Brant News: Brant council to reassess support of OFA position

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The Ontario Beekeepers’ Association support the provincial government's proposal to restrict use of pesticides that are toxic to bees.

County of Brant officials heard Tuesday from OBA president Tibor Szabo and member Les Eccles. They explained to the corporate services committee why the association won't condone widespread use of neonicotinoids – or “neonics" – pesticides which are considered "toxic to honey bees" by the Environmental Protection Agency.

At its last meeting in January, County of Brant council voted to support the Ontario Federation of Agriculture's (OFA) position on a discussion paper, which states there isn't enough evidence to link bee mortality rates to sub-lethal exposure to neonics. But county council said they would reassess their position after the OBA weighs in on the issue.

Larry Davis of the OFA and Grain Farmers of Ontario told council neonics were approved by the national Pest Management Review Agency (PMRA) years ago.

"Ontario is adopting a precautionary attitude and ignoring the science," Davis said.

But Eccles told the committee, made up of all council members, that the proposed provincial restrictions are "based on sound science." Szabo said the PRMA's 2004 report was conditional on further study of how neonics impact bees, which he says was never considered.

Honey bees, according to the OFA paper, are "a valuable economic contributor across rural Ontario" and "managed pollinators" depended up by many crops.

Bees eat food with low levels of neonics that take time to kill them, but in the short term they cause brain damage, said Szabo. Bees with brain damage aren't likely to be able to find their way back to the hive with food or to mate, leading to the decline of the colony.

"Neonics are extremely strong stuff," he said. "That's why bees are dying."

Szabo said research shows each corn seed with a neonic coating leads to the death of 70,000 to 80,000 bees.

"The provincial restrictions are the closest thing to a good solution," Szabo said. "Beekeepers are seeing daily devastation … This solution allows farmers to use neonics only if they need them."

Szabo explained that 99 per cent of soybean and corn seeds available to farmers have neonics processed into their coatings, which means the insecticides become part of the plant. Neonics have also been found in many of the rivers of Canada.

Neonics target pests such as root worm, found in only 20 per cent of the farms in Ontario. Yet neonics will kill any pests and insects they infiltrate.

Coun. Brian Coleman, a farmer by trade, said the subject is "really emotional" among farmers because many of them attribute crops being saved to the pesticides.

Eccles, who is also a dairy farmer, said he understands the frustration and hopes farmers will see the proposed restrictions as a chance to improve on the provincial strategy for use of neonics.

"We're asking you to support a solution that allows something for everyone," Szabo said. "This is a positive step to help grain farmers not rely on neonics. An 80 per cent reduction is the goal, not a ban. It's just a more responsible approach to farming."

The OBA said Ontario beekeepers lost 58 per cent of their hives last winter, the greatest losses recorded in the association's 133-year history.

Eccles told Coun. Robert Chambers he sees some good points in the OFA's Pollinator Health paper, but said most of them are meant to represent all farmers.

"That puts the OFA in a difficult position," he said. "We represent our bees and we want all farmers to do well."

Council received the OBA presentation as information. Other parties had requested to speak on the matter at Tuesday's meeting, but council denied those requests based on short notice. They may speak at the next council meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 17, when council can reassess its support of the OFA position.