Western Producer: Canadian beekeepers welcome EU neonicotinoid pesticide ban

The European Union’s decision to ban a class of insecticides that potentially threaten bees is welcome news, says the president of the Ontario Beekeepers Association.

Late last month, the EU announced a two year ban on three popular neonicotinoids, which are primarily applied as insecticidal treatments to crops on millions of acres around the world.

The three products are thiamethoxam, a Syngenta product commonly known as Cruiser, and two Bayer insecticides, clothianidin and imidacloprid.

The ban represents a positive step forward, said Dan Davidson, president of the Ontario association, which has been lobbying for similar restrictions in Canada.

“I would describe it as pleased that someone is taking action on these (insecticides),” said Davidson.

The EU ruling will likely amplify beekeeper, public and environmental group demands for a ban in North America, he added.

Davidson said he wasn’t concerned about neonicotinoids until last spring, when apiarists discovered thousands of dead bees in their bee yards. Beekeepers suspected that dust from corn planters had blown onto plants and flowers near bee yards. 

A subsequent Pest Management Regulatory Agency investigation confirmed that corn seeds treated with clothianidin or thiamethoxam “contributed to the majority of the bee mortalities” last spring.

Davidson submitted dead bee samples from 10 bee yards and every sample came back positive for clothianidin. The experience altered his perspective on neonicotinoids.

“I had a conversation last year with a reporter and I wasn’t worried about seed treatments. That’s how quickly my mind has changed on these things,” he said. 

“We’ve seen dead bees in front of our hives before during planting time. But we didn’t realize what it was…. Last spring was the first spring we kind of connected the dots.”

The Ontario association is also lobbying for independent research on the threat to soil and water health.

“The long-term effect of applying water-soluble (neonicotinoids) on soil and the water table is not known,” the association noted on its website.

It also wants scientists to study alternatives to neonic seed treatments, such as integrated pest management and the use of less toxic pesticides.

“We’re looking for these (chemicals) to be replaced, for sure,” Davidson said.

The EU ban is based on scientific studies suggesting that neonicotinoids hamper bees’ ability to forage, hinder colony reproduction and have a detrimental impact on bee brain functions. 

The European decision follows a vote in March when EU member states rejected a neonic ban. 

The European Commission will impose the restrictions despite the vote. According to Reuters, the two-year ban will apply to all crops except winter cereals and crops that aren’t attractive to bees, beginning Dec. 1, 2013. 

Peter Kevan, a University of Guelph entomologist who heads up Canpolin, a Canadian research network on pollinators, said in March that such a ban is premature. 

“There’s very little evidence to say that neonicotinoids, in a very general sense, in a broad scale sense, have been a major component in the demise of honeybees or any other pollinators, anywhere in the world.”

Kevan said neonicotinoid seed treatments have likely damaged bee colonies in specific incidents, such as the case in Ontario last spring. However, such incidents do not represent a systemic agricultural risk to bees, he said.

Corey Bacon, a beekeeper from Kinistino, Sask., said the situation in Western Canada is different from that in Ontario. Seed treatment of canola doesn’t present as much of a risk as does coating corn with insecticides. Corn seeds have an irregular shape so it’s more likely that insecticidal dust will blow off the seed during planting. 

“Given the vast amount of canola seed … that is treated … so far I’m not sure if we’re seeing evidence of damage (to bees),” said Bacon, who is president of the Saskatchewan Beekeepers Association.

Regardless, more evidence suggests there is a link between neonics and bee health, said Bacon, who is worried about the long-term risk of insecticide accumulation in the soil.

“If there are issues with the neonics causing issues in the soil … then definitely the (beekeeping) industry is concerned about that.” Read