Over the past few springs Ontario honey bees — the indispensible pollinators of crops and plants — have being dying en masse. That much is indisputable.
But an increasingly emotional debate is developing around the reasons for their demise and that’s why Premier Kathleen Wynne deserves kudos for creating a working “bee” group that promises protections for these invaluable insects.
It’s a positive step toward a desperately needed solution. The fate of the bees is no small matter, particularly when some 35 per cent of Canada’s honey bee colonies have perished over the past three years. They are critically important to the Canadian agricultural industry, pollinating an annual $2 billion worth of fruit and vegetables each year. Indeed, these industrious insects help provide 30 per cent of our food and 90 per cent of trees, flowers and other plants. We really can’t live without them.
Still, given the entrenched interests, it’s hard to see how the participants in Ontario’s new Bee Health Working Group will agree on any outcome. The apiarists claim the killer is a widely used corn seed coated with toxic insecticides, called neonicotinoids. Pesticide companies, along with some farmers, blame the bees’ overall diminishing health, or attack the apiarists themselves for needlessly exposing their insects to contaminated dust on occasional planting days. (Not that there’s been much dust this year.)
That’s why committee participants — the beekeepers, agricultural scientists, farmers and the pesticide industry — must balance their particular interests against the greater good. Farmers understandably want some type of pesticide for their crops, but there won’t be a thriving agricultural industry if the bees disappear. So far, science hasn’t found anything to replace bees’ ability to pollinate.
The neonicotinoids have been linked to mass bee deaths in Europe, which has placed an interim ban on their use. But in Canada, change is much slower. The federal Pest Management Regulatory Agency has already found a connection between the chemicals and bee deaths, yet its review of the issue won’t be completed until 2018. That’s far too long to wait.
Wynne (who is also Ontario’s agriculture minister) was right to fire off a letter to federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq asking that the reporting deadline be “advanced significantly.” The federal government would be wise to speed up its timetable. Wynne’s fellow provincial agriculture ministers should join her in pressing for federal action.
However political Wynne’s decision to strike a committee may have been, given the Liberal government’s desire to win rural votes, the premier must ensure that changes are ready for action before the spring planting of 2014.
What’s at stake is much more than just the fate of a tiny insect. Read