Beekeeper waxes sweet about honey business

For a man who spends his days around millions of insects that can sting him at any second, André Flys is amazingly calm and controlled.

Perhaps a beekeeper has to have a mellow personality to get along with the workers who bring the pollen back to the hive and turn it into the liquid gold he makes his living from.

Flys, who has about 200 colonies of the little buzzers in Nobleton, at his business Pioneer Honey off 15th Sideroad and Hwy. 27, loves to talk in metaphors when he describes the relationships he has with bees.

Take, for instance, when a person stands in a bee’s flight path, he’s almost asking to get stung.

Flys describes the situation this way: “That’s when they start getting a little bit cranky. Just like if I was to stand in front of your house when you were trying to bring the groceries in, it would be like, ‘What are you doing’?”

Or take the situation when beekeepers use smoke to enter a beehive.

If you’ve always wondered why they do that, Flys has the perfect answer for you in his own typical style.

“If your house is on fire, you’re probably not so worried about the burglar coming in the front door. If I wanted to distract you or if you were angry at me, I’d blow smoke in your face and you’d probably be less likely to want to punch me. You’d want to punch me, but you’d be more worried about wanting to get out of the way.”

That’s why bees take off when beekeepers smoke their hives upon entering them. They think they are being lit on fire.

“It interrupts their communication abilities and gets them thinking more ‘smoke in my face’, rather than there’s a guy trying to enter the hive, maybe I should sting him. It’s rather, let’s all back off. For a short period of time, they’re too worried about that and their friends than they are about a predator coming into the hive.

“People say it calms them, no, no, no, actually it panics them, they’re not panicked about your presence, they’re panicked about the potential fire,” Flys said.

A visit to his operation is revealing in many ways. Customers come in to buy small jars of honey or even purchase it by the bucket. They can also buy other treats at the store.

All the while Flys is out at the colonies making sure the honey is being produced and, most importantly, that his “ladies” are healthy and working, the honey keeps flowing and customers keep buying.

Nobleton bee farmer and honey producer Andre Flys is used to finding himself in some sticky situations.

He estimates he’s down to just 200 bee colonies from about 500 on his property on 15th Sideroad and Hwy. 27 due to honeybee deaths he largely blames on the makers of pesticides with a neonicotinoid base.

That’s why the owner of Pioneer Honey feels justified in joining a $450-million, class-action lawsuit against the makers of pesticides, including neonicotinoids, he believes are at fault for the deaths of hundreds of millions of bees across Ontario.

“It just doesn’t mean neonics, ultimately pesticides are pesticides, they kill insects, they are designed to kill insects and honeybees and pollinators are insects,” Flys said last week just after the lawsuit was launched. “When you put pesticide out there, you can’t just kill the bad ones, everything goes down with it.”

The suit, spurred on by two family-owned Ontario honey producers, has the support of the Ontario Beekeepers Association, of which Flys is a member.

The statement of claim alleges Bayer AG and Syngenta International AG were negligent in their development and distribution of neonicotinoids, as well as permitting or failing to prevent damages to beekeepers. It also alleges the companies knew or ought to have known the insecticides would cause damage, given mounting evidence that it presents a risk to bee populations.

“Neonicotinoids are among the most widely used insecticides in Canada and pose serious risks to the bee population primarily because of their persistence in crops and soil, and their potency at low concentrations,” the statement of claim reads.

“Those properties, coupled with the neonicotinoids’ widespread use in many cropping systems and presence in pollen and nectar, resulted in a chronic, continuing and lethal exposure to the bee population.”

None of the allegations have been tested in court.

German-based Bayer said in a statement it has not been served with the suit, nor can it comment on the specifics of the claim.

But the company said it has “an abiding interest in bee health” and believes its product have helped make Canada’s agriculture sector “productive and sustainable”.

Syngenta, which is based in Switzerland, was not immediately available for comment.

The lawsuit has not been certified as a class-action.

 Flys believes there is room for hope that change is coming and that neonics and pesticide control is also on the horizon.

“I’m optimistic in that there has been a big change in the government and their attitude. It’s a matter of whether those words lead to action. If it does lead to action, than I have no doubt better days are ahead of us. It has to happen soon.

“We might be able to keep scraping by. All we’ve been doing is paying interest on our loans the past few years, we haven’t been paying anything off of them.”

Flys said the companies that make pesticides are the best place to start in the battle to save bees and that’s why he’s backing the lawsuit, along with the Ontario Beekeepers Association.

“I don’t think going after the farmers is the right way to do it. I don’t think going after the government is the right way to do it, although that’s probably the second best. The government is our government, and that is taxpayers’ dollars.

“To place a lawsuit against them (government) is only going to make enemies of the people we want help from,” Flys said. “We want them to take on the proper regulations so that we can all stay in business. It’s the chemical companies that have sold this bill of goods to the government.”

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