,” he added. Bees transfer pollen and seeds from one flower to another: a crucial natural role that sustains at least 30% of the world’s food crops and 90 per cent of our wild plants.
The OBA’s concerns arise from reports from member beekeepers and from data presented by independent research scientists from Canada and around the world. All indicate that neonicotinoids are wiping out entire colonies of honeybees.
In 2012, more than 200 bee yards in southern Ontario and Quebec reported an “unusually high number” of losses, according to a recent Health Canada report. An analysis of the dead bees found that approximately 70% of their bodies contained residue of neonicotinoids. In almost all cases, there was evidence of corn planting near affected bee yards.
Dave Schuit, owner of Saugeen Country Honey based in Elmwood, said he lost 75% of his hives – an estimated 38 million bees – this past year. He said the losses correspond to the planting of corn on farms near his bee yards. Having sustained such heavy losses Schuit was forced to sell the family farm where he kept his breeding stock of bees. Reflecting on the rate of bee colony collapse in Ontario, Schuit said he fears that “beekeeping will be a thing of the past in two to three years.”
In early May the European Union voted for a two-year moratorium on the use of neonicotinoids. In the meantime experts will re-examine scientific studies submitted to obtain approval for the pesticides. The EU’s decision followed a statement in January by the European Food Safety Authority that neonicotinoids potentially reduce bees’ chances of survival.
A report by Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) says that continued use of neonicotinoids will cause significant reduction in populations of domestic bees, bumble bees or native pollinators; significant decreases in honey production; serious effects on other agricultural systems as a result of decreases in pollination services; a reduction in pollination of wild plants in a way that may alter ecosystems; and the possible loss of a viable beekeeping industry in Ontario.
Regardless of these alarming assertions, Health Canada has decided not to suspend or ban neonicotinoids at this time.
Tibor Szabo, a beekeeper and vice-president of the OBA, feels Health Canada must ban neonicotinoids: “It’s like a game of roulette now…nothing stops bees from being in contact with pesticides,” he said in the Toronto Star article quoted above.
The Sierra Club is calling on Federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq to follow the precautionary principle and immediately ban neonicotinoid chemicals Imidacloprid, Clothianidin and Thiamethoxam from use in Canada. The OBA has called for the suspension of neonicotinoids until the risks posed can be better understood. The United Church has called for a moratorium on neonicotioids for the same reason.
For more information contact Nathan Carey (519-665-7305) or Gary Kenny, Media Liaison for NFU-O Grey County Local 344 (519-799-5804).
Editor's Note: See the NFU-O's article in the July issue of the Rural Voice for more information on neonicotinoids